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Directed Motion in Schoenberg and Webern

Author(s): Roy Travis


Source: Perspectives of New Music, Vol. 4, No. 2 (Spring - Summer, 1966), pp. 85-89
Published by: Perspectives of New Music
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DIRECTED MOTION IN SCHOENBERG
AND WEBERN
ROY TRAVIS

FELIX SAL Z ER 'S Structural Hearing has alreadyprovided


eloquentevidencethatvaluableinsightsintothe music of Bart6k,
Hindemith, and Stravinsky can be gainedby a broaderapplicationof
theconceptsofHeinrichSchenker.But therehavebeenfewattempts
to explainthemusicofSchoenberg, Berg,andWebernin theseterms;
themusicof atonality and serialismdoes notreadilyyieldto analysis
fromthestandpoint ofdirectedmotion.Such an approachimpliesnot
the
only possibility ofrecognizing clearlyestablishedoriginsandgoals
ofmotion, buttheconcomitant possibilityofunderstanding thedetails
ofsuchmotionsas elaborations on variouslevels(foreground, middle-
or
ground, background) of a primordialprogression or structure
whichcan be assumedtounderlietheentirecomposition andtounfold
through time some sort oftonic sonority,triadicor otherwise.'
The difficultyof attackingatonaland serialmusicwiththisset of
assumptions seemsobvious.Nevertheless, in reconsideringtwo brief
piano piecesby Schoenberg and Webern, I
respectively, have been
tempted to set down in thediscussion that followsa number of obser-
vationsmade fromthis pointof view. As it happens,both of the
compositions in questionhave been analyzedfromquite different
vantagepointsin separatearticlesthatappearedinthesecondissueof
PERSPECTIVES (Vol. 1, No. 2).2

I. SCHOENBERG, OP. 19, NO. 2


It is possibleto explainthechordalmaterialsof thesecondof the
Sechs Kleine Klavierstiickewithoutinvokingeitherimaginarytriads
of resolution3
or the cumbersome
if stylishirrelevancies
of mathe-
1 In an earlier articleI have discussed several examples fromStravinskyand Bart6k
involving dissonant tonic sonorities. (See "Toward a New Concept of Tonality?"
Journal of Music Theory,Vol. III, No. 2.)
2 Allen Forte, "Context and Continuityin an Atonal Work: A Set-TheoreticAp-
proach," and Peter Westergaard, "Webern and 'Total Organization': An Analysis of
the Second Movementof Piano Variations,Op. 27."
3 Hugo Leichtentritt, Musical Form, Harvard UniversityPress, Cambridge, 1961,
pp. 445-46.
v 85
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PERSPECTIVES OF NEW MUSIC

matical set-theory.4This brief compositionis concerned with the


gradual approach to a complextonic-sonority reached only at the end
ofm. 9. Containedwithinthesonorityitselfare a C-major-minor chord
with a major seventh,plus an analogous chord-formbuilt upon the
dominantdegree (Ex. 1).
The essential motionis accomplishedby means of two diverging
streams of thirds, each of which has its source in the reiterated
"dominant"third,G/B. The tonesofthisintervalare retainedthrough-
out, and eventuallytake on the meaning of inner-voices.This activity
can be schematicallysummarizedas in Ex. 2.
In rhythmiccontext,these events succeed each other as in Ex-
ample 3.
It is necessaryto subject the sketchin Ex. 3 to several manipula-
tions,bothregistraland motivic,in orderto relateit to the Schoenberg
piano piece. (Compare Ex. 3 to Ex. 4.)
For instance, the lower tone of Gb/Bb (the second member
of the descendingstreamof thirds) is deployedover no less than four
distinctregisters,in mm. 2, 5, and 6. Anotherdetail is the chromatic
ascent fromthe D of m. 2 (an upper voice of the V chord), via Eb
(mm. 3 and 4) and E (m. 5), to the F in the bass registerof m. 6.
This F, presentedtogetherwith Gb in m. 6, is in fact an anticipation
of the lower voice of the subsequent third, F/A to which Gb/Bb
progresses in m. 7. The succeeding bass descent is obvious. Note
however the effectof accelerationas the lower stream of thirds ap-
proaches the final tonic (mm. 51/--9). When one considers the
structuraloutervoices (indicated in boldly stemmedhalf-notes),the
significance of the reiterated motive G/B-C/Eb-G/B in mm. 4
and 5 becomes evident.It is a diminutionon the foregroundlevel of
the structuraleventsof the entirepiece (from G/B of m.1 to C/Eb
of m. 9). This diminutionis also hintedat in the espressivomelodyof
mm. 2-3. An attempthas been made to unravelthe complexitiesofthis
phrase in Ex. 5.
The sonorityin the finalmeasure of the Schoenberg piece can be
regarded as a diminutionin anothersense as well. The retentionof
the upper voices belongingto the V chord (F4, Bb, D) summarizes
in essence the motion of the entire composition,which in the last
analysisis concernedwiththe movementfromthe chord-form built on
V to the same chord-formbuilt on I. By statingboth chords simul-
taneouslyat the end, Schoenberg remindsthe listenerof the genesis
of the entire piece. (Bart6k, of course, does very much the same
thingin m. 13 of his FourthQuartet,where the eighth-notesffchord
4 Allen Forte, op.cit.

86
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DIRECTED MOTION IN SCHOENBERG AND WEBERN

on the second beat of the measure summarizes the activityof mm.


4-13, which is concerned with the progressionfrom the four-tone
chromaticcluster at the end of m. 5 to the whole-tonecluster at the
end of m. 7 [Ex. 6]. )5

II. WEBERN, PIANO VARIATIONS, OP. 27, SECOND MOVEMENT

In an analysis virtuallyas rigorousas the compositionit describes,


Peter Westergaard not onlycodifiesthe interrelationships among:
i. thesevendyadsformedby theinversionsymmetry aroundA... ;
ii. ... the fourpairs of row forms;
iii. .... registers;
iv. .... dynamiclevels;
and v. ... rhythmicvariables
but he interpretsthe effectsof these interrelationships"in such tradi-
tional terms as: use of the medium, rhythmand meter, intervallic
detail, . . . harmonicmotion,and . . . form."6Althoughone hesitates
to add anythingto such a formidableand thoroughgoingdiscourse,
Mr. Westergaard'semphasis on the importanceof registrationand his
discussion of the harmonicmotion (not to mentionthe music itself)
has stimulateda line of inquirywhich I finddifficult to resist.
First of all, to what extenthas "the inversionsymmetryaround A"
been expressedin termsof a fixedsystemof registration?7 In mm. 1-25
of the Webern Symphony,Op. 21, anothercontextin which "inver-
sionally related row-formsare canonically disposed," the "axis of
symmetry"8 is not only A (in this case the A below middle-C), but
everysingle tonewithinthe first25 measuresis confinedto the system
of registrationillustratedin Ex. 7.
The question arises whether a similar system of registration
is employedin the second movementof the Op. 27 Piano Variations.
In Ex. 8 I have eliminatedthe hand-crossingsin orderto reveal more
clearlythe actual sequence of auditoryeventsso thata possible system
of registrationmight become more evident.
What emergesis not a single systemforthe entirepiece, but four
slightlydifferent systemscorrespondingto each of the four pairs of
row-forms.All four systems have in common not only the axis of
symmetryA, but the three other dyads circled (Fj/C, C#/F, and
5 See Milton Babbitt, "The String Quartets of Bart6k," Musical Quarterly,Vol.
xxxv, No. 3, Ex. 8, pp. 381-82, and George Perle, "SymmetricalFormationsin the
StringQuartetsof B61a Bart6k,"Music Review, Vol. 16, No. 4, Ex. 2a, p. 311.
6 See Peter Westergaard, op.cit., p. 109.
7 I am indebtedto Andrew Imbrie for alertingme to the presence of fixedsystems
of registrationin the music of Webern.
8sTo borrow George Perle's term (see op.cit.).
87*

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PERSPECTIVES OF NEW MUSIC

G#/Bb).Two otherdyads (Eb/D#and D/E) are sharedby three


ofthefoursystems.
It is evidentthata tensionarisesbetweenthe clear canonicstate-
mentofa row-form and itsinversion, and thevoice-crossings necessi-
tatedby such "pre-ordained" of It
systems registration. mightbe
arguedthatthe prevailingeighth-note lag betweencanonic"voices"
(pointedoutby Mr. Westergaard)is sufficient to distinguishthem.
However,themarkeddynamiccontrastbetweensuccessivearticula-
tionpatternstendsto emphasizea givendyad ratherthanits com-
ponentcanonic"voices."9Furthermore, theseare onlypartiallyclari-
fiedbytheelaboratepantomime ofcrossinghands,becausethehands
exchangerow-forms severaltimesin mid-row(e.g., in mm.5, 8, 17,
and 19). Thereforeif discreterow formsin canonicrelationship
emergeat all in performance, theydo so imperfectly, and in terms
primarily ofa visualrather than an auditoryexperience.
It is interestingto speculateon the possiblemeaningsthat the
Salzerianconceptof melodicprogression couldhave withinthefixed
of
systems registration of thispiece,in which thecomposerhas legis-
latedthatall activity is to be confinedto a particulargroupof dyads
(or pairs of tones) of whicheach memberand its counterpart are
alwaysto be equidistantfroma commonaxis of symmetry. For ex-
ample,therewould seem to be threepossibleways of interpreting
progressions betweentonesindifferent registers.
1. Melodic progressionmay occur freelyfromany chromaticde-
gree to any other,regardless of respectivepositionwithin the fixed
"galaxy"oftones.The chiefimpediment to hearingsuchprogressions
in thispiecewouldbe theonealreadymentioned, namely,thatsincea
given melodic is
progression alwayspresentedtogetherwithits in-
in
version, purelyauditorytermsthereis no way forthe listenerto
knowwhena voice-crossing is intended.
2. Melodic progressionis to be understoodonly as motionfroma
given dyad to a directlyadjacent dyad closer to or furtheraway from
the common axis of symmetry.This definitionseems to offerthe
advantageof immediateauditoryintelligibility. Unfortunately how-
ever,as faras I am able to determine,
it is clearlyapplicableonlyto
mm.6-9 ofthismovement. (See bracketedcontext, Ex. 8.)
3. Melodic progressionmay occur fromany degree to any other,
regardlessof octave registration,providingthat it is not necessaryto
assume a voice-crossingor inversionof a dyad. For example, if the
followingoctavetransfersof registerwere admitted(Ex. 9), it
9 If, for example, the left hand were to have been played f and the right hand
p,
it might have been easier to hear a principal form crossing its inversion in the
monochrometimbreof the piano.
a 88 a

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DIRECTED MOTION IN SCHOENBERG AND WEBERN
wouldbe possibleto explaintheentiremovement in termsofan alter-
nationbetweenthe "Tonic Dyad" (G#/Bb) and the "Polar Dyad"
(D/E). This repeatedprogression betweenmajor secondsa tritone
apart would at the same timeexplainthe over-allimpression
of har-
monicstasis, and the apparentlycontradictory sense of harmonic
thrustwhichimpelledMr. Westergaardto recognize"Haydnesque
wit" in the built-inluftpauseimmediatelyprecedingthe inevitable
returnto thefinal"TonicDyad" ofm. 22 (Ex. 10).

S89

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