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Chapter 20: The Twentieth Century: Early Modernism. Expressionism. Expressionism “Emancipation of dissonance” Sprechstimme Passacaglia. Second Viennese School Ragtime “Master rhythm”. Key Terms. Expressionism . A music of increasing emotionality

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key terms

“Emancipation of dissonance”



Second Viennese School


“Master rhythm”

Key Terms
  • A music of increasing emotionality
    • Debussy & Stravinsky rejected Romanticism
    • Expressionists took it to ultimate conclusion
  • Exploited extreme psychological states
    • Hysteria, nightmare, even insanity – reflected a fascination with Freud’s work
  • Similar to parallel movement in art
    • Subjective expression of inner turmoil
    • Distorted & exaggerated melody & harmony
    • Fascination with tone color & color theory
second viennese school 1
Second Viennese School (1)
  • Schoenberg attracted two star students
    • Alban Berg & Anton Webern
  • All three shared in many innovations
    • The “emancipation of dissonance”
    • The breakdown of tonality
    • Seeking solutions to the problem of coherence in an atonal, expressionist idiom
  • Three very different personalities
    • Schoenberg developed 12-tone music
    • But each one explored it in his own way
arnold schoenberg 1874 1951
Arnold Schoenberg(1874-1951)
  • The leading expressionist composer
  • Largely self-taught in music
    • But wrote important books on music theory
    • Gifted amateur expressionist painter
  • Early music tonal, à la Mahler & Brahms
  • Began writing atonal music in 1907-08
    • Erwartung, 5 Orchestra Pieces, Pierrot lunaire
  • Developed 12-tone method in early 1920s
    • A Survivor from Warsaw, Piano Concerto
  • Taught at UCLA last 15 years of his life
schoenberg pierrot lunaire
Schoenberg, Pierrot lunaire
  • Highly influential song cycle
    • 21 poems by symbolist poet Albert Giraud
  • Pierrot is the eternal sad clown
    • Lunaire refers to the moon & the bizarre hallucinations & adventures it inspires
  • Written in an expressionist idiom
    • Kaleidoscopic scoring for voice & 5 players on 8 instruments
    • Flute (or piccolo), clarinet (or bass clarinet), violin (or viola), cello, & piano
    • Each song uses a different combination
  • Voice uses Sprechstimme (“speech-song”)
    • The soprano does not really sing or speak
    • She does something in between the two
    • Schoenberg notated approximate pitches
    • Singer must speak in an exaggerated, quasi-melodic manner
    • Sprechstimme technique magnifies, distorts, parodies, & haunts these bizarre poems
      • The actress who commissioned Pierrot requested a set of melodramas – works for a speaking voice with instrumental accompaniment!
no 8 night
No. 8: “Night”
    • For voice, piano, bass clarinet, cello
  • Evokes expressionism’s nightmarish side
    • Uses low instruments in low register
    • Dense polyphonic texture
  • Schoenberg called this a passacaglia
    • Recurring 3-note ostinato used throughout
    • Many overlapping versions, freely transposed
    • The soprano even sings the motive at the word verschwiegen (secret silent)
no 18 the moonfleck
No. 18: “The Moonfleck”
    • For voice, piano, piccolo, clarinet, violin, cello
  • Starts with piano introduction
    • Dense, dissonant, & alarmingly intense
  • The song depicts Pierrot’s obsession & the flickering moonfleck on his jacket
    • High-pitched, quicksilver motives used throughout the ensemble
    • Schoenberg uses fugues & canons
    • We hear a fantastic lacework of atonal sounds
second viennese school 2
Second Viennese School (2)
  • Anton Webern (1883-1945)
    • His life revolved around his composition, though he held low-profile conducting posts
    • Avoided Romantic grandiosity – favored low dynamics, abstract, pointillistic textures, & brief but concentrated musical structures
    • Some expressionist works are very short
    • Composers of the second phase of modernism revered his vision of abstraction & the brilliant sophistication of his later serial works
      • Symphonie, Cantatas 1 & 2, String Quartet
    • Accidentally killed by an American soldier
second viennese school 3
Second Viennese School (3)
  • Alban Berg (1885-1935)
    • After Schoenberg, the most powerful exponent of expressionism in music
    • Looked back to Romantic tradition more than Schoenberg & Webern, especially to Mahler
    • Use tonal references in Wozzeck & his Violin Concerto
    • His expressionist opera Wozzeck was an immediate success
    • Later 12-tone opera Lulu now also a classic
    • Died of an infected insect bite
berg wozzeck
Berg, Wozzeck
  • Based on an 1837 play by Georg Büchner
    • An almost paranoid vision of the helpless poor
  • Opera completed in 1923
  • Conceptually a Wagnerian work
    • Relies on orchestra for musical continuity
    • It uses leitmotivs & contains no arias
  • Influenced by earlier expressionist works
    • Sprechstimme borrowed from Pierrot lunaire
  • Berg pays much attention to musical form
    • Each scene uses a different, specific form
  • Wozzeck is a poor, downtrodden soldier
    • Troubled by visions
    • Tormented by his captain
    • Human guinea pig in bizarre experiments carried out by his regimental doctor
    • Beaten up by the drum major who is having an affair with Wozzeck’s lover, Marie
  • Wozzeck is finally pushed over the edge
    • He murders Marie, goes mad, & drowns himself
    • Their young child is left an orphan
wozzeck act iii scene iii 1
WozzeckAct III, Scene iii (1)
  • Invention on a rhythm
    • A “master rhythm” is used throughout in many different tempos
  • Wozzeck is in a tavern after killing Marie
    • The two opening chord crescendos happen immediately after the murder
    • Timpani are first to play the master rhythm – just after the first chord
    • Distorted ragtime piano introduction follows
wozzeck act iii scene iii 2
WozzeckAct III, Scene iii (2)
  • Ragtime introduction & Margret’s song make use of the master rhythm
wozzeck act iii scene iii 3
WozzeckAct III, Scene iii (3)
  • Margret sees blood on Wozzeck’s hand
    • So do the others – a crescendo of accusations (using master rhythm) chases Wozzeck away
wozzeck act iii scene iv
WozzeckAct III, Scene iv
  • Invention on a chord of six notes
    • B-flat, D-flat, E-flat, E, F, G-sharp
    • Stated throughout, both as chord & as melody
  • Wozzeck goes back to the murder scene
    • Orchestra creates eerie nighttime sounds
  • Wozzeck’s mind has finally cracked
    • Obsessed with blood, he looks for the knife
    • He drowns while trying to hide it in the pond
    • Vivid orchestral gurgles accompany his death
    • Doctor & Captain happen by – but do nothing
wozzeck act iii orchestral interlude
WozzeckAct III, Orchestral Interlude
  • Invention on a tonality
    • Orchestral music for the blackout after Wozzeck’s drowning
    • Based on a D minor tonality, but loosely, in a late Romantic idiom influenced by Mahler
    • A mourning lament for Wozzeck, Marie, & humanity at large
    • D minor often used for serious, tragic subjects
      • Bach’s Toccata & Fugue in D minor
      • Mozart’s Don Giovanni, final scene with statue
      • Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony