Opening melody (mm. 1-8), constructed from a statement of the tone row (P0) (Steinberg 1998
, 396). Play (help·info)
Note the repetition of pitches nine through eleven (t, 6, 8).
Arnold Schoenberg's Piano Concerto, Op. 42 (1942) consists of four interconnected movements: Andante (bars 1-175), Molto allegro (bars 176-263), Adagio (bars 264-329), and Giocoso (bars 330-492) (Alegant 2002-2003, 74). A concerto for piano, the piece features consistent use of the twelve-tone technique and only one tone row ("the language is very systematic, it's the true dodecaphonic Schoenberg" (Aimard 2010, 0:40)), though not as strictly as Schoenberg once required. Around 20 minutes long, its first performance was given February 6, 1944 (Meyer 2012, 312) at NBC Orchestra's Radio City Habitat in New York City, by Leopold Stokowski and the NBC Symphony Orchestra, with Eduard Steuermann at the piano (Anon. 2009).
The concerto was initially the result of a commission from Oscar Levant (Anon. 2009). Despite paying at least $200 for the work, Levant found out that Schoenberg was demanding $1500. Levant stated he could not pay that fee, and although the two continued to exchange telegrams, in October 1942, Schoenberg rejected Levant's final offer of $500. Levant ended all negotiations stating, "I hereby withdraw utterly and irrevocably from any further negotiations... [and] wish no longer to be involved in [the concerto's] future disposition." Fortunately another American student stepped in to commission the concerto. Henry Clay Shriver (1917-1994) studied counterpoint with Schoenberg at UCLA in the late 1930s, and then studied with Gerald Strang, a former teaching assistant of Schoenberg, in Long Beach in the 1940s. Shriver opted for a career in the law instead of music, which might explain his access to funds for the commission. Strang suggested the idea of the commission to Shriver, who then wrote Schoenberg a check for $1000. He had already commissioned a string quartet from Schoenberg, who never finished the work, and had also kept in contact with the composer after his UCLA studies, being present at Schoenberg's home with other colleagues and students for the radio broadcast of the Chamber Symphony No. 1 in December 1940. Gratefully, Schoenberg completed the concerto in December 1942 and dedicated it to his new patron, who held an original version of the work until his death in 1994 (Markus 2016).
The opening melody of the concerto is thirty-nine bars long and presents all four modes of the tone row in the following order: basic set, inversion of retrograde, retrograde, and inversion. Both of the inversions are transposed (Anon. 2009). The composition uses four different types of partitioning of the row: linear, by dyads or tetrachords, free, and by trichords. Linear presentations are ordered, strict presentations of either complete rows or component hexachords, and dominate the Andante and Giocoso movements. The second type symmetrically divides the twelve-tone aggregate into either six dyads or three tetrachords, and is found in the Molto allegro. The third type consists of irregular presentations of segments or fragments of the row, and is used mainly in the Adagio section. The last type, trichordal partitioning, is found throughout the concerto, and is a two-dimensional design created from the discrete trichords of complexes made from pairs of inversionally combinatorial rows (Alegant 2001, 14).
The piece is a late work, written in America. The manuscript contains markings at the beginning of each of the four movements, suggesting an autobiographical connection between this work and the composer, as well as German refugees in general. The markings are "Life was so easy", "Suddenly hatred broke out", "A grave situation was created", and "But life goes on", each matched with a suitable expression in the music (Anon. 2009). These markings were not included in the final published version, as Schoenberg disapproved of this kind of fixed musical interpretation: they were to guide his composition of the work, and not to provide a programmatic reference for the listener.
Neoclassicism and form
Former Schoenberg student Lou Harrison said, "One of the major joys ... is in the structure of the phrases. You know when you are hearing a theme, a building or answering phrase, a development or a coda. There is no swerving from the form-building nature of these classical phrases. The pleasure to be had from listening to them is the same that one has from hearing the large forms of Mozart. ... This is a feeling too seldom communicated in contemporary music, in much of which the most obvious formal considerations are not evident at all. ... The nature of his knowledge in this respect, perhaps more than anything else, places him in the position of torch-bearer to tradition in the vital and developing sense" (Miller and Lieberman 1998, 22). The concerto has been compared with the music of Johannes Brahms by Mitsuko Uchida (2007, 3:42), Sabine Feisst (2011, 74), and AllMusic (Woodstra, Brennan, and Schrott 2005, 1184).
Aimard (2010) described the sections as follows:
- "very Viennese," containing a "waltz"
- full of, "anxious fragmentation," and the "sort of free Expressionist gestures that fueled his middle period"
- "very expressive, sombre and tragic," "slow," containing a "Funeral March"
- "very ironic and very varied in terms of character"
Stravinsky has criticized the piano writing in the concerto (Musgrave 2001, 277). Mitsuko Uchida (2007), describing the work as very difficult for the pianist, points out that Schoenberg did not play the piano very well and that he "had no intention of writing effectively, or comfortably" for the instrument.
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First, third, and fourth movements
- Rothstein, William. 1980. "Linear Structure in the Twelve-Tone System: An Analysis of Donald Martino's Pianississimo." Journal of Music Theory 24: 129-65. Cited in Alegant (2001).