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Número 46º - Noviembre 2.003


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Schoenberg, Beethoven and cellular analysis

By Daniel Mateos MorenoRead his Résumé.

N. E.: Normalmente publicamos artículos en español. Sin embargo, estamos abiertos a excepciones en caso de recibir un artículo inédito en otro idioma que merezca especial interés.

Beethoven faces Schoenberg


This article discovers the relation between two masterpieces by two different composers: On one hand, Beethoven´s String Quartet Op.132, one of the finest and more eclectic piece ever written by Beethoven; on the other hand, the Op.11&22 by Schoenberg, key pieces in the research process started by the composer. First of all, a brief and schematic analysis of the first movement of Beethoven´s piece is presented, which will lead us to an overview of Beethoven´s motivic cell and cell permutations. Then, we will move on to the last part of the article that heads us to a deep reflection about the relations beetween these two different pieces.

Beethoven, string quartet Op. 132 (first movement-schematic analysis):

˜ Exposition: From measure 9 to 73.

- Introduction:

  • Measures 1 to 8.
    Plays with the motivic cell.

- First Theme:

  • Beginning from the second beat of measure 13 in Violin I (an A pitch) until third beat of measure 16 (a C pitch).

  • It repeats again from measure 23 -second beat, Violin II- until measure 26 -viola-. Notice that in this last repetition, the theme is exposed split between Violin II and Viola.

  • - Transition:

    • From Measure 34 until 47.

    - Second Theme:

    • From measure 48 -third beat in Violin II- until measure 52.

    • It repeats from that same measure 52 until 56 in the Violin I.

    • Closing: Ms. 57 to 73.

    ˜ Motivic cell:

    The motivic cell is as simple as two intervals of minor seconds, one in upper direction and the other in the opposite direction, as is: b-c, c-b (si-do, do-si).We could even reduce it more and assert that the motivic cell is an interval of minor second, whatever the direction. This theory is supported by the study of the development, where the minor second is the "main theme", and also because of the explanatory introduction to the piece.

    ˜ Cell permutation in the opening measures:

    At first, from measure 1 to 4, Beethoven plays with the basic motivic cell: two minor seconds in opposite directions. Then comes the most interesting:

    From measure 5 to 7, watching at Violin I, we may discover that he is playing the first motive but in reverse order and agogically augmented. Let́s see this:

    1st Motive is this: a - b - c(lungo) - b - a - g#

    Introduction: g# - a - b - c (lungo cause repeats twice) - b

    Schoenberg (Op. 11 & Op.22):

    After reading a famous speech given by Schoenberg about his own pieces, one realizes that he was proud that his "new" music was very "brain-made" and didn´́t pretend to "change or move the affections", or not in the ways that we were used before: in terms of tonality, form and repetitions. He tried to find a new way avoiding the aforesaid, so the real satisfaction of listening to this music is a sensation of understanding how motives and things develop rather than a traditional tonal feeling. Therefore, there is even no necessity to communicate a -sentimental- message. In our opinion, this stems from, or at least is in relation with, the assertion of Stravinsky: "Music is for the sake of music". Many philosophers nowadays think that this kind of musical language is a result of the difficult moments that the world suffered upon the war, in meanings of rejecting any kind of sentimentality. On the opposite way, still in the Germanic branch, we might find T. Adorno. He thought -in too few words- that music is a language with multiple meanings. However, Adornós theories never succeeded because he didńt give such a clear answer to the question.

    This music can be more easily compared with mathematic -indeed there are good mathematical ways of analyzing it, see set class theory- than with music. What one strongly realizes is that in Schoenberg´́s mind there was always a worry about the possibility of listener to miss the things that he presents. Schoenberg´s music was deeply influenced by Gestalt and Theory of Shapes, so he thought that whether one doesn´́t realize of cell permutations, still there is an unwitting musical sensation given by those permutations. After listening the Op.11 and Op.22 and before reading any texts about them, anyone couldn´́t be aware of all the things that occurs there, neither many. Everything would reach an understanding after reading the text and analyzing the score (not only skimming it). This is due to the following objective reason:

    Too much complexity for a listener -without the score-, though Schoenberg tried to shorten the melodies in order to be more understandable (see his speeches for mor information about this). Notwithstanding, his intends to put the themes in different instruments, in terms of orchestration, really helped us in the listening process (again see his speeches for information about his intentions in orchestration). However, following the score is more than required.

    The Conclusion:

    As Schoenberg knows, the cell transformation is not a thing of his invention. Beethoven used it, particularly in the string quartet -as explained above-. That means that "cells" it not a unique characteristic of dodecaphony or serial music. Even in the Baroque era, specially with fugues, we may find examples.

    In his epoch his contemporary but "romantic" musician, S. Rachmaninoff, used cells and hidden dodecaphonic procedures in his variations-Rhapsody on a theme by Paganini.

    For going deeper....

    - Read George Perle´s article about "Serial Composition and Atonality".

    - Read the "Analysis of Four Orchestral Songs Op.22" by Schoenberg.

    Recommended pieces by Schoenberg for listening:

    Five Pieces for Orchestra Op.16

    Transfigured Night

    Gurre Lieder

    Pierrot Lunair