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Drei Klavierstücke, Op. 11 (or Three Piano Pieces) is a set of pieces for solo piano written by the Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg in 1909. They represent an early example of atonality in the composer’s work. The tempo markings of the three pieces are:
- Mässig (at a moderate speed)
- Mässig (at a moderate speed)
- Bewegt (with motion)
The Three Piano Pieces form an important milestone in the evolution of Schoenberg’s compositional style. The first two, dating from February 1909, are often cited as marking the point at which Schoenberg abandoned the last vestiges of traditional tonality, implying the language of common-practice harmony that had been inherent in western music in one way or another for centuries. The functionality of this language, to Schoenberg at least, had by this time become stretched to bursting point in some of the more chromatically saturated works of Wagner, Mahler, Richard Strauss and indeed some of Schoenberg's own earlier tonal works such as the string sextet Verklärte Nacht, Op. 4 of 1899.
This use of the term expression is especially pertinent when applied to the third of the Three Pieces, written in August 1909, whose violent emotional language, juxtaposing extremes of mood and dynamic, can be seen in the context of Schoenberg’s other expressionist works of that year such as the last of the Five Orchestral Pieces, Op. 16 and, most revealingly, the monodrama Erwartung. Characteristic of these pieces is a lack of motivic repetition or development and a rejection of traditional notions of balance and cadential, goal-oriented movement, supposedly deferring the musical discourse to a kind of stream of consciousness or subjective emotional expression. Probably because of this radical abandonment of traditional parameters, Busoni found the third piece rather harder to digest than the first two, and indeed its language does set it apart from its companions somewhat. In likening these developments to contemporary styles in visual art (Schoenberg was himself a painter), notably Kandinsky’s, with whom he had contact, the composer tellingly describes painting “without architecture... an ever-changing, unbroken succession of colours, rhythms and moods.”[this quote needs a citation]
The violence and suddenness of this emancipation from tradition was influenced by turbulent events in Schoenberg’s life at the time: his wife Mathilde had recently eloped with the painter Richard Gerstl (who committed suicide when Mathilde returned to her husband), and in the professional sphere, his work was increasingly being met with hostility or incomprehension, as at the premiere of the Second String Quartet in 1908. However, Schoenberg at this time saw no contradiction in pursuing more seemingly traditional projects, such as the orchestration of his hyper-Wagnerian Gurre-Lieder (completed in 1911), bearing out his contention that the new style was, for him, an extension of previous practice, not a rejection of it.