Second Viennese School (X) – Suite for Piano Op. 25 (4)

This is the last post about Schoenberg’s Prelude from Suite Op. 25, in which I talk about phrases and harmonic relations between them. This prelude basically consists of 4-measure phrases, however the one located in the center of the piece, is longer, but Schoenberg has reached balance by first of all putting it in the center of the piece, and breaking it in some points by fermatas and rests between the sub-phrases. The first phrase, from 1st to the middle of 5th measure, starts and ends characteristic intervallic relations, which are repeated later in the piece. The minor second ascending movement in right hand, imitated in the left hand signals Schoenberg’s emphasis on such a figure throughout the piece. The sub-phrase ends in measure 3 with the same intervallic pattern in right hand and this time modified in the left hand (ascending major 9th). At the end of the phrase Schoenberg uses descending minor second in the right hand, imitated by descending minor 9th in left hand. Also left hand follows the same intervallic pattern with right hand from measure 1-3. And finally, the rests at the end of this phrase, long with corresponding with the rests at the beginning of the phrase, isolate it from the next one.

The second phrase with same length, starts from the middle of the second beat of measure 5 and ends on the first 8th note from the last beat of measure 9. Right hand, following the descending motion started in the phrase, moves to the lower octave. The phrase starts with retrograded version of right hand’s figure in the first measure, this time divided among both hands and left hand’s figure in the first measure can be followed in measure 7, with register changes, as well as rhythmic diminution. Also, minor and major second intervals appeared with sixteenth note values in the first, are repeated frequently in both similar and inverted versions. Also, in measure 7 and 8 right hand repeats a more modified, but still recognizable version of right hand’s first figure in measure 1. As the beginning of first phrase has been emphasized with ascending second interval, beginning of second phrase follows the same strategy and the endings of both measures are also same (descending minor second followed by rest).

Third phrase, starting with a different temporal and expressive character (etwas ruhiger, dolce) and even rhythmically larger values, is characterized by leaps in descending motion (diminished  5th in right and minor 6th in left hand), but still the diminished 5th interval is the corresponding point with the first and second phrases. This phrase starts from the second half of second beat in measure 9, ends with three successive double nots emphasized with fermatas on the first beat of measure 16 and is the longest phrase (doubled length of 1st and 2nd measure). Smaller rhythmic figurations and more intertwined motives rise the tension of the piece. The characteristic (E,F,G,Db) figure appears in left hand, all in descending motion and accelerated 16th notes. The note Db is also modified to D natural. In measure 14 the contrast between left and right hand both harmonically and rhythmically. Left hand plays the characteristic motive of first measure (Bb,Cb,Db,G), but minor second motions are replaced by major 7th intervals. In right hand the 32nd notes, although slowed down by ritardando, are in contrast with dotted 8th notes of left hand. Also in terms of intervallic relations, right hand’s motive is less characteristic than left hand’s. In measure 15 and 16, fermatas signal the end of third phrase. Two groups of 8th-note figures in right hand are followed with a chord by right hand in measure 16 and are accompanied by chords in left hand. In measure 15 and 16, the interval between each figure in right hand becomes smaller (perfect5th, minor 3rd) and eventually the phrase ends with the characteristic descending minor second. And although left hand plays chords against right hand in measure 15, it ends the phrase with minor second descending melodic figure (F,E).

Fourth phrase, starting form the middle of 16th measure profoundly corresponds with the first measure, but it is a bit smaller than the first measure. Both hands play first measures motives, but this time they have switched them. Also, the (E,F,Db,G) figure is rhythmically augmented. Although we do not hear any descending minor second interval closing the phrase, the rest at the end of measure 19 signals the end of it.

Fifth phrase (from 20 to 24) begins with rhythmically changed first measure’s figure in right hand, accentuated by rests between the  portions of figures, while just a touch of left hand’s figure hardly corresponds not with right hand’s figure in measure 2 and 3 (B,C,A,Bb). Tension of the last phrase is even more than the third (middle) phrase, by bigger leaps, accelerando, appearing at the very beginning of it, more complicated rhythmic relations, crescendo and the highest dynamic level than other phrases. In contrast with the general idea of ending the phrases with descending motion, Schoenberg has used leaps in both hands with fortissimo dynamics, which is actually balances the energy with the beginning of the piece, with piano dynamics and stepwise motions.


In the next post, I will analyze a lied by Alban Berg.


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