String quartets (Schoenberg)

String quartets (Schoenberg)

The Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg published four string quartets, distributed over his lifetime. These were the "String Quartet No. 1 in D minor, Op. 7" (1905), "String Quartet No. 2 in F sharp minor, Op. 10" (1908), "String Quartet No. 3, Op. 30" (1927), and the "String Quartet No. 4, Op. 37" (1936).

In addition to these, he had written several other works for string quartet which were not published. The most notable was his early "String Quartet in D major" (1897). There was also a "Presto in C minor" [] (1895), a "Scherzo in F major" [] (1897), and later a "Four-part Mirror Cannon in A major" [] (ca. 1933).

Schoenberg also wrote a "Concerto for String Quartet and Orchestra in B flat major" (1933): an arrangement of a work by the Baroque composer George Frideric Handel.

String Quartet in D major

This string quartet in four movements is Schoenberg's earliest extant work of large scale: average duration of recorded performances is about 27 minutes. Completed in 1897, it was premiered privately on March 17th, 1898, and publicly later that same year on December 20th in Vienna. It was published posthumously in 1966 (Faber Music, London).

Schoenberg's friend Alexander Zemlinsky gave him much advice and criticism during the composition of this work. Zemlinsky even showed an early draft of it to Johannes Brahms, whom Schoenberg very much admired. It was given the old master's approval.ref|2

# Allegro molto
# Intermezzo (Andantino grazioso)
# Theme and Variations (Andante con moto)
# Allegro

The original second movement was the Scherzo in F which now exists as a separate piece. Schoenberg substituted the Intermezzo at Zemlinsky's suggestion.

String Quartet No. 1

A large work consisting of one movement which lasts longer than 45 minutes, Schoenberg's first string quartet was his first assured masterpiece, and it was the real beginning of his reputation as a composer. Written in the years 1904 and 1905, this string quartet is remarkable for its density and intensity of orchestration with only four instruments. Unlike his later works, this work is tonal, bearing the key of D minor, though it stretches this to its limit with the thoroughly extended tonality of late Romantic music. It also carries a small collection of themes which appear again and again in many different guises. Besides his extension of tonality and tight motivic structure, Schoenberg makes use of another innovation, which he called "musical prose." Instead of balanced phrase structures typical of string quartet writing up to that period, he favored asymmetrical phrases that build themselves into larger cohesive groups called "sentences." The first performance was given in Vienna on February 5, 1907 by the Rosé Quartet after extensive rehearsal.

According to Schoenberg, when he showed the score to Gustav Mahler, the composer exclaimed: "I have conducted the most difficult scores of Wagner; I have written complicated music myself in scores of up to thirty staves and more; yet here is a score of not more than four staves, and I am unable to read them." ref|1

String Quartet No. 2

This work in four movements was written during what must have been a very emotional time in Schoenberg's life. Though it bears the dedication "to my wife", it was written during Mathilde Schoenberg's affair with their neighbour, Richard Gerstl, in 1908.

[ Carmel Quartet] with soprano Rona Israel-Kolatt.] The third and fourth movements are quite unusual for a string quartet, as they also include a soprano singer, using poetry written by Stefan George. The first three movements are tonal, though like his first string quartet this is the very extended tonality of the late Romantic period. The first movement is in a compressed sonata form. The second movement, the scherzo, quotes a Viennese street-song, 'Ach, du lieber Augustin' (Oh, dear Augustin). The fourth movement has no key signature, and may be considered Arnold Schoenberg's first experiment in atonality, making use of the entire chromatic gamut, though its adventurous harmony comes to a close on a haunting F sharp major chord. Its first performance was given by the Rosé Quartet and Marie Gutheil-Schoder in Vienna on December 21, 1908. The work was later revised in 1921; Schoenberg also made a version for full string orchestra.

# "Mäßig" (Moderate), F sharp minor
# "Sehr rasch" (Very brisk), D minor
# "Litanei", langsam" ("Litany", slow), E flat minor
# "Entrückung", sehr langsam" ("Rapture", very slow), No key


The later two movements of the second string quartet are set to poems from Stefan George's collection "Der siebente Ring" (The Seventh Ring), which was published in 1907.

String Quartet No. 3

Arnold Schoenberg's third string quartet dates from 1927, after he had worked out the basic principles of his twelve-tone technique. Though the work is serial, he discouraged attempts to follow the transformations of the pitch series aurally. The themes of this work seem to consist mainly of rhythmic patterns rather than pitch, which are reused in variation just as in Classical music (and even though it is not used as thematic material, there is also considerable motivic use of pitch). Indeed, Schoenberg had taken Classical forms as a model for this work.

The piece was commissioned by Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge on March 2, 1927, though the work had already been completed by this time, and its première was given in Vienna later that year on September 19 by the Kolisch Quartet.

# Moderato
# Theme and Variations (Adagio)
# Intermezzo (Allegro moderato)
# Rondo (Molto moderato)

String Quartet No. 4

The fourth string quartet of 1936 is very much representative of Schoenberg's late style. The work is dodecaphonic like the third string quartet, though in this quartet the focus is much more melodic rather than rhythmic. The first movement is in an adaped sonata form. Peter J. Burkholder has suggested that in this movement Schoenberg's choice of the different forms of the 12-note row function in a manner analogous to the different tonal areas explored in a sonata form that is written in traditional tonality. The slow movement opens with a long unison recitative in all four instruments while the finale has the character of a march, similar to the last movement of Schoenberg's Violin Concerto written about the same time.

This work, like the third quartet, was commissioned by Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, and was completed on July 26, 1936. Its first performance was given January 8, 1937 in Los Angeles by the Kolisch Quartet.

# Allegro molto, Energico
# Comodo
# Largo
# Allegro


* Babbitt, Milton. 2003. "The Collected Essays of Milton Babbitt", edited by Stephen Peles, with Stephen Dembski, Andrew Mead, and Joseph N. Straus. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-08966-3
* Barbier, Pierre E. "String Quartets nos. 1,2", "Historical Legitimacy", included booklet. Praga Digitals PRD 250 112 HMCD 90, Prague, 1997.
* Burkholder, Peter J. 'Schoenberg the Reactionary' in "Schoenberg and his World", edited by Walter Frisch. Princeton University Press, 1999. ISBN 0-691-04861-4
* Harrison, Max. "Schoenberg, the String Quartets", "Four Staging Posts on Schoenberg's Musical Journey", included booklet. Phillips Classics 464 046-2, München, 1999.
*MacDonald, Malcolm. "Brahms." Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2001. ISBN 0-19-816484-X
* Peles, Stephen. "Interpretations of Sets in Multiple Dimensions: Notes on the Second Movement of Arnold Schoenberg's String Quartet Number 3". "Perspectives of New Music", 22, nos. 1 & 2 (Fall-Winter 1983–Spring-Summer 1984): 303–52.
* Schoenberg, Arnold. "Style and Idea." University of California Press, Los Angeles, 1984. ISBN 0-520-05294-3 p. 42
* Schoenberg, Arnold. "String Quartets nos. 1 and 2." Dover Publications, Inc., Mineola, New York, 1997. ISBN 0-486-29693-8
* Stolz, Nolan. 2008. Contrapuntal Techniques in Schoenberg's Fourth String Quartet. "Eunomios" (August): 1-10.

External links

* [ String Quartet in D major at]
* [ String Quartet No. 1 at]
* [ String Quartet No. 2 at]
* [ String Quartet No. 3 at]
* [ String Quartet No. 4 at]
* [ Analysis: Contrapuntal Techniques in Schoenberg’s Fourth String Quartet]

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