A History of Western Music

By Donald Jay Grout; Claude V. Palisca | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 21

ATONALITY, SERIALISM, AND
RECENT DEVELOPMENTS IN
TWENTIETH-CENTURY EUROPE

SCHOENBERG AND HIS FOLLOWERS

The twelve-tone system devised by Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951) springs from late German Romanticism. The chromatic idiom of Schoenberg's earliest important work, the string sextet Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night, 1899), evolves from Tristan, while the symphonic poem Pelleas und Melisande (1903) draws on Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss. The huge symphonic cantata Gurrelieder (Songs of Gurre) for five soloists, narrator, four choruses, and large orchestra (1901; orchestration completed 1911) outdoes Wagner in emotional fervor and Mahler and Strauss in complexity of scoring.

Romantic origins

We hear new direction in Schoenberg's second-period works, which include the first two Quartets (D minor and F♯ minor, 1905 and 1908), the first Kammersymphonie (Chamber Symphony, 1906) for fifteen instruments, the Five Orchestral Pieces, Op. 16 (1909), two sets of short piano pieces (Op. 11, 1908, and Op. 19, 1911), a cycle of songs with piano accompaniment, Das Buch der hängenden Gärten (Book of the Hanging Gardens, 1908), for soloist and orchestra, Erwartung (Expectation, 1909), and a dramatic pantomime, Die glückliche Hand (The Lucky Hand, 1911-13). Turning away from post‐ Romantic gigantism, Schoenberg chose small instrumental combinations or, in large orchestral works, a soloistic treatment of instruments or swift alternation of colors (as in the Five Orchestral Pieces and Erwartung). Concurrently, rhythm and counterpoint became more complex, the melodic line fragmented, and the composition as a whole more concentrated and compact. For example, in the First Quartet, all the themes of its one-movement cyclical form, even the material of subsidiary voices, evolve from a few germinal motives through variation and combination. Around 1908 Schoenberg moved from a chro

Schoenberg's second period

-713-

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