SCHOENBERG: Serenade / Variations for Orchestra / Bach Orchestrations (Alan R Kay/ Charles Neidich/ David Starobin/ Fred Sherry/ Peter Press/ Philharmonia Orchestra/ Robert Craft/ Rolf Schulte/ Stephen Varcoe/ Toby Appel/ Twentieth Century Classics Ensemb
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Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951)
Serenade, Op. 24 Variations for Orchestra, Op. 31 Bach Orchestrations
The most immediately striking aspects of the Serenade
areits exuberant mood, melodiousness, usages of Classical form-models, and theunprecedented repetition (for Schoenberg) of entire segments: most of themiddle section of the first movement returns as the last movement, albeit withchanges near the beginning and end; half of the Minuet
is repeated aswell, and about a third of the Dance Scene
. Also, uniquely inSchoenberg, the March
is without tempo modification from beginning toend.
"Viennese strumming", Leos Janaček wroteafter hearing the Serenade
in Venice in September 1925, referring to themandolin-guitar foundation of the sonority, the pizzicati
and bouncingof the wood of the violin, viola, and cello bows on the strings, as well as theflutter-tonguing of the clarinets, which extend and complement the articulationof the strummed and plucked instruments. At the beginning of the repeated sectionof the first movement, these efforts of bariolage occupy the stage centre.
is a quiet, mellow piece, in which the stringsare muted throughout the first section and again in the Coda
. Whereasthe main part of the movement is more song than dance, the Trio
, whichbegins with an ostinato in the viola and guitar, is more dance than song.
movement, the most delectable of theseven, consists of a comparatively long theme in the clarinet, and six briefvariations (the sixth is the Coda
), each with the same number of bars asthe theme itself. The expressive intensities of the music are reflected in thefrequent changes of tempo, the many tempo controls (ritardando, pi?? allegro,
etc.), and the dynamic nuances. The Coda
, with its dialogues betweenthe clarinets, then between guitar and mandolin, and its gradual slackening ofpace to the end, is the Serenade
's most intricately carved jewel.
The Petrarch Sonnet
(No. 217 in Schoenberg's score,but No. 256 in the standard Italian editions) is the Serenade
'scentrepiece, at once the most highly organized movement of the seven, and themost chaotic-sounding. At the start the violin plays the first two notes of atwelve-tone series as a melodic fragment. Each note is followed by a mandolin /guitar chord containing the remaining ten pitches of the chromatic scale. Thetwelve pitches are then exposed in melodic order in the vocal part, andrepeated in the same order twelve times (the twelfth is incomplete), but withdifferences in octave registers and in the position of the series vis-?á-vis
the musical phrases. The first of the twelve notes becomes, successively, thesecond, third, fourth, and fifth note in the next four phrases, for the reasonthat Petrarch's eleven-syllable line leaves a leftover note in each repetitionof the series. Since the original first note becomes the last note before thefinal, longest, and most hectic of the three instrumental interludes thatseparate the poem's four stanzas, and notes 2-12 follow after a considerablebreak, Schoenberg obviously did not intend the series to be heard integrally.
The instrumental accompaniment provides musical images fortextural references, evoking a lion's roar with loud glissandos and tremolos inthe strings and clarinets, and, at the word "death" introducing a pulsationalien to the meter of the rest of the piece.
The melodies of the Dance Scene
, the Serenade
'smost popular movement, are also its most immediately memorable. The full Landler
melody (clarinet) and its counter-melody are repeated several times untransposed,rare instances of same-pitch repetition in Schoenberg's "atonal period."Worth mentioning, too, is the interruption of the four-metre ostinato in the mandolinand, later, violin, relieving the three-in-one rhythm.
The violin sings the "Song Without Words" first, followedby cello, then bass clarinet. The guitar accompaniment, with major thirdsdoubled by viola and cello at the end of the first phrase, recalls 'O alterDuft',
the nostalgic concluding piece of Pierrot Lunaire.
repeats the first movement, with alterations, including the returnof the Landler
as a counter melody, and, shortly before the end, abrief, slow inset combining the principal melodies of the two preceding movements.
In an interview in Berlin, 6 October 1928, Schoenbergintroduces his greatest orchestra piece, Variations
, Op. 31,
witha denigration of American sensibilities: "If it were not for America, we in Europe would be composing only for reduced orchestras, chamber orchestras. But countrieswith younger cultures and less refined nerves require the monumental".
All of the variations are short and clearly delineated. Theirsuccession follows the tradition of a fast, full-orchestra piece succeeded by aslower one for few instruments, and each with a contrasting character, metre,and sonority. The twelve-tone, or serial, principle that Schoenberg conceivedin 1921 and, in the next six years, developed into a new method of composition,achieves fruition in the Variations
. One of his goals was to "resurrectan old classicism in order to make a new one possible." Another, whichperhaps should be admitted sotto voce,
was "to assure the supremacyof German music for at least another hundred years."Introduction. The music begins softly with a repeated note, B flat, inharp harmonics, answered by basses playing harmonics a minor-third lower (G). Clarinetand bassoon join with a tritone triplet figure that anticipates the twelve-toneseries of the work. Other components of the series follow in muted horn, oboe, flute,and trumpet, then a brief, passionate, and large orchestral outburst inaccordance with the word 'steigernd'
. After this, the BACH motive ("B"is B flat in German letter notation, and "H" is B natural), the principalone of the entire piece - the Variations
are Schoenberg's homage to hisgreat predecessor - is sounded in the trombone.
In Variation I
the theme is in the bass, at a speed considerablyincreased by the exact preservation of the ductus and the rhythmicconfiguration. A subsidiary strand is heard in woodwind pairs playing short legato
phrases. The third strand, dovetailing rhythmically with the second, ismade up of light staccato
motives in strings and horns.Variation II
: This highly contrapuntal piece is a concourse of canons.
The principal one is between solo violin and oboe.Variation III
returns to the original theme, now in two horns.Variation IV
distances itself from the original image of the theme inorder to intercalate a relatively selfcontained "character piece," herein Waltzertempo.Variation V
, the centrepiece of the Variations
, displays thefull splendour of the orchestra.
Here it should be observed that the principal orchestralinnovation in the Variations
is that the basses often play in the cellorange, the cellos in the viola range, the violas in the violin, and the violinsan octave higher than usual. The melodic line in the violins describes thesemi-tone construction of the second hexachord of the series.Variation VI
features a small group of solo instruments.
In Variation VII
, the bassoon is the principal voice,not the high tintinnabulating triplet figures produced by piccolo, celesta,glockenspiel, a