Webern Analysis: 'Quartet Op.22: 1st Movement'

  • Created by: Isobel
  • Created on: 17-06-14 14:27


Webern: Structure:

1.    Structure is an introduction followed by ternary form (ABA).

2.    Serial technique replaces tonal structural aspects. Broad, tripartite scheme.

3.    Serialism used as a structural basis. Prime order, inversions, retrogrades and retrograde inversions are used.

4.    15/48 possible rows used. Definite repetition plan between the Exposition and Recapitulation.

5.    Main ‘cantus firmus’ (bars 6-15, sax). Retained melodic focus until P6 (10-15).

6.    Coda, 39-43, consists of a complex reverse version of the introduction, using rows RIO and R10. 

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Webern: Tonality:

1.    Music is atonal. Intervallic key relationships between row transpositions can be seen as analogous to tonal key relationships created by modulations.

2.    Some similarities to tonal music with 2 statements of the ‘sax cantus’ in the Exposition being 6 semitones apart. Exactly half an octave apart, similar to tonic dominant relationships.

3.    Serial music elements establish the melody. Notes are also written enharmonically. 

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Resources/Performing Forces

Webern: Resources/PF:

1.    Wide range of timbre from a small amount of instruments.

2.    Techniques used create tone colour variation, e.g. violin with mute (1-17) and piano arrow-spread chords (14).

3.    Large pitch range is exploited, i.e. violin top C at climax (22). Extremities of tessitura are used.

4.    Agility on sax is very hard to achieve, especially the quiet dynamic range (e.g. pp bar 2).

5.    Piano part is considered as 2 separate parts, each hand having its own separate polyphonic line.

6.    Wide dynamic range. Fortissimo at the climax (22) and pianissimo at the end. 

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Webern: Texture:

1.    Extremely thin texture. Even at the climax, rests prevent all 4 parts from playing simultaneously (i.e. bar 22, 7th semiquaver).

2.    Often verges on monophony. Only occasionally in the 5-bar intro do two parts sound together.

3.    Music is polyphonic and contrapuntal. 5 parts shared between 4 players (bars 20-23).

4.    Frequent canon use. Mirror canon at the beginning (bars 1-2, sax and violin) and elsewhere (i.e. bar 13).

5.    Klangfarbenmelodie – melodic content of rows is divided among instruments.

6.    Pointillism effect created by Klangfarbenmelodie (31-32). 

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Webern: Rhythm:

1.    Movement mainly in triple time, although it’s hard to hear the triple metre.

2.    Frequent time signature changes. Bars 3-4 quintuple (5/8) the quadruple (4/8) and back.

3.    Frequent rests make the music sound fragmentary.

4.    3 recurring rhythmic groupings: 1st sax 3 notes, piano (3) and violin (3-4). Common throughout.

5.    Precisely notated rhythm (tone colour aspect). Enhanced by tenuto and staccato markings (bar 16).

6.    Frequent tempo changes. Ritartando and ‘a tempo’ markings (bars 6-7). Calando marking at bar 40. 

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Webern: Melody:

1.    Melody based on the notes of Webern’s tone row (i.e. sax prime order, 6-10).

2.    Wide angular shapes feature throughout. Minor 9th (bar 2) or major 7th (sax bar 8).

3.    Interval of a tritone occurs between the 10th and 11th notes of the series. Disrupts sense of key.

4.    Melodic lines are fragmentary (interspersed with rests).

5.    Klangfarbenmelodie used, e.g. transposed row moves between instruments (bars 1-5).

6.    Melody consists of ‘splashes of instrumental colour’ – pointillism. 

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Webern: Harmony:

1.    Frequently there’s no harmony. Notes often appear singly instead. (1; 26).

2.    Frequent dissonance when 2 or more notes sounds together (20-24).

3.    1st chord at the start of bar 2 produces a clashing major 2nd interval.

4.    One of the few occasions where 3 notes sound simultaneously (bar 20).

5.    Sometimes 2 notes of the same row are sounded in the piano to create a chord (i.e. bar 12). This is called Verticalisation.

6.    Level of dissonance is controlled by choice of transposition pairings. Bars 21-23 use all 4 versions of the same transposition, for example. 

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