GCSE Music Area of Study 2 - Schoenberg: Peripetie

Edexcel GCSE Music Area of Study 2: Music in the 20th Century

  • Created by: Mel
  • Created on: 03-05-12 18:38

Before Expressionism

Towards the end of the 19th century, composers such as Bruckner and Brahms produced symphonies vaster than anything ever produced by the previous generation of composers. Composers such as Wagner and Verdi wrote operas that combined the scale of the Romantic era syphonies with theatre, creating works of enormous imagination, pushing the musical language of the day to the very limits. 

Brahms was interested in writing music in strict forms with Beethoven as his role model although his music was still very romantic in scale. Wagner made extensive use of chromaticism and frequent key changes so that the key of a piece was often unclear.

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Most composers of the early 20th century had to react to what Brahms and Wagner had achieved. Composers in the impressionist style such as Ravel and Debussy wrote music that used recognizable chords and harmonies, but combined them in original ways, using instrumental color to paint musical pictures. They would use chords out of their normal context to achieve an effect (such as a series of parallel dominant 7th chords) rather than sticking to established harmonic rules (dominant 7th chords should normally resolve to the tonic chord). 

Schoenberg took this idea further, deciding that the combination of instrumental sounds, or 'tone colors' was just as important as melody. He invented the term klangfarbenmelodie (tone-color melody) to describe the concept of how different instrumental colors would contribute to the melody as well as the pitches themselves. Schoenberg also took Wagner's use of chromaticism to its logical extreme - writing atonal music.

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Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951)

  • Born in Vienna, Austria 
  • Jewish, left Germany in 1933 to Paris and eventually settled down in California after his music was condemned by the Nazis as being 'decadent'
  • Began composing pieces as a child, mostly teaching himself musical theory through reading books and experienting 
  • Started writing music professionally towards the end of the 19th century, wrote in the style of the late Romantic era 
  • His move to atonal music in 1908 coincided with a traumatic time in his life - his wife left him for one of his artist friends who later committed suicide, and he was in severe financial difficulties, so he had a lot of intense emotions to express through his music
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Features of Expressionism

  • expressionist music is atonal - it avoids the normal hierarchy of keys and chords, giving each of the 12 semitones equal importance 
  • each piece generally confines itself to expressing one intense emotion 
  • composers make full use of the pitch range of instruments, exploring the difference in instrumental color that can be heard at the extremes of the instruments' registers 
  • timbre is felt to be as important as melody - the sound of the instruments is felt to contribute to the melody as much as pitch 
  • extremes of dynamics are common, from as quiet as possible to as loud as possible. This can be even more dramatic in large ensembles when the music can go from just a few instruments playing very quietly to the full emsemble playing very loudly 
  • pieces tend to be quite short - it is difficult to write a piece of considerable length without the framework of a key structure and the use of recognisable themes that can be developed in a traditional sense
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Background to Five Orchestra Pieces

In these works Schoenberg uses pitches and harmonies for effect rather than because of their relationship to each other - he is much more concerned with the combinations of timbres than with melody and harmony as we understand it. 

Schoenberg had not written any pieces for orchestra since 1903 - he had been experimenting with his ideas of atonality in much smaller-scale works, such as his pieces for solo piano. He responded by writing the set of five pieces for full orchestra. He had had a series of disappointments previously as his works for chamber orchestra were dismissed by one major figure after another, stating that they did not understand his music, so he hoped that his compositions for larger ensembles might be accepted by the conductors of the large orchestras. Unfortunately, the larger-scale works received a similar reception from established composers and conductors. 

'Peripetie' means sudden reversal.

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Background to Five Orchestra Pieces (cont.)

Schoenberg loved to conceal things within his compositions - he believed that the intelligent and attentive listener would hear the deeper meanings within the music, even if it has not been explained to them previously.

He felt that music expresses much more than words possibly can and that a little is taken from the music itself when wrods are attached to it (e.g. giving a title to a piece or describing it in words). As such, titles for each of the Five Orchestral Pieces did not appear on the printed scores until 13 years after they had been composed, and only because one of Schoenberg's colleagues insisted that titles would help audiences respond better to his music. 

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Background to Five Orchestra Pieces (cont.)

One of the main 'codes' concealed within Schoenberg's pre-serialism music is the use of a group of notes called a hexachord, a group of six notes played together to form a chord. The group of notes can also be used to form short melodic ideas if they are played one after the other. 

A recurring hexachord in 'Peripetie' is played by the horns from the second beat of bar 8. The notes in this chord are C, B♭, E, F, C♯ and A which, arranged in ascending order are A, B♭, C, C♯, E and F. This hexachord can be used as a chord, with the notes arranged in any order and can be used as a melodic motif with the notes arranged in any order. They can be transposed and the notes can be played in any octave. It is used in both forms throughout the piece. 

The compliment (six semitones not used in the first hexachord) of the hexachord can be constructed by taking the other six available semitones not used in the first hexachord - B, D, E♭, F♯, G, G♯. The compliment can be transposed and reordered in the same way as the first hexachord.

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Background to Five Orchestra Pieces (cont.)

In the 1952 revision of the score, edits have been added to show which instrument has the main melodic line at any given time (principal voice) and which instrument has the next most important melodic line (secondary voice) these are represented by the symbols H and N. Although added after his death, Schoenberg had left instructions as to which instruments were the principal and secondary voices throughout the piece. 

H - Hauptstimme - Principal voice 

N - Nebenstimme - Secondary voice 

'Peripetie' is structured in five sections, broadly in rondo form, but with the returning 'A' sections developed to such an extent that they are hardly recognisable as statements of a theme at all - it is not a rondo in the same way as would have been the case in the BAroque or Classical eras, being more a return of a particular mood or orchestral sound rather than a repeated recognisable theme. 

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'Peripetie' from Five Orchestral - Tempo/Rhythm

  • Sehr rasch means 'very quick', metronome value is approximately 100-108bpm 
  • Opening contains mostly short triplet and sextuplet bursts, with the fanfare-like horn statement in bars 3-5 played in triplet quavers 
  • After the demisemiquaver hexachord burst the tempo is slightly slower, though the quiet horn passage from bar 7 beat 3 and the expressive, rubato clarinet line from bar 10 beat 2 create the illusion of the tempo slowing more than it actually does 
  • In section C, the tempo marking alternates between ruhiger (calmer) and heftig (passionate)
  • In section A", some of the rhythmic motifs from the opening bars return in this section (e.g. trumpets bars 61-63 = bars 5 beat 3-6 beat 2 repeated in quick succession, clarinets bars 59-61 = bar 1, flutes bars 62-63 = bar 3
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'Peripetie' from Five Orchestral - Instrumentation

  • Mainly polyphonic, but monophonic and homophonic as well
  • Complex textures built through imitation and inversion
  • Instrumental combinations drop in and out in quick succession, with dovetailing, homophonic bursts 
  • Texture thins dramatically after the loud hexachord, gradually dying out to leave the solo clarinet 
  • A full orchestra is used, but not all at once except for climactic points
  • These parts are all but inaudible, but they add to the effect and texture, and display Schoenberg's attention to detail
  • Texture is very polyphonic and complex throughout section B
  • In section A", it starts with just the clarinets and strings, instruments are introduced one by one in quick succession (layering repeated rhythmic motifs) until the full orchestra comes together for the final climactic chord of bar 63
  • Piece written for: quadruple woodwind (3 flutes, piccolo, 3 oboes, cor anglais, 3 clarinets, bass clarinet, 3 bassoons, a contrabassoon), horns, trumpets, trombones, tuba; percussion (xylophone, cymbals tam tam (large gong) bass drum)
  • Instruments often play at the extreme of their registers
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'Peripetie' from Five Orchestral - Pitch/Melody

  • No sense of key - atonal piece (mostly built on hexachords)
  • Clarinet melody from bar 10 beat 2 is expressive and almost gentle, but very angular including dissonant leaps of a minor ninth and major seventh/diminished octave (intervals commonly used to accentuate the dissonance and create tension)
  • Principal voice snakes through muych of the orchestra
  • In bars 24-28 principal voice bounes rapidly from one brass instrument to another - klangfarbenmelodie idea
  • Secondary voice appears in section B (trumpet 1, flutes, piccolo, clarinet)
  • Material from opening is used and developed for final section
  • The climactic chord of bar 64 is a gigantic hexachord (C, D, E♭, F♯, G, G♯) in most of the orchestra (except the cor anglais and double basses) with the double basses playing an unrelated tremolo  hord (very high in their register), which sustains after the rest of the orchestra subside to conclude the piece
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'Peripetie' from Five Orchestral - Dynamics

  • Begins loudly, becoming louder with sudden bursts from instrumental groups
  • Reach fff by bar 5 before dying away to pianissimo
  • Trumpets and trombones play muted (normally a mute is used to mellow tone and allow player to play quieter, but Schoenberg uses it entirely for the sound quality it produces and call for extremes of dynamics for which the mute was not originally designed)
  • Section B begins softly, but with an immediate crescendo
  • Dynamics are varied from instrument to instrument with principal and secondary voice parts always f-fff, but other parts ranging from quiet to very loud
  • Dynamics change dramatically and frequently in a very restless fashion
  • Dynamics of section C range from pp (bars 44/45) with individual instruments rising above the others with individual crescendos, to fff (bars 53-55), and back to almost nothing in bar 58
  • Crescendos quite quickly from pp at begining of bar 59 to fff in bar 64 and immediately dies away to nothing with tremolo double bass chord
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'Peripetie' from Five Orchestral - Structure

Section A:

  • Clarinets and flutes state two hexachords (bar 1 = C, D, E, F, G, A in clarinets and bar 3 = A, A, B, C, E, G in flutes) leading to a fanfare-like fortissimo horn motif which is the first part to be marked as the principal voice H
  • Bassoons in the opening two bars also play the clarinet hexachord from bar 1, which is the same as the horn hexachord from bar 8 (A, B, C, C, E and F), but transposed up four semitones

Section B:

  • Cello takes over the role of principal voice from clarinet, handing over the baton to the trumpet after two bars
  • Intense cello line, played high in its register, gives way to an increasingly frantic section
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'Peripetie' from Five Orchestral - Structure

Section A':

  • Marked by strings rising from ashes of section B followed by a flourish from the horns and then a return to the pp horn hexachord of bar 8
  • Other instruments briefly disturb the horn chord
  • Gives brief rest from the turmoil of section B
  • Mood more menacing than tranquil, giving impression that there are more fireworks to come

Section C:

  • Marked by bassoon taking the baton for the principal voice and passing it immediately to a solo cello

Section A":

  • Speeds up to original tempo, triplet figure in clarinets and second violins
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Schoenberg replaced tonality with serialism. Serialism meant putting some element of the piece into an order. Schoenberg would arrange the 12 chromatic notes into a set order known as the prime order. The prime order is then rearranged by either retrograde, inversion or by transposing it. Six notes from the prime row can be played together in order called a hexachord. They can form short melodic ideas if they are played one after another.

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Samuel Richardson


I love the amount of detail included in these revision cards on 'Peripetie' by Arnold Shoenburg. There is a wide range of information included on the context and background of the piece, and a brilliantly in depth analysis with bar references.  

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