London Symphony Orchestra
Schoenberg and Webern Five Pieces and Berg Three Pieces recorded between 7/14 and 22, 1962; the LULU Suite was recorded 6/19 through 24, 1961. All sessions were held at Watford Town Hall, outside London. Masters were recorded on 3 track 35mm magnetic film and half-inch tape, using 3 Telefunken 201 microphones.
The key figures of the Second Viennese School are represented on this disc, and different aspects of their thought and development are highlighted in these orchestral masterpieces. Arnold Schoenberg's Five Pieces for Orchestra is a seminal work, and its primary placement here is appropriate since its expressionist atonality and compression of ideas paved the way for the pieces that follow. Set in high relief, the pieces are dramatically colored and tightly structured to carry intense - and sometimes explosive - emotional content. The influence of Schoenberg's Klangfarbenmelodie, first used in the third of the Five Pieces, is apparent in Anton Webern's extremely concentrated Five Pieces for Orchestra, where sudden changes of color are central concerns. Compared to Webern's set, Alban Berg's Three Pieces for Orchestra are more lush and expansive and more obviously akin to Schoenberg's style. Berg's Lulu Suite, drawn from the opera, is even more elaborately conceived, built on a 12-tone row that admits tonal associations and openly lyrical melodies that contribute to the music's accessibility. In these recordings from 1961 and 1962, Antal Dorati's performances with the London Symphony Orchestra are direct and persuasive, yet without sounding forced. Mercury's original masters on 35-millimeter tape offer an extraordinary sound for this era.
All Music Guide
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Schoenberg, Webern, Berg: Three Orchestral Works
"In music," Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951) wrote "there is no form without logic, there is no logic without unity."
The logic and unity of these three orchestral works, comprising 13 pieces, posed such problems that they have only recently been accepted by musical listeners. Yet they were all written three-quarters of a century ago: Schoenberg's in 1909, Webern's in 1913, and Berg's in 1913-15, shortly after Schoenberg's earliest exploration of what he called "emancipation of the dissonance."
By "emancipation," Schoenberg was referring to the comprehensibility of the dissonance. "A style based on this premise treats dissonances like consonances and renounces a tonal center." It is not yet a question of "composition with 12 tones" but of the abandonment of traditional considerations of key, chord and modulation. Eventually the binding force of non-tonal music becomes the 12-tone row, out of which all its materials, melodic, harmonic and polyphonic, are to be drawn. But in the meantime, unity remains dependent upon thematic and motivic logic, and this, in turn, largely upon rhythmic considerations.
These are preponderantly rhythmic pieces. Of Schoenberg's five, only the third lacks sharply defined rhythmic motives; all of Berg's three and Webern's five rely upon strong rhythmic devices for much of their effectiveness. From the formal standpoint, there is little dependence upon tradition: these are all programmatic, free-form, genre pieces, but free from the opprobrium that nowadays attaches to such an imputation.
Schoenberg returned to his Five Pieces after 40 years and rescored them to facilitate performance; the original version called for a vastly augmented orchestra - woodwinds in fours, six horns, four trombones - while the 1949 revision requires only the normal large orchestra. There is relatively little doubling of instruments: this is an orchestra of soloists, and the composer is concerned with individual instrumental color rather than massive sound.
After a brief introductory section, "Premonitions" is based upon a steady ostinato motive in eighth-notes, overlapping as it moves from section to section of the strings. Above it the wind instruments have dramatic rhythmic figures, leading to a climactic moment with the ostinato high in violins and violas, fff. "Yesteryears" is lyrical and even tender; the imaginative use of celesta, flutes and bassoon in the central episode is a rare stroke of genius.
In the third movement Schoenberg arrives at what he was to call Klangfarbenmelodie (tone-color melody) in his treatise on harmony (1911): there is no real melodic motion, but the one chord out of which the movement is built is in a state of constant flux through its continuous instrumental regeneration. The gentle pulsation of this movement is said to represent dawn on the Traunsee in the Salzkammergut. Schoenberg provides a note on interpretation:
It is not the conductor's task... to bring into prominence certain parts that seem to him of thematic importance, nor to subdue any apparent inequalities in the combinations of sound. Wherever one part is to be more prominent than the others, it is so orchestrated, and the tone is not to be reduced. On the other hand, [the conductor] must see that each instrument is played with exactly the intensity prescribed - in its own proportion, and not in subordination to the sound as a whole.
"Peripetia" - which may be translated as "the turning point of dramatic action" - is brilliant and impetuous; its short, vigorous motives have a wide sweep. "The Obbligato Recitative," lyrical again, is rather like a polyphonic landler, its melodies unrolling without ever returning to their earlier stages, developing through addition rather than repetition or variation.
Schoenberg dedicated the revised version of his Five Pieces "to the memory of Henri Hinrichsen, a music publisher who was a grand seigneur." Alban Berg (1885-1935) dedicated his Three Pieces to Schoenberg himself, as a gesture of appreciation and friendship. They were intended for Schoenberg's fortieth birthday in September 1914, but the second movement was not finished until the following summer. Two movements were performed by Webern, in Berlin, in 1923; the first complete performance did not take place until 1930, at Oldenburg, for which occasion Berg made some minor modifications, chiefly in the first trombone part.
The orchestration of Berg's work calls for woodwinds in fours (plus bass clarinet), six horns, four trumpets, four trombones, tuba, numerous percussion instruments, two harps, celesta and strings; it is thus comparable to the original scoring of Schoen-berg's Opus 16. But the sound of the orchestra is peculiarly Bergian; anyone familiar with "Wozzeck" could never mistake it. Berg doubles instruments rather more than Schoenberg. He is partial to low sonorities, and it is rare to find his instruments playing in their upper reaches.
The "Prelude" begins and ends with the percussion ensemble, building to one main climax and subsiding. The "Round Dance," like Schoenberg's finale, has the spirit of a landler in all but its outer sections. The "March" is in a large sonatina-like form, contrasting with the relatively uncomplicated forms of the first two movements. This is a large-scale work, comparable in some ways to a symphony but lacking symphonic involvement.
Webern's Five Pieces, Op. 10, are by contrast miniatures, like practically all that composer's mature scores. Most of the movements take less than a minute to play; No. 4 is only one beat longer than six measures - say 20 seconds in all.
Schoenberg wrote of his own works and those of Webern and Berg of this period:
From the very beginning such compositions [i.e., in which the dissonance was "emancipated"] differed from all preceding music, not only harmonically but also melodically, thematically, and motivically. But the foremost characteristics of these pieces in statu nascendiwere their extreme expressiveness and their extraordinary brevity.... Later I discovered that our sense of form was right when it forced us to counterbalance extreme emotionality with extraordinary shortness. Thus, ...consequences were drawn from an innovation which, like every innovation, destroys while it produces....
The Five Pieces by Anton Webern (1883-1945) owe much to Schoenberg's Six Little Piano Pieces, Op. 19, but in their instrumental handling they are entirely Webemian. The orchestra is a small one: flute, oboe, clarinets in B-flat and E-flat, horn, trumpet, trombone, harmonium, celesta, mandolin, guitar, harp, percussion and four solo strings. The parcelling-out of melodic lines to an assortment of instruments in succession derives from Mahler, but is pursued in Webern to an extreme. The Five Pieces are a way-station on the road to the "Symphony" and the "Concerto for Nine Instruments", in which more than two or three successive notes are seldom given to the same instrument. The result is not necessarily as disjunct as the description suggests: applied to the Bach "Ricercar" (Webern's transcription), it does not interfere with the musical continuity of the work, to which it imparts a kaleidoscopic coloring. Here, in the Five Pieces, it is an essential part of the conception.
The succession is one of contrasts. The tenuous wispiness of the opening movement is followed by the wide-ranging but tender melody of the second. In its 12 measures, the third piece is a rounded three-part form of minuscule proportions. No. 4, the briefest, is perhaps the most imaginative, with its division of melodic function among the mandolin, the muted trumpet and trombone, and the muted violin, with the faintest hint of support in viola, clarinet and celesta. In the last piece there are for the first time violent juxtapositions of pianissimo and fortissimo, but in the suggestion of recapitulation the close is hushed.
Working closely together, exploiting the same discoveries at the same time, the Viennese triumvirate nevertheless maintained their own individualities. The dissimilarities of these three works are more striking than their resemblances, and it is safe to say that each represents the best musical thinking of its respective composer.