Variations for Orchestra (Schoenberg)

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Variations for Orchestra
Schoenberg - Variations for Orchestra op. 31 tone row mirror forms.png
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Native name German: Variationen für Orchester
Other name Orchestral Variations
Key Atonal
Period 20th-century music
Genre Musical modernism
Style Twelve-tone technique
Form Variations
Composed 1926 (1926) – 1928 (1928): Germany
Movements 12 sections
Date December 1928
Location Berlin
Conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler
Performers Berlin Philharmonic
The work's combinatorial tone row About this sound Play 

Variations for Orchestra, Op. 31 (1926–28) is an orchestral set of variations on a theme, composed by Arnold Schoenberg and is his first twelve-tone composition for a large ensemble. Premiered in December 1928 by the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Wilhelm Furtwängler, it was greeted by a tumultuous scandal.[1]

The theme of the piece is stated in measures 34–57.[2] The orchestration includes a flexatone.[3] The piece features the BACH motif (B-A-C-B).[4][5]

Schoenberg opened a lecture on the composition with the following tyranny of the majority defense of less common aesthetics: "Far be it from me to question the rights of the majority. But one thing is certain: somewhere there is a limit to the power of the majority; it occurs, in fact, wherever the essential step is one that cannot be taken by all and sundry."[6]

The piece has been arranged for two pianos by Charles Wuorinen and this arrangement was set to a ballet, Schoenberg Variations (1996), by Richard Tanner of the New York City Ballet.[7]


  1. Introduction
  2. Theme
  3. Variation I: Moderato
  4. Variation II: Adagio
  5. Variation III: Mässig
  6. Variation IV: Walzer-tempo
  7. Variation V: Bewegt
  8. Variation VI: Andante
  9. Variation VII: Langsam
  10. Variation VIII: Sehr rasch
  11. Variation IX: L'istesso Tempo
  12. Finale

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Frisch, Walter (1999). Schoenberg and His World, p.270. ISBN 9780691048611.
  2. ^ Ennulat, Egbert M. (ed.) (1991). Arnold Schönberg Correspondence, p.216 & 231. ISBN 9780810824522.
  3. ^ Daniels, David (2005). Orchestral Music: A Handbook, p.335. ISBN 9781461664253.
  4. ^ Hoffer, Charles (2010). Music Listening Today, p.271. ISBN 9780495916147.
  5. ^ Stein, Erwin (ed.). 1987. Arnold Schoenberg letters, p.206. University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-06009-8
  6. ^ Schoenberg, Arnold (March 22, 1931). "Variations for Orchestra, Opus 31: Frankfurt Radio Talk", reprinted in Schoenberg, Nuria (ed) (1988). Arnold Schoenberg Self Portrait, p.41. Cited in Frisch (1999), p.99.
  7. ^ Feisst, Sabine (2011). Schoenberg's New World: The American Years, p.240. ISBN 9780195372380.