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Nr. 1: Leicht, zart

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Nr. 2: Langsam

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Nr. 3: Sehr langsam

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Nr. 4: Rasch, aber leicht

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Nr. 6: Sehr langsam

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DURATION: ca. 5 Min.

PUBLISHER:
Universal Edition
Belmont Music Publishers (USA, Kanada, Mexico)

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On a cold winter's day in 1911, when Schoenberg was fully occupied with reading the proofs of his major theoretical and pedagogical work, “Harmonielehre” (“Theory of Harmony”), he arranged a day off in order to compose a set of five piano miniatures. “I said to Webern: for my music you must have time. It does not suit people who have other things to do. But it is in any case a great pleasure to hear one’s pieces played by somebody who has fully mastered them from a technical viewpoint.” Schoenberg made this note in his diary a year later, after the pianist Egon Petri had played him the Six Piano Pieces, op. 19, in Berlin.

With their miniature format and extreme aphoristic brevity, these pieces might appear to be a strange and confusing depature from Schoenberg’s normal concise formulation, but they are wholly symptomatic of the free-tonal form of his works (and of those of his pupils and successors, who were innovators in their own right) at this time. The natural melodic flow and expansive breadth that would make themselves apparent again in the later dodecaphonic works here yield to an epigrammatic form of expression. This might be described as the antithesis of the symphonies of his contemporary Gustav Mahler and also of Schoenberg’s own “Gurrelieder,” a monumental work for orchestra, choir and solo voices that was finished at roughly the same time.

This first of the op. 19 pieces is exactly seventeen bars long and consists of melodic nuclei that do not come together into a phrase but are heard one after the other, like disjointed thoughts. In the next piece, the rhythmic ostinato of repeated major thirds assures a far greater degree of stability, as though the composer had now underpinned the piano writing with tonality. In the third piece, the right and left hands develop in independent dynamic frameworks, thus forming a contrast with each other, in a very fragmented way. The next two pieces can be perceived as a combination of recitative and aria.

Gustav Mahler died in Vienna on 18th May 1911. For Schoenberg he had been a mentor and a friend whom Schoenberg was even to characterize as a saint. After the burial at Grinzing Cemetery, Schoenberg painted a picture depicting the mourners (himself among them) at the composers’ open grave. The colours, however, can only superficially reflect his profound emotion; a few weeks later, in endless grief, he composed the sixth and last piece of op. 19.

Therese Muxeneder
© Arnold Schönberg Center