GCSE Music - Schoenberg Information

Key background info for SW4.

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  • Created on: 22-06-11 10:06
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By the end of the romantic period (1910) composers used so many chromatic notes and chords
that it became difficult to know what key or scale it was based on. After the First World War
people's optimism about mankind and the future was shattered. This led to a movement in art and
music called expressionism.
Expressionist composers tried to write music characterised by extreme emotional expression.
Harmony became so chromatic that the music was said to be atonal (see below). Features of
expressionist music include dissonant harmonies, disjointed melodies with wide leaps, explosive
contrasts and instruments playing at the extremes of their range. Expressionist composers include
Schoenberg, Berg and Webern.
This means a total absence of key or tonality. Atonal music freely uses all 12 notes of the chromatic
scale. Each note is treated equally - there is no `tonic' note that is more important than the rest.
Composers found it difficult to write long pieces as they were so used to using key changes to give
structure to the music and keep the listener interested. So composers began to look for other
ways to structure music, which is how serialism was born!
A technique of composing devised by Schoenberg around 1920. It was created to help bring
structure and organisation to atonal music. It involves arranging all 12 notes of the chromatic scale
in any order (called series, note row or tone row). The whole composition is then based on this
basic note row. All 12 notes are equally important and can appear only in the correct order. The
series can also be used backwards (retrograde ), upside-down (inversion ) and upside-down and
backwards (retrograde inversion ). It can also be transposed to start on a different note.
The Five Pieces for Orchestra (Fünf Orchesterstücke) Op. 16 was composed by Arnold Schoenberg
in 1909. The titles of the pieces, reluctantly added by the composer after the work's completion
upon the request of his publisher, are as follows:
. "Vorgefühle", Sehr rasch. ("Premonitions", very fast.)
. "Vergangenes", Mässig. ("The Past", moderate.)
. "Farben", Mässig. ("Summer Morning by a Lake: Chord-Colors", moderate.)
. "Peripetie", Sehr rasch. ("Peripetia", very fast.)
. "Das obligate Rezitativ", Bewegen. ("The Obbligato Recitative", with movement.)
The Five Pieces further develop the notion of "total chromaticism" that Schoenberg introduced in
his Three Piano Pieces op.11 (composed earlier that year) and was composed during a time of
intense personal and artistic crisis for the composer, this being reflected in the tensions and, at
times, extreme violence of the score mirroring the expressionist movement of the time, in
particular its preoccupation with the subconscious and burgeoning madness.

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· chromaticism music based on the chromatic scale, relating to chords or harmonies based on
non-harmonic tones
· impressionist a style of music that seeks to describe a feeling or experience rather than achieve
accurate depiction
· atonal absence of tonality (key)
· klangfarbenmelodie literally 'tone colour melody', a word used to describe how timbre
contributes to melody in addition to pitch and rhythm
· Treaty of Versailles the peace settlement signed after World War I had ended in 1918
· compliment the six…read more


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