Suite for Piano (Schoenberg)

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Polyphonic complex of three tetrachords from early sketch for Schoenberg's Suite for Piano, Op. 25 (Whittall 2008, p. 34). The bottom being the BACH motif in retrograde: HCAB.

Arnold Schoenberg's Suite for Piano (German: Suite für Klavier), Op. 25, is a 12-tone piece for piano composed between 1921 and 1923. The work is the earliest in which Schoenberg employs a row of "12 tones related only to one another" in every movement:[citation needed] the earlier 5 Stücke, Op. 23 (1920–23) employs a 12-tone row only in the final waltz movement, and the Serenade, Op. 24 uses a single row in its central Sonnet. The basic tone row of the suite consists of the following pitches: E–F–G–D–G–E–A–D–B–C–A–B.

In form and style, the work echoes many features of the Baroque suite. There are six movements:

  1. Präludium (1921)
  2. Gavotte (1923)
  3. Musette (1923)
  4. Intermezzo (1921–1923)
  5. Menuett. Trio (1923)
  6. Gigue (1923)

A typical performance of the entire suite takes around 16 minutes.

In this work, Schoenberg employs transpositions and inversions of the row for the first time: the sets employed are P-0, I-0, P-6, I-6 and their retrogrades. Arnold Whittall has suggested that "[t]he choice of transpositions at the sixth semitone—the tritone—may seem the consequence of a desire to hint at 'tonic-dominant' relationships, and the occurrence of the tritone G-D in all four sets is a hierarchical feature which Schoenberg exploits in several places".[1]

The suite was first performed by Schoenberg's pupil Eduard Steuermann in Vienna on 25 February 1924. Steuermann made a commercial recording of the work in 1957.[2] The first recording of the Suite for Piano to be released was made by Niels Viggo Bentzon some time before 1950.[2]

The Gavotte movement contains, "a parody of a baroque keyboard suite that involves the cryptogram of Bach's name as an important harmonic and melodic device (Stuckenschmidt 1977, 108; Lewin 1982–83, n.9[clarification needed])" and a related quotation of Schoenberg's op. 19/vi.[3]

Edward T. Cone (1972) has catalogued what he believes to be a number of mistakes in Reinhold Brinkmann's 1968 revised edition of Schoenberg's piano music, one of which is in measure number five of the Suite's "Gavotte", G instead of G.[4] Henry Klumpenhouwer invokes Sigmund Freud's concept of parapraxes (i.e., mental slips) to suggest a psychological context explaining the deviation from the note predicted from the tone row.[5]



  1. ^ Whittall (1977), p. 122.
  2. ^ a b University of Southern California Libraries (n.d.).
  3. ^ Klumpenhouwer (1994), p. 246.
  4. ^ Cone (1972), p.72.
  5. ^ Klumpenhouwer (1994), p. 218.


  • Cone, Edward T. 1972. "Editorial Responsibility and Schoenberg's Troublesome 'Misprints'". Perspectives of New Music 11, no. 1, Tenth Anniversary Issue (Fall–Winter): 65–75.
  • Klumpenhouwer, Henry. 1994. "An Instance of Parapraxis in the Gavotte of Schoenberg's Opus 25". Journal of Music Theory 38, no. 2 (Autumn): 217–248.
  • Lewin, David. 1982–83. "Transformational Techniques in Atonal and Other Music." Perspectives of New Music 21, nos. 1–2:312–71.
  • Stuckenschmidt, H. H. 1977. Schoenberg: His Life, World, and Work, translated by Humphrey Searle. London: Calder.
  • University of Southern California Libraries (n.d.) "Arnold Schoenberg Recordings: List of Works: Suite Op. 23 (1923/25)" (Accessed 6 April 2014).
  • Whittall, Arnold. 1977. Music Since the First World War. London: Dent.
  • Whittall, Arnold. 2008. The Cambridge Introduction to Serialism. Cambridge Introductions to Music. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-68200-8 (pbk).

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