Review Summary: Is the quintet truly deducible? Is there no more to it than its dodecaphony? What would remain if all its twelve-tone aspects were subtracted?
Until now, Schönberg’s Wind Quintet
has only been examined in terms of the twelve-note technique. And rightly so, for it was the first of Schönberg’s major works to crystallize the new technique in its pure form, and proves the capacity of its principles for the constitution of symphonic form after a complete abandonment of tonality. There is indeed not one note in the score whose position is not governed by that technique, and it is understandable that an examination which has revealed the work’s twelve-note structure in its entirety could easily make one believe that the quintet, at least as a musical organism, has thereby been deduced. Such faith in the deducibility of the piece from its twelve-note rows, however, can quickly become a hostile argument: if every note in the piece is deducible, then the whole piece is equally so. The favorable conclusions are clear enough, and have already been drawn in so extensive and subaltern a fashion that they will not be detailed here.
Instead, we must ask: is the quintet truly deducible" Is there no more to it than its dodecaphony" What would remain if all its twelve-tone aspects were subtracted"
To begin with, one can say that the construction of the twelve-note rows in the first place, the formation of themes using them, their vertical application and the selection of complementary notes are already acts of the imagination, derived from nothing else in their origin and subject only to musical criteria, never mathematical ones.
This alone is not enough. Leaving aside the genetic problem of whether twelve-note events are inspired as such or not: the arrangement of pitch material conditioned by the twelve-note technique only encompasses a fraction of the musical relationships that make a piece of music. Everything that can be considered rhythm in the broadest sense — from the formation of the individual motive to the architecture of the total form — cannot be constructed from twelve-note rows. All thematic work, in so far as rhythm is part of it, and in so far as decisions are made about which elements to repeat and which ones to change — and thus equally any kind of variation — is governed by other principles than the twelve-note relationships. That is not to say that those layers of compositional technique remain untouched by dodecaphony; Schönberg does not use several independent techniques — someone who merely has techniques is incapable of anything — only a single one in which no procedure stands by itself. Hence, he certainly knows how to achieve all manner of effects concerning periodization and architecture as well as thematic work and variation through dodecaphony, just as, while he was still dealing with tonality, he always employed its means tectonically and with a view to thematic variation — for example in the Chamber Symphony
. And one should not forget that Schönberg’s twelve-note technique stems precisely from his mastery of variation. It is not acceptable, however, to regard the musical entelechy displayed by every one of his works as the sum of twelve-note events, informed by no other relationship than their dodecaphony. Even if one concedes that an examination of the dodecaphonic structure, as a method of heuristic analysis, can provide insight into the thematic construction and form of the most recent works, one can only do so legitimately if one bears a contrasting fact in mind: that the analysis can, conversely, begin just as readily by tracing formal-thematic connections without taking their dodecaphony into account, which may ultimately lead to a description of the latter.
We are proposing, then, that for an understanding of the Wind Quintet
in its musical nature it suffices to understand its thematic and formal structures, without consideration for the assumption of dodecaphonic relationships. And furthermore: that this thematic and formal understanding uncovers the same wealth of purely intramusically determined connections, relationships not derived from any scheme, that can be found in any of Schönberg’s earlier works, even the Chamber Symphony
The Wind Quintet
is a sonata; it was no coincidence that he chose that name for a transcription. This return to the sonata, though anticipated in some respects by the Serenade
, could leave a sour taste; after all, what Schönberg’s harmonic-melodic revolution did was precisely to break apart the sonata as a prescribed scheme, and the destruction of all symmetrical harmony that resulted from his formal critique seems conversely to prevent a form based on symmetrical harmonic relationships. He does not, however, attempt wilfully to restore the lost symmetry of the tonal frame of reference, nor are the twelve-note rows that occasionally stand within the formal architecture as elements of symmetry intended as a replacement for something like the tonal scheme of modulations. This is already clear from the fact that the rows are never made explicit to the ear in the same way as clarity of key was striven for through the use of cadences. In the quintet, then, the sonata is divested of its harmonic component: hence the completely linear textures, which — more than in any previous work by Schönberg — make the harmony purely the result, never the origin, of the thematically constructive fabric. This simultaneously supplies the completely altered meaning of sonata form in the quintet. The sonata structure follows from the thematic relations, the arrangement of themes with contrasting or corresponding characters, the manner of mediation between them and their combinatorial development, and their heterogeneity, not only in terms of the melodic (row) material but also the architecture of the themes themselves. It is representative of the quintet’s style, for example, that the first subject in the first movement enters as a long, widely spun melody, motivically bound yet free in terms of its overall rhythmic disposition, whereas the second subject comprises a short, rhythmically striking, frequently repeated motive.
Now, Schönberg had admittedly worked in a similar fashion when determining the divisions of expository complexes in the D-minor quartet, and all of the quintet’s tectonic-thematic peculiarities may originate from the tonal sonata. But their formal meaning has been radically transformed, and it is this transformation that substantially justifies the return to the sonata in the quintet. For whereas those tectonic aspects were formerly tools for creating a unity between a movement’s harmonic-modulatory tendencies and the form that is imposed upon it, the disappearance of those expressive tendencies has made them the central focus of the sonata. Like its harmonic intentions, the sonata’s predetermined scheme has also been eliminated. Once ruptured, the sonata is created — for the second time, as it were — with the technique of a complete thematic economy; thus it is transformed to its very core. It has turned from a formal space that holds thematic elements to a principle of construction that is directly identical to the thematic structure. While it could be said of Schönberg’s earlier works that the difference between the individual idea and the work applied to it had disappeared, the indifference between theme and form was guaranteed primarily through modifications of the form, which was torn away from its prescribed objectivity and adapted to the needs of the individual thematic element in such a way that it merged into it. In the quintet, the sonata itself is contained by the thematically constructive will, and an indifference between sonata form and sonata theme has been reached. This does not mean that this is the first example of an adequation of the two; it is also found in Beethoven. In Schönberg’s most recent works, however, the sonata has ceased to exist as a steadfast form to which the themes correspond. Or, rather, it has been lost in the thematic construction, and is restored by it. When Schönberg began his critique of the sonata under the compulsion of his harmonic-contrapuntal emancipation, the form was still so powerful that the transformation of means called for by his intention could not be carried out; hence sonata form was abandoned. With the idea of development, however, it had itself provided a decisive impulse for the abandonment of the tonal frame of reference. This made it possible, after the harmonically symmetrical barriers of the sonata had fallen once and for all, for the critique of the sonata to return to it and fulfill itself in it. The force of the exploding monad is sufficient to spawn the sonata, which it had shattered, anew. Schönberg’s path traced a spiral that led back to the sonata.
Only once this has been understood does the formal character of the quintet become entirely clear. It is not a sonata per se
, something adapted after the fact to an objectively lost ontological postulate; it is rather, one could say, a sonata about the sonata, which became completely transparent and whose vanishing formal essence has been recreated here in vitreous purity; and it is this commanding, definite level of knowledge in the quintet, far removed from the fortuity of an individuation taking place within the frame of an existing form, and directed solely at the manifest formal nature, that makes it difficult — not the twelve-note selection. In the quintet, the sonata has become evident to itself; hence, it makes the listener fear for the life of the sonata. It no longer exists in isolation as an objective determining principle placed above the individual musical events; it is, rather, drawn into them. At the same time, however, it has also ceased to cling to those individual events and to specify itself according to their particular meaning. Its generality has itself become an individual musical event; there is now no room for any other. It is, to use an allegory from the language of philosophy, as if the transcendental scheme of the sonata, the condition of its very possibility, were no longer filled with content as in the past but presented as its own immediate content in the quintet. The sonata has been snatched away from its dark emotional foundation and illuminated in positive rationality. Just as dodecaphony rationally dissolves instinctively natural harmony, the tonality operating with leading notes and cadences, the form of the quintet dissolves the instinctive, natural origin of the sonata, which is assigned to tonal harmony, at the true moment. And thus we find the identity of dodecaphonic and thematic construction asserted at the outset without referring specifically to the twelve-note technique.