Quartet Op.22, Movement I - Webern

Revision notes for Weberns Quartet

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Context and background

  • Dated 1930. Serialism - a compositional technique associated with the Second Viennese School. Notable composers - Shoenburg, Berg, Webern
  • Schoenburg was the "leader" of the group. Webern was one of his pupils
  • Weberns music were compressed, short, concentrated works
  • Signs of Neo Classacism - Counterpoint and symmetrical structure
  • Intended for concert performance by professional musicians
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  • Scored for contrasting forces - Violin, Clarinet, Saxophone and Piano
  • The Clarinet and Saxophone are transposing instruments, but their parts are printed in sounding pitch - easier to read the complex score
  • A large number of performance directions - almost every note

- Pizzicato/arco (violin)

- Mute on and off (violin)

-Rapid contrasts of articulation and dynamics (all instruments)

- Spread chords in both directions (piano)

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Rhythm and Metre

  • Mainly 3/8 time with frequent changes to 4/8 and 5/8
  • Bar 24-end is all 3/8
  • Pulse is hard to detect, due to pointillist instrumentation and random placing of material within bars
  • The work is almost entirely built of three rhythmic cells - the most notable exceptions occur in the saxophone, bar 6-10 and 12-13 (four semi-quavers)
  • Rests contribute to the rhythmically dislocated effect
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  • Melodic lines are angular - marked by large leaps
  • Large inversions include - Major 7th, Major 9th, Major 10th
  • Octave displacements are frequent - saxophone melody at bars 6-10, with its recapitulation at bar 28
  • All melodic material derives from the row (see Serialism cards)
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  • Arrangement of 12 pitches of the chromatic scale into a series (a tone row)
  • Each note only appears once in the row
  • The row can be used forwards, backwards (retrograde), in melodic inversion or in retrograde inversion
  • Notes can be transposed and used in any octave
  • Highly concentrated, expressive, but dissonant music
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  • Hard to describe the texture of this work!
  • Vertical structures frequently consist of no more than two notes
  • There are some 3 and 4 note chords - bar 11 semiquaver 4, and bar 12 semiquaver 2)
  • Total absence of conventional harmonic procedures such as cadences
  • Music is dissonant, with no preparation or resolution
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  • Atonal
  • 12 notes of the chromatic scale are heard in a fixed order
  • The prime order is heard in the tenor sax in bars 6-10

The order is used in:

  • Inversion - intervals of the prime order are presented "upside down" e.g. tenor sax at bars 1-3 with the first three notes of the prime order in bars 6-7)
  • Retrograde Inversion - intervals are presented upside down and backwards e.g. saxophone bar 24
  • Transposed form - beginning on any note e.g. violin in bar 1 starts the prime order ten semitones higher than the prime in bar 6.
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Ternary (ABA) / modernised sonata form:

  • Introduction bars 1-5
  • Exposition (A) bars 6-15: prime order announced by saxophone
  • Development (B) bars 16-23
  • Link, bars 24-27
  • Recapitulation (A) 28-39
  • Coda, bars 39-43: introductory material in retrograde
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Texture and Resources

  • Klangfarbenmelodie (sound-colour-melody) - the melody line split between instruments e.g. original statement of the prime in bars 6-10 (entirely tenor sax) with its restatement starting at bar 28:

- 28: Clarinet C# - E

- 29-30: Violin F - D; clarinet D# - B

- 30-31: tenor sax Bb - A - G#

- 32: Violin F# - C - G

  • Contrapuntal texture with mirror cannons
  • Texture intensifies at the climax in the development with more overlapping parts
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