Five Pieces for Orchestra

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Five Pieces for Orchestra
by Arnold Schoenberg
Portrait of Arnold Schoenberg by Richard Gerstl, ca. June 1905
Native nameFünf Orchesterstücke
StyleFree atonality
Date3 September 1912
ConductorSir Henry Wood

The Five Pieces for Orchestra (Fünf Orchesterstücke), Op. 16, were composed by Arnold Schoenberg in 1909, and first performed in London in 1912. The titles of the pieces, reluctantly added by the composer after the work's completion upon the request of his publisher, are as follows:

  1. "Vorgefühle", Sehr rasch ("Premonitions", very fast)
  2. "Vergangenes", Mäßige Viertel ("The Past", moderate crotchets)
  3. "Farben", Mäßige Viertel ("Summer Morning by a Lake: Chord-Colors", moderate crotchets)
  4. "Peripetie", Sehr rasch ("Peripeteia", very fast)
  5. "Das obligate Rezitativ", Bewegte Achtel ("The Obbligato Recitative", busy quavers)

The Five Pieces further develop the notion of "total chromaticism" that Schoenberg introduced in his Three Piano Pieces, Op. 11 (composed earlier that year) and were composed during a time of intense personal and artistic crisis for the composer, this being reflected in the tensions and, at times, extreme violence of the score, mirroring the expressionist movement of the time, in particular its preoccupation with the subconscious and burgeoning madness.[citation needed]


The work had its world premiere in the Queen's Hall, London at a Promenade Concert on 3 September 1912, conducted by Sir Henry Wood, a constant champion of new music. During rehearsals for Schoenberg's suite he urged his reluctant players, "Stick to it, gentlemen! This is nothing to what you'll have to play in 25 years' time"[1][2] The work was not well received; the critic Ernest Newman, who was receptive to Schoenberg's music, wrote after the performance:

It is not often that an English audience hisses the music it does not like, but a good third of the people at Queen's Hall last Tuesday permitted themselves that luxury after the performance of the five orchestral pieces of Schoenberg. Another third of the audience was only not hissing because it was laughing, and the remaining third seemed too puzzled either to laugh or to hiss; so that on the whole it does not look as if Schoenberg has so far made many friends in London.[3]


The work exists in two different scorings: the original 1909 version for a very large orchestra and the revised version of 1949 which reduces the size of the orchestra to more-or-less normal proportions, "giving up the contrabass clarinet, as well as the four-fold scoring of the other woodwinds and two of the six horns".[4] This version was published posthumously in 1952.

Third movement[edit]

Klangfarbenmelodie in mm. 8–11 of "Summer Morning by a Lake"

According to Robert Erickson, "harmonic and melodic motion is curtailed, in order to focus attention on timbral and textural elements".[5] Blair Johnston claims that this movement is actually titled "Chord-Colors", that Schoenberg "removes all traditional motivic associations" from this piece, that it is generated from a single harmony: C–G–B–E–A (the Farben chord, shown below), found in a number of chromatically altered derivatives, and is scored for "a kaleidoscopically rotating array of instrumental colors".[6]

\override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f
\relative c' { \new PianoStaff <<
  \new Staff { \clef treble \time 4/4 <e a>1 }
  \new Staff { \clef bass \time 4/4 <c, gis' b>1 }
>> } }

Whether or not this was an early example of what Schoenberg later called Klangfarbenmelodie (in his 1911 book Harmonielehre) is a matter of dispute. One scholar holds that Schoenberg's "now-famous statements about 'Klangfarbenmelodie' are, however, reflections, which have no direct connection to the Orchestra Piece op. 16, no. 3".[7] An attempt to refute this view was published in the same journal issue.[8]

Schoenberg explains in a note added to the 1949 revision of the score, "The conductor need not try to polish sounds which seem unbalanced, but watch that every instrumentalist plays accurately the prescribed dynamic, according to the nature of his instrument. There are no motives in this piece which have to be brought to the fore".[9]

Second performance and influence[edit]

Wood invited Schoenberg to conduct London's second performance of the work in 1914. The composer's only British pupil, Edward Clark, conveyed the invitation and on 17 January 1914 Schoenberg conducted the work at the Queen's Hall.[10][11][12] The laughter and hissing of the first performance were not repeated, and the work was heard in silence and politely applauded.[13] The composer was delighted with the performance and congratulated Wood and the orchestra warmly: "I must say it was the first time since Gustav Mahler that I heard such music played again as a musician of culture demands."[14] This concert may have been attended by Gustav Holst,[15] who obtained a copy of the score, the only Schoenberg score he ever owned. Echoes of the work appear in The Planets (originally titled Seven Pieces for Large Orchestra), and in the opening of his ballet The Lure (1921), which closely resembles the third of Schoenberg's Five Pieces.[2]



  1. ^ Jacobs 1994, p. 137.
  2. ^ a b Lambourn, David (August 1987). "Henry Wood and Schoenberg". The Musical Times. 128 (1734): 422–427. doi:10.2307/965003. JSTOR 965003. (subscription required)
  3. ^ Newman, Ernest, "The Case of Arnold Schoenberg", The Nation, 7 September 1912, p. 830, quoted in Lambourn 1987, pp. 422–427
  4. ^ Doflein 1969b, p. 211.
  5. ^ Erickson 1975, p. 37.
  6. ^ Johnston.
  7. ^ Doflein 1969a, p. 204.
  8. ^ Rufer 1969, pp. 366–368.
  9. ^ Schoenberg 1999, p. 29.
  10. ^ Anon., "Herr Schönberg in London. His Theory and His Practice", Daily News Leader (January 17, 1914), quoted in full on the Arnold Schoenberg Centre website (accessed 29 October 2013).
  11. ^ Alison Garnham, Hans Keller and the BBC: The Musical Conscience of British Broadcasting, 1959–79.
  12. ^ Jennifer Doctor, The BBC and Ultra-Modern Music, 1922–1936: Shaping a Nation's Tastes
  13. ^ Short 1990, pp. 118–119.
  14. ^ Letter dated 23 January 1914, quoted in Lambourn 1987, p. 426
  15. ^ Holst 2008, p. 32.


  • Doflein, Erich (1969a). "Schönbergs Opus 16 Nr. 3: der Mythos der Klangfarbenmelodie". Melos (36): 203–205.
  • Doflein, Erich (1969b). "Schönbergs Opus 16 Nr. 3: Geschichte einer Uberschrift". Melos (36): 209–212.
  • Erickson, Robert (1975). Sound Structures in Music. Los Angeles: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-02376-5.
  • Holst, Imogen (2008) [1969]. Gustav Holst: A Biography (second ed.). London: Faber & Faber. ISBN 978-0-571-24199-6.
  • Jacobs, Arthur (1994). Henry J. Wood: Maker of the Proms. London: Methuen. ISBN 978-0-41-369340-2.
  • Johnston, Blair. Pieces (5) for Orchestra, Op. 16 at AllMusic
  • Rufer, Josef (1969). "Noch einmal Schönbergs Opus 16". Melos (36).
  • Schoenberg, Arnold (1999). Five Orchestra Pieces, Opus 16 (score). Mineola, New York: Dover Publications. ISBN 0-486-40642-3.
  • Short, Michael (1990). Gustav Holst: The Man and his Music. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-314154-4.

Further reading[edit]

  • Burkhart, Charles. "Schoenberg's Farben: An Analysis of op. 16, no. 3". Perspectives of New Music 12 (1973–74): 141–172.
  • Craft, Robert. "Schoenberg's Five Pieces for Orchestra". In Perspectives on Schoenberg and Stravinsky, revised edition, edited by Benjamin Boretz and Edward T. Cone, 3–24. New York: W. W. Norton, 1972.
  • Forte, Allen. The Structure of Atonal Music. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1973.
  • Förtig, Peter. "Arnold Schönberg über Klangfarbe". Melos 36 (1969): 206–209.
  • Mäckelmann, Michael. Arnold Schönberg: Fünf Orchesterstücke op. 16. W. Fink, Munich, 1987. ISBN 3-7705-2415-2
  • Neighbour, O. W. (2001). "Schoenberg, Arnold". In Stanley Sadie; John Tyrrell (eds.). The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. London: Macmillan.
  • Rahn, John. "Analysis Two: Schoenberg's Five Peces for Orchestra: Farben, op. 16 no. 3". In his Basic Atonal Theory, 59–73. New York and London: Longman, 1980. ISBN 0-582-28117-2.
  • Schoenberg, Arnold. Style and Idea. University of California Press, Los Angeles, 1984. ISBN 0-520-05294-3

External links[edit]