Talk:String Quartets (Schoenberg)

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String Quartet No. 1, op. 7[edit]

We currently have this work introduced thus: "Schoenberg's first string quartet was his first assured masterpiece, and it was the real beginning of his reputation as a composer". This sounds a bit POV, or a bit under-informed, to me. Verklärte Nacht (op. 4, 1899) is surely the "first assured masterpiece", and the Quartet was also preceded by Gurrelieder (essentially composed 1900-1901, though admittedly not completed until afterwards) and Pelleas und Melisande, both of which may lack the Quartet's formal perfection but are arguably masterpieces at least as important. As for "the real beginning of his reputation as a composer" he already had a reputation, and its "real beginning" was probably with the premiere of Pelleas und Melisande in 1905. (Alma Mahler writes somewhere that this was when people relized he was a bigger figure than his teacher Zemlinsky, or words to that effect.) I haven't changed the text of the article at this point, but I submit these are grounds for considering changing it. Cenedi (talk) 19:13, 30 January 2008 (UTC)

Contemporary music?[edit]

Does it really fall into Wikipedia contemporary music? The guidelines on the subject suggest only music post-1945. The last of these works was written in 1937. Cenedi (talk) 11:23, 6 March 2008 (UTC)

What "guidelines on the subject" are you referring to? Have you read the description on the project page Wikipedia:WikiProject Contemporary music (also linked from the tag)? If not, I suggest you do, and also see the talk page for the project, especially the section Wikipedia_talk:WikiProject_Contemporary_music#Um...the_bot_adding_the_template. The composer page Arnold Schoenberg is also tagged for this project.—Jerome Kohl (talk) 18:57, 6 March 2008 (UTC)
Yes, I did read the description on the project page, and the links therefrom to "modern music", "experimental music" and "avant-garde music" didn't really any of them seem to fit for Schoenberg. The talk page has a lot of interesting stuff on it, but again I don't see anything that seems to be conclusive as to where Schoenberg falls. Sure, lots of people still have difficulty with his music, but I don't know that anything composed in the first half of the last century can any more be realistically called 'contemporary music'. That's all I wanted to say and, having said it, will hold my peace. Cenedi (talk) 19:52, 6 March 2008 (UTC)


Carl Engel's translation of the George poems in the Second String Quartet translates the title of the 4th movement, 'Entrückung' as 'Transport', but here it is translated as 'Rapture'. Is the word untranslatable or is this a mistake? It just struck me as quite a big discrepancy. Furiens (talk) 15:06, 8 January 2010 (UTC)

Perhaps it depends on the sense of each English word of which you are thinking. If you take "transport" in the sense of long-distane haulage, and "rapture" in the sense either of "religious ecstasy" or "immediate physical ascension to heaven" then, yes, I would agree there is a discrepancy. This is always a problem where translation is concerned. The German word is compounded from the prefix ent-, which has the sense of "remove", "deprive", "undo" (and similar things), and rücken, "move". The verb entrücken has the sense of "carried away", "transported", "lost in reverie"; the nouns Entrückung and Entrückheit may perhaps best be translated as "reverie".—Jerome Kohl (talk) 23:09, 8 January 2010 (UTC)

The translation of the poem contains many mistakes altering the meaning, starting with the first line (original reads: I feel air of another planet) to the last (I am a drone only of the holy voice), and it doesn't skip many (2nd: The faces faint me through the dark / That friendly turned to me just now / Sallowing the trees and ways I loved / That I know barely them and you / Loved shadow—summoner of my anguishes— / Are now extinguished all in deeper blazes / So past the fighting frenzy / To grace and charm with pious shiver / etc. )—I guess there's better, and they should be used. If all are copyrighted, I could provide a draft as begun here, and discuss it in detail if desired. enefar 23:47, 10 June 2011 — Preceding unsigned comment added by Enefare (talkcontribs)

That translation was added on 17 August 2006 by User:Rainwarrior. No credit was supplied, so I presume it was his own work, and not a copyright-free translation borrowed from a published source. Rainwarrior claims level-3 German on his talk page, which is the same level I claim myself, but he must have been in a terrible hurry. You are absolutely right about the translation, and you should feel free to correct it (just as any editor on Wikipedia is free to do). Ideally, of course, the translation should stick to the original rhyme scheme, and contain exactly eleven syllables per line to match the German original, but this may be demanding a little too much ;-)—Jerome Kohl (talk) 22:47, 9 June 2011 (UTC)

Hello Jerome. That was quick. Forgive me not having set up a user page yet, I didn't get to work my way into that. Soon though. Now: Please don't take my pointing to mistakes as an offense. Quite on the contrary, I think it a most creditable thing to undertake at all. As for the eleven syllables, I'm not sure if I'll achieve that. Personally, I'd prefer a translation as true to the original meaning as possible over one that sounds well, since the sound isn't translatable anyway. But if you'll work with me once I provided what I can, maybe we can get there. Also, if you're interested, I'll be happy to discuss what I propose, both concerning the meaning of the original expression and the use of the English one. As opposed to my English, my German is that of a native speaker and trained academic. — Preceding unsigned comment added by Enefare (talkcontribs) 10:38, 10 June 2011 (UTC)

No offense taken—after all, you are not criticizing my work! At the very worst, you might be criticizing my inattention to the shortcomings of this translation, and that is only fair. My remark about syllable count and rhyme scheme was meant humorously (hence the smiley at the end of the sentence). I know from experience how severe a restriction this can be, even for an isolated pair of lines. I don't think it is usual on Wikipedia to go through a preliminary discussion before making improvements of the sort you propose here, though there is certainly no harm (and every advantage) in giving advance notice to other editors who may feel they have a personal investment in the text, or who may even know of sound reasons why it should not be altered. If everyone was this considerate, there would be less acrimony and fewer edit wars. Welcome to Wikipedia, and may you have a rewarding and satisfying experience editing here.—Jerome Kohl (talk) 17:26, 10 June 2011 (UTC)

Motivic use of pitch[edit]

In the comments on String Quartet No 3, to which I listened before writing this, what exactly is meant by the expression "considerable motivic use of pitch"? Croy379 (talk) 12:38, 24 December 2010 (UTC)

The meaning seems fairly clear from the larger context: "The themes of this work seem to consist mainly of rhythmic patterns rather than pitch, … (and even though it is not used as thematic material, there is also considerable motivic use of pitch)". That is to say, pitch sequences independent of their rhythmic presentation are sometimes treated thematically. However, it would be nice to know from where this opinion (and a few others in the immediate vicinity) came. This would provide the opportunity to find further explanation of such cryptic claims. I have accordingly flagged that paragraph for a source or two or three. Thanks for drawing attention to this point.—Jerome Kohl (talk) 21:14, 24 December 2010 (UTC)

I'm sorry, but I don't think my question has been answered. The expression I queried, which both in and out of context appears to me to be genuinely meaningless, appears to have been used in a YOUTUBE posting of a performance by the Aron Quartet by one bartje 11 dated 22 Nov 2009, which I found when looking for a version of the score (my copy is 400 miles away), which thoughtfully the posting includes. If Wikipedia was the source for this comment, it isn't acknowledged, but vice versa may also apply. In my old-fashioned world, both pitch and rhythm are contributors to theme and motif. I can't think of any case of either which is composed of one without the other. The first movement of this quartet is dominated by a quaver motor rhythm, but against it are set recognisably melodic elements, which may or may not be motifs, but which depend on pitch - in the "etwas ruhiger" sections they carry the texture, as they do in the coda - mostly presented in inversions and canon, but melodic nonetheless. The second movement is a set of variations on two themes: one, the sort of theme which thrives on the common ground between Haydn and Bruckner, and positively proclaims its dependence on pitch from the rooftops, the other a rhythmically complex texture - by the end, the opening, melodic, theme is in the ascendancy, in a sort of Brahmsian coda. And the 9/8 intermezzo sounds to me as though it's based on a melodic theme with a definite pitch structure in another rather Brahmsian texture (viola-led, like some of the intermezzos in his chamber music), and a rhythm which Schoenberg is able to develop, in his coda, into an anticipation of the finale. Which has its own melodic structures - see bars 28 ff and also 129 ff -(they have always seemd to me to have their origin in the last movement of Beethoven's Quartet in c sharp minor) and a genuine sense of organic growth, which despite impressive climaxes, presents a coda in which the melodic and rhythmic impulses are held in balance, neither overpowering the other. Croy379 (talk) 13:35, 27 December 2010 (UTC)

Yes, very nice description, and I do see your point: pitch and rhythm are conventionally not regarded as separable where motivic treatment is concerned—and in this respect at least Schoenberg was very conventional. However, in some twelve-tone, serial, and atonal, and even tonal analyses, these aspects may be treated separately. For example, theorists sometimes speak of canonic treatment in pitch, with free rhythm (quite natural in twelve-tone music), or the reverse: rhythmic canon with free pitch (often occurring in the music of Messiaen, Carter, Ligeti, and Nancarrow, for example). It may be that the provocative sentence was meant to suggest that something along these lines is present in Schoenberg's quartet. If a source for this cannot be found by someone in the near future, then I think we must regard it as half-baked "original research", and delete it.—Jerome Kohl (talk) 00:55, 28 December 2010 (UTC)
I have found a possible origin for the confusing statements about pitch and motive. It has been lurking in the list of references all along, but is now given as an inline reference at the appropriate point.—Jerome Kohl (talk) 05:57, 28 December 2010 (UTC)

Many thanks. I will have to track down the Peles article. In the meantime you might like to consider incorporating some reference to this paradoxical alleged late twentieth century "rhythmic canon with free pitch" in the Wikipedia article on Canon which seems innocent of it - as I suspect Schoenberg to have been. If he wasn't, it would be fascinating to hear what he might have said about it. At the very least it poses an interesting challenge to the definition, but I think he might have been a little less polite than that. Croy379 (talk) 14:42, 1 January 2011 (UTC)

You are welcome, and thanks for the suggestion. I believe I myself must until now have been "innocent of" the Wikipedia article on Canon. I did not cite the composers above either at random or from memory (though I might have relied on my memory for some of them), but rather by doing article searches on "rhythmic canon". Consequently, sources should not be difficult to find. Another composer who comes to mind (without doing a search) is Pierre Boulez. It is an interesting question whether Schoenberg was "aware" of rhythmic canon. Even if the term was unfamiliar to him, surely the process of motivic imitation without strict pitch correspondence must have been part of his conscious compositional vocabulary. The question of how extended this must be in order to constitute "rhythmic canon" is a separate but equally interesting issue.—Jerome Kohl (talk) 21:47, 1 January 2011 (UTC)

I'm having to rely on aural memory here, but the opening (accompaniment before the clarinet entry) bars of the Serenade just might constitute what you seem to mean by rhythmic canon, and I might, if they do, have to eat my words. What bothers me is the notion that there can be a canon in which pitch can be "free'. If consequent voices do not maintain the pitch relationships of the initial voice, what you have may be contrapuntal, but not, even in dodecaphonic terms, and even for theorists, let alone Boulez, Messiaen, Carter and Ligeti, a canon in any real sense. Which is, by the way, a good distance from my original point. The initial bars of the Serenade are certainly rhythmical, but they also employ pitch, thereby, but in the nature of things, constituting a motivic accompaniment. With all due respect to Peles, if he actually used the term "motivic use of pitch" in relation to the Quartet in the sense you suggest, he might just have drifted into a territory of which the emperor wears no clothes. But I still haven't found his article.Croy379 (talk) 23:14, 2 January 2011 (UTC)

Additional codicil to the above- I do recognise that there is a sense in which 12-note music, strictly conceived, can only be written in some sort or other of canon, and that it must therefore make a greater investment in rhythmic innovation than traditional tonal music. But I don't think that, exactly, is where Schoenberg is going in his two later quartets, which are rhythmically traditional.Croy379 (talk) 00:10, 3 January 2011 (UTC)

Keeping strictly separate the ideas of "motivic use of pitch" on the one hand, and "rhythmic" canon on the other, Peles's thesis is based in a passage from a 1934 lecture by Schoenberg, given in English (sort of) at Princeton. The end of the paragraph, at least, is quite well-known. Peles sets this forth as an epigraph (Schoenberg's spelling and grammar, Peles's italics):

The thougt was near at hand to substitute the natural scale of seven tones by an artificial scale of 12 tones; and it followed automatically that this scale had to be invented just as a melody or as a motiv, for each piece anew. This scale ought always to be the first positiv musical thought, just so as a motiv, for it ought to act in the same manner as a motive .... And so in splendid manner was proved true, what I hat expected of the first beginning: It is only to follow the basing-set, but besides you may compose in the same manner as before.

Peles's article then sets out to discover what this means in a variation movement, where rhythmic motive has more to do with creating the texture of a particular variation than with establishing a "theme" as the basis of those variations. The idea of a twelve-tone row as a "proto-thematic" construction is in any case well-known, as is Schoenberg's habit of combining two or more row forms into a complex possessing certain harmonic and segmental properties. But do please try to read Peles's article, which won the SMT prize for young theorists in the year following its publication.
I only brought up "rhythmic canon" as an illustration of how the elements of pitch and rhythm, traditionally fused in the concepts of "theme", "motive", and "subject", may be treated as separable elements in music of the past century. So far as twelve-tone practice is concerned, pitch successions are ordinarily much more strict than in traditional (tonal) usage, where the classic definition of canon is "imitation that is both strict and continuous". However, "strict" still allows for the substitution—when the interval of imitation is other than the unison or octave—of major for minor seconds, thirds, sixths and sevenths, and diminished fifths for perfect ones, and similarly augmented fourths for perfect fourths. Such treatment in twelve-tone music would make a shambles of row-form relations, while on the other hand strict twelve-tone imitation at (say) the interval of a major third may impose impossible compositional restrictions. From there it is an easy step to the writing of "pseudo canons" where different segments of the row (with similar but not identical pitch-class successions) are used to populate imitative passages defined mainly by "strict and continuous" rhythm and melodic contour. But this is getting way off-topic here. It belongs, as you suggested, in the article on canon (with reliable sources, to be sure).—Jerome Kohl (talk) 01:07, 3 January 2011 (UTC)

Just a temporary acknowledgement as I still haven't found Peles - the resource I'm interrogating is the music Library in Birmingham UK, which is pretty good. But I have to say I find Schoenberg, as quoted, crystal clear. What he says is really what for forty years at least I've always thought him to be saying. It could be, possibly, that the word needing definition in non-Schoenbergian use is "motiv"/"motive'/"motif". But that will need a bit of thought. And it could be, also, that in the variation movement of Quartet No 3 the foreground, at least, is a Haydn variation movement on two themes "in the same manner as before". I hope I will be able to say a bit more when I get to Peles. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 15:14, 12 January 2011 (UTC)