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Erwartung (Expectation), Op. 17, is a one-act monodrama in four scenes by Arnold Schoenberg to a libretto by Marie Pappenheim (de). Composed in 1909, it was not premiered until 6 June 1924 in Prague conducted by Alexander Zemlinsky with Marie Gutheil-Schoder as the soprano. The opera takes the unusual form of a monologue for solo soprano accompanied by a large orchestra. In performance, it lasts for about half an hour. It is sometimes paired with Béla Bartók's opera Bluebeard's Castle (1911), as the two works were roughly contemporary and share similar psychological themes. Schoenberg's succinct description of Erwartung was as follows:

In Erwartung the aim is to represent in slow motion everything that occurs during a single second of maximum spiritual excitement, stretching it out to half an hour.[1]

Philip Friedheim has described Erwartung as Schoenberg's "only lengthy work in an athematic style", where no musical material returns once stated over the course of 426 measures. In his analysis of the structure, one indication of the complexity of the music is that the first scene of over 30 bars contains 9 meter changes and 16 tempo changes.[2] Herbert Buchanan has countered this description of the work as "athematic", and the general impression of it as "atonal", in his own analysis.[3]

The musicologist Charles Rosen has said that Erwartung, along with Berg's Wozzeck and Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring, is among the "impregnable" "great monuments of modernism."[4]

Performance history[edit]

Erwartung had its British premiere on 9 January 1931, with the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by the composer.[5]

It was the first live opera shown on Times Square in New York City in a production by Robin Rhode in November 2015 (2 performances).[6][7]


  • The Woman (soprano)


Time: Night
Place: A forest

A woman is in an apprehensive state as she searches for her lover. In the darkness, she comes across what she first thinks is a body, but then realises is a tree-trunk. She is frightened and becomes more anxious as she cannot find the man she is looking for. She then finds a dead body, and sees that it is her lover. She calls out for assistance, but there is no response. She tries to revive him, and addresses him as if he were still alive, angrily charging him with being unfaithful to her. She then asks herself what she is to do with her life, as her lover is now dead. Finally, she wanders off alone into the night.


Erwartung's score calls for:

3 Flutes (3rd doubling on 2nd piccolo)
4 Oboes (4th doubling on English horn)
4 Clarinets: in D, in B-flat, 2 in A
Bass clarinet in B-flat
3 Bassoons
4 Horns in F
3 Trumpets in B-flat
4 Trombones
Bass drum
Side drum
Violins I & II
Double basses

Recordings (abridged)[edit]


  1. ^ Schoenberg, Arnold. Style and Idea. University of California Press (Los Angeles, 1984), p. 105 (ISBN 0-520-05294-3)
  2. ^ Friedheim, Philip (Spring 1966). "Rhythmic Structure in Schoenberg's Atonal Compositions". Journal of the American Musicological Society 16 (1): 59–72. doi:10.1525/jams.1966.19.1.03a00040. JSTOR 830871. 
  3. ^ Buchanan, Herbert H. (Autumn 1967). "A Key to Schoenberg's Erwartung (Op. 17)". Journal of the American Musicological Society 20 (3): 434–449. doi:10.1525/jams.1967.20.3.03a00040. JSTOR 830319. 
  4. ^ Nicolas Wroe (9 April 2011). "Charles Rosen: A life in music". The Guardian. Retrieved 20 May 2011. 
  5. ^ Nicholas Chadwick, Alban Berg and the BBC
  6. ^ "Arnold Schönberg's Erwartung – A Performance by Robin Rhode", Times Square Arts
  7. ^ "Robin Rhode Takes Schoenberg’s Erwartung to the Street (Broadway, No Less)" by Zachary Woolfe, The New York Times, 8 November 2015
  8. ^ Goldman, Richard F. (1952). "Reviews of Records". The Musical Quarterly. XXXVIII (4): 671–673. doi:10.1093/mq/XXXVIII.4.671. Retrieved 28 October 2007. 
  9. ^ MacDonald, Calum, Review of recordings of Arnold Schoenberg (September 1984). Tempo (New Ser.), 150: pp. 52–56.

External links[edit]