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Work

Arnold Schoenberg

Arnold Schoenberg Composer

6 Little Pieces, Op.19   

Performances: 27
Tracks: 129
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Musicology:
  • 6 Little Pieces, Op.19
    Year: 1911
    Genre: Other Keyboard
    Pr. Instrument: Piano
    • 1.Leicht, zart
    • 2.Langsam
    • 3.Sehr langsam
    • 4.Rasch, aber leicht
    • 5.Etwas rasch
    • 6.Sehr langsam
At the time Schoenberg abandoned tonality—in the Songs, Op. 14, and the first two of the Three Piano Pieces, Op. 11—he found that further progress along the path of pure "expression" would lead him to a renunciation of motivic procedures as well. This left him with a choice: either construct music consisting of ideas that are complete from the outset and require no development, or create works that are continuously developmental with no clearly expository sections. Briefly, Schoenberg chose the latter method and set about composing the last two pieces in Opp. 11 and 16. About a year later, he experimented with the former possibility, writing the brief, highly compact Six Piano Pieces, Op. 19. For a time, Schoenberg found his path in constructing large forms around a text such as Erwartung, leaving the compact, non-developmental idiom to Webern. The first five pieces of Op. 19 were composed in a single day, February 19, 1911; the sixth followed on June 17. The musical equivalent of aphorisms, the longest of the set, No. 1, encompasses 18 measures while the shortest, Nos. 2 and 3, only nine each.

Leicht, zart (Light, sweet) is in many ways the most frantic and active of the set (it even boasts a trill). Descending lines in the right hand are set against rising gestures in the left, while fleeting chords contrast with single-note passages. After a brief pause, a new, song-like idea initiates the final moments of the piece.

Both form and content are derived from different types of contrast in the second piece, marked Langsam (Slow). A quiet, repeated third (G and B), played staccato in an ostinato pattern, contrasts with an angular but legato melody at a higher dynamic level. Brief pauses create the illusion of cadences constructed of minimal material. The most effective of these pauses occurs just after a vertical build-up of thirds.

Some melodic repetition and manipulation occurs in the third piece, Sehr langsam Viertel (Very slow quarter note). A bass motive appears at several pitch levels and is inverted and played in smaller note values in the treble range near the end.

Because of its tempo, Rasch, aber leicht (Fast, but light), No. 4 is the shortest of the Op. 19 pieces. It is unusual in because it features a melody distinct from an "accompaniment." Near the end, a diminution of the opening idea appears and apart from the bass line of the preceding piece, is one of the only instances of repetition. The piece closes with strident chords.

Etwas rasch (Somewhat fast) begins with a contrapuntal, linear statement, but chords built of thirds appear in a burst of activity just before its quiet close.

Revolving around two chords that actually make up a single, six-note sonority, Sehr langsam (Very slow) may be a lament on the recent death of Schoenberg's supportive elder colleague, Gustav Mahler. The dynamic never rises above p and falls as low as pppp. H.H. Stuckenschmidt has characterized the last of the set as representing "the furthest degree of dematerialization of the musical language." Some might say that it expresses the pure essence of the musical language. Two chords open and close this gloomy piece, and at only one point does anything linear intrude.

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