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 wrote 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 major (ca. 1895), a Scherzo in F major (1897), and later a Four-part Mirror Canon in A major (ca. 1933). Finally, several string quartets exist in fragmentary form. These include String Quartet in F major (before 1897), String Quartet in D minor (1904), String Quartet in C major (after 1904), String Quartet Movement (1926), String Quartet (1926), String Quartet in C major (after 1927) and String Quartet No. 5 (1949).
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 17, 1898, and publicly later that same year on December 20 in Vienna. It was published posthumously in 1966 (Faber Music, London).
Schoenberg's friend Alexander von 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.[page needed]
- Allegro molto
- Intermezzo (Andantino grazioso)
- Theme and Variations (Andante con moto)
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. Begun in the summer of 1904 and completed in September 1905, this 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, such as the quartal harmony pictured at right. 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." 
String Quartet No. 2
This work in four movements was written during 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 friend and neighbour, artist Richard Gerstl, in 1908. Previous dedicatees are guessed at to have been either Arnold Rosé, the founder of the Rosé Quartet (who performed Schoenberg's string quartets) or Gustav Mahler, a good friend of Schoenberg.
"I was inspired by poems of Stefan George, the German poet, to compose music to some of his poems and, surprisingly, without any expectation on my part, these songs showed a style quite different from everything I had written before." - Arnold Schoenberg (1937)
The first three movements are tonal, though as in 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, 'Oh 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 latter 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.
Tief ist die trauer die mich umdüstert,
Lang war die reise, matt sind die glieder,
Durstende zunge darbt nach dem weine.
Gönne die ruhe schwankenden schritten,
Schwach ist mein atem rufend dem traume,
Leih deine kühle, lösche der brände.
Gluten im herzen lodern noch offen,
Töte das sehnen, schliesse die wunde!
Deep is the sadness that gloomily comes over me,
Long was the journey, my limbs are weary,
My thirsty tongue desires wine.
Grudge peace to my staggering steps,
Weak is my breath, calling the dream,
Lend your coolness, douse the fires,
Fires in my heart still glow, open,
Kill the longing, close the wound!
Ich fühle luft von anderem planeten.
Und bäum und wege die ich liebte fahlen
Bist nun erloschen ganz in tiefern gluten
Ich löse mich in tönen, kreisend, webend,
Mich überfährt ein ungestümes wehen
Dann seh ich wie sich duftige nebel lüpfen
Der boden schüffert weiss und weich wie molke.
In einem meer kristallnen glanzes schwimme--
I feel air from another planet.
And trees and paths that I loved fade
Are only extinguished completely in a deep glowing
I lose myself in tones, circling, weaving,
A violent wind passes over me
Then I see a filmy mist rising
The land looks white and smooth like whey,
Swimming in a sea of crystal radiance--
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 music of the Classical period. Indeed, Schoenberg had followed the "fundamental classicistic procedure" by modeling this work on Schubert's String Quartet in A minor, Op. 29, without intending in any way to recall Schubert's composition. There is evidence that Schoenberg regarded his 12-tone sets—independent of rhythm and register—as motivic in the commonly understood sense, and this has been demonstrated with particular reference to the second movement of this quartet.
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 on September 19, 1927, by the Kolisch Quartet.
- 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 adapted sonata form. J. Peter 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
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- String Quartet in D major at Schoenberg.org
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- String Quartet No. 2 at Schoenberg.org
- String Quartet No. 3 at Schoenberg.org
- String Quartet No. 4 at Schoenberg.org
- Analysis: Contrapuntal Techniques in Schoenberg’s Fourth String Quartet