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1. Satz: Mäßig (moderato)

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2. Satz: Sehr rasch

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3. Satz: Litanei (Stefan George). Langsam

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4. Satz: Entrückung (Stefan George). Sehr langsam

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VERSIONS:
Fassung für Streichquartett (1907/1908) >>> texts | sources
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Fassung für Streichorchester (1929) >>> texts | sources

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Universal Edition
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1. Satz: Mäßig (moderato)

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3. Satz: Litanei (Stefan George). Langsam

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4. Satz: Entrückung (Stefan George). Sehr langsam

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VERSIONS:
Fassung für Streichquartett (1907/1908) >>> texts | sources
Fassung für Streichorchester (1919) >>> texts | sources
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PUBLISHER:
Universal Edition
Belmont Music Publishers (USA, Kanada, Mexico)

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Introduction

For Arnold Schönberg, the Vienna years around 1908 were a time of artistic breakthrough and severe personal crisis. His family life was jolted by an intimate relationship between his wife Mathilde and the painter Richard Gerstl, who had set up his studio in the Schönbergs’ home in the Liechtensteinstrasse (in Vienna’s Ninth District) and had not only given the couple lessons but painted their portraits. The year 1907 marks the beginning of Schönberg’s activity as painter, this being yet another reflection of his need to find an artistic outlet for his inner visions. Compounding this marital crisis was his disappointment at Gustav Mahler’s departure for the United States. It was to counteract these setbacks that, in 1907 and 1908, Schönberg clearly parted ways with musical tradition, dissolving tonal harmony into atonality and entering that expressionist period of his career that would mark electrifying turn in the compositional development of our century. The Second String Quartet in F-sharp minor, op.10, represents a watershed in this evolutionary process both in the handling of material (concision of form, release from consonance) and in the history of the string quartet genre (through the addition of a solo soprano). Having completed the First String Quartet in D minor, op. 7, and the Chamber Symphony, op. 9, Schönberg now turned away from single-movement works and returned to multi-movement cycles. The earliest evidence of op. 10, found in his third sketchbook, is dated 9 March 1907, the same day on which he finished the chorus Friede auf Erden, op. 13. The third movement was completed on 11 June 1908 in Gmunden am Traunsee, followed by the second movement on 27 July; the fourth was probably composed there as well. Like the First Chamber Symphony, Schönberg repeatedly subjected his new quartet to revision, among other things making several arrangements of it for string orchestra: In the first movement, the formal structure is imparted less by the key scheme than by the layout of the thematic material, as the weakened ties to a tonic can no longer contribute to the formal design. It is a sonata-form movement largely lacking in contrast and containing five thematic ideas; all of them are related by motivic transformation to the first theme of the main group, which is rooted in the key of F-sharp minor. If the key relations become blurred in the second group, the development section, after opening with a contrast between F-sharp minor and C major, suspends the sense of key altogether apart from a few sidelong glances toward the tonic. At first, the recapitulation avoids re-establishing the home key and is instead ushered in by an A minor/D minor complex. As in Schönberg's chronologically related a cappella chorus “Friede auf Erden,” we note a similar tendency to shy away from modulations capable of engendering a sense of form. The D-minor scherzo is made up of two large thematic complexes followed by a highly contrasting section resembling a development. The first complex contains a reminiscence of the main theme of the first movement, from which it is derived through segmentation. In the trio, the second violin quotes the Viennese folk song “Oh, dear Augustin, it’s all over” (“O du lieber Augustin, alles ist hin”), which Schönberg scholars have variously interpreted as an autobiographical reference to his marital crisis and as a symbol of his abandonment of functional tonality. The two Stefan George poems, “Litany” (“Litanei”) and “Rapture” (“Entrückung”), are taken from “Der siebente Ring,” a collection of his poems published privately in 1907. Here Schönberg has worked them into a set of variations and into a finale far removed from traditional notions of form. Using chromatic complex and altered fourth-chords, the finale is replete with what Anton Webern called “harmonies never heard before [] detached from all tonal bearings.” The theme of “Litany” comprises four figures extracted from the opening movement and the scherzo and functioning as ‘leitmotifs’ within the work’s underlying program. The third movement may be viewed as a development section for the two preceding movements. Set in E-flat minor, it is richly contrapuntal if less prone to modulation, its variations closely adhering to the form of the poem. In the first variation, the soprano enters with a melody that retains its thematic independence throughout the remaining variations. Discussing the finale in his “Notes on the Four String Quartets,” Schönberg remarked: “The fourth movement, Entrückung, begins with an introduction, depicting the departure from earth to another planet. The visionary poet here foretold sensations, which perhaps soon will be affirmed. Becoming relieved from gravitation – passing through clouds into thinner and thinner air, forgetting all the troubles of life on earth – that is attempted to be illustrated in this introduction.” A single line from George’s poem “Entrückung” – “I am dissolved in swirling sound” (“Ich löse mich in Tönen, kreisend”) – might stand as a motto for the progressive tonal language of this finale, which otherwise adheres to the standard classical design: Introduction, Main Group (verses 1 to 3), Second Group (verses 4 and 5), Development (verses 6 to 8), Coda. In juxtaposition to sections that entirely suspend the feeling of key – in particular the Introduction, which sets up “twelve-tone” fields, but organizes them around fifth relationships –, other passages offer conspicuously tonal cadences. As in the scherzo, the writing generally employs a free-floating tonality. For the performance of “Entrückung,” Schönberg gave priority to the quality and expressive projection of timbre, as is particularly evident in the handwritten instructions he entered in one of the sources of op. 10. Here, for instance, is how he imagines a musically transcendent depiction of a gossamer mist as it slowly dissipates: “The whole passage must be like a breath. Nothing should stand out. Only the voice may be emphasized, and then in timbre only, not in loudness.”

Therese Muxeneder
© Arnold Schönberg Center

Introductory note (1937)

My second string quartet caused, at its first performance in Vienna, December 1908, riots which surpassed every previous and subsequent happening of this kind. Although there were also some personal enemies of mine, who used the occasion to annoy me - a fact which can today be proved true - I have to admit, that these riots were justified without the hatred of my enemies, because they were a natural reaction of a conservatively educated audience to a new kind of music. Astonishingly, the first movement passed without any reaction, either for or against. But, after the first measures of the second movement, the greater part of the audience started to laugh and did not cease to disturb the performance during the third movement "Litanei," (in form of variations) and the fourth movement "Entrückung." It was very embarrassing for the Rosé Quartet and the singer, the great Mme. Marie Gutheil-Schoder. But at the end of this fourth movement a remarkable thing happened. After the singer ceases, there comes a long coda played by the string quartet alone. While, as before mentioned, the audience failed to respect even a singing lady, this coda was accepted without any audible disturbance. Perhaps even my enemies and adversaries might have felt something here.

(Arnold Schönberg, introductory note for the private recording with the Kolisch Quartet, Los Angeles 1936/37; vgl. Fred Steiner "A History of the First Complete Recording of the Schoenberg String Quartets," in Journal of the Arnold Schoenberg Institute 2 (February 1978), no.2, 122–137)