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Chapter 66 Atonality: Schoenberg and Scriabin

Chapter 66 atonality-schoenberg & scriabin

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Page 1: Chapter 66   atonality-schoenberg & scriabin

Chapter 66

Atonality: Schoenberg and


Page 2: Chapter 66   atonality-schoenberg & scriabin

Features of Atonal Music (ca. 1910 - )

• Dissonant chords used freely, interchangeably with triads.

• All tones of chromatic scale drawn upon as though structurally equivalent.

• Basic chords made from any number of tones and intervallic structures.

• No large-scale functional harmonic progressions.

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Abstract painting

Early in the 20th century important artists in different locations around the world explored a new style of painting in which familiar objects were absent or only hinted at.

Their style was thus non-representational or abstract, and the meaning of such works turned on the inherent expressive power of materials themselves—of colors and shapes.

At about the same time that abstract paintings appeared, composers such as Schoenberg began to write atonal music, which invites a comparison of such music with non-representational art works such as Kandinsky’s Impression 3 (Concert), shown above.

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The Life of Arnold Schoenberg (1874–1951)

• 1874 - born in Vienna

• C1895 - informal private study in music with Alexander Zemlinsky

• 1901 - moves to Berlin, works as orchestrator and cabaret conductor

• 1903 - returns to Vienna, lives mainly as private teacher

• 1908 - begins to compose atonal music

• 1911 - again moves to Berlin, publishes a treatise on tonal harmony (the Harmonielehre)

• 1913 - triumphant premiere in Vienna of the romantic oratorio Gurrelieder

• 1917 - follow service in the Austrian military, Schoenberg settles in Mödling (a Vienna suburb)

• 1923 - begins to compose twelve-tone music

• 1925 - appointed Professor of Composition at the Academy of the Arts in Berlin

• 1933 - dismissed by the Nazis from his Berlin position, flees to Paris, then to America

• 1936 - appointed Professor at the University of California, Los Angeles

• 1951 - dies in Los Angeles

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Arnold Schoenberg and Atonal Music

• Around 1908, Schoenberg begins to compose “atonal” music, characterized:

– lack of a traditional key and functional harmonic progressions.

– free and equal use of all 12 tones of the chromatic scale.

– free application of dissonant harmonies.

• Russian painter Vladimir Kandinsky recognized similarities between atonal music and abstract art.

• In Schoenberg’s atonal music between 1910 and 1911, Schoenberg composed his music very quickly and with minimal planning.

• In 1912 (with Pierrot lunaire), he began to compose atonal music more systematically.

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Schoenberg’s Pierrot lunaire (Moonstruck Pierrot, 1912)

• Pierrot lunaire was the composition that officially set Schoenberg on his atonal direction – and one of his most original compositions in the

atonal style.

• The genre is that of a melodrama– a composition that combines spoken recitation

with instrumental music.

• A cycle of 21 narrations for a female speaker accompanied by a small ensemble of piano, strings, and woodwinds.

• Use of Sprechgesang (speech song) – a 20th vocal technique that falls between singing and speaking.

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Principal Compositions by Arnold Schoenberg

• Operas: 4, including – Erwartung– Moses und Aron (incomplete)

• Orchestra: chamber symphonies (2), tone poem Pelleas und Melisande, concertos (violin, piano), character pieces

• Chamber music: includes 5 string quartets and a woodwind quintet

• Songs: numerous collections, also the melodrama Pierrot lunaire

• Piano: character pieces

• Chorus: including– Gurrielieder (cantata)– A Survivor from Warsaw (narration with chorus)

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Arnold Schoenberg, Piano Piece Op. 11, No. 1, 1909

Rounded Binary form

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Arnold Schoenberg, Pierrot lunaire, 1912,

No. 8 (“Nacht-Passacaglia”)

Through-composed passacaglia (with a hint of ternary form)

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The Life of Alexander Scriabin (1872–1915)

• 1872 born in Moscow

• 1888-92 studies at Moscow Conservatory

• 1898-1903 teaches piano at Moscow Conservatory amid European and American tours

• 1902-1908 concert tours of Europe and America

• 1915 dies in Petrograd of blood poisoning

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Scriabin’s Atonal Music

• Alexander Scriabin began to compose atonal music around 1908– evolving as Schoenberg did from an earlier

Romantic style.

• The pitch organization of Scriabin’s music is based upon the:– octatonic scale [an eight-note scale made up

of alternating whole and half steps.] – “mystic” chord [a chord that is made of six

notes and very much resembles the whole-tone scale.]

“mystic” chord

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Principal Compositions by Alexander Scriabin

• Piano: sonatas (10), character pieces

• Orchestra: 5 symphonies, Piano Concerto, Poem of Ecstasy

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Alexander Scriabin, Piano Prelude,

Op. 74, No. 5, 1914

Free rondo (ABAB) form