Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Arnold Schoenberg's Prelude from the Suite for Piano, Op. 25: From composition with twelve tones to the twelve -tone method
by How, Deborah H., Ph.D., University of Southern California, 2009, 310; 3368701
Abstract (Summary)

Arnold Schoenberg's Suite for Piano, Op. 25, is historically significant not only because it is the first of the composer's large works to be unified by a single twelve-tone row, but also because its composition sits astride one of the most complex stylistic and technical changes—the passage from freely atonal to twelve-tone serial composition—in all of 20th-century music. This dissertation will show that Schoenberg's early serial odyssey cannot be viewed without considering external parameters, including concurrent twelve-tone models and neoclassicism, the social-political and artistic climate of the early 1920s, and Schoenberg's inherent desire—perhaps extramusically motivated—to be credited as the inventor of the twelve-tone method.

It has long been assumed that while working on the Prelude from the Suite for Piano, Op. 25, in July 1921, Schoenberg discovered the "Method of Composing with Twelve Tones which are Related Only with One Another," and that this discovery would "assure the supremacy of German music for the next hundred years." In fact, Schoenberg made several different discoveries that were revealed or announced on at least three different occasions, in 1921, 1922, and 1923—discoveries manifested in the compositional history of the Suite for Piano, which spanned those years. Understanding that Schoenberg's conception of "composition with twelve tones" was ever-changing in the early 1920s is crucial in discussing both his music and text manuscripts from that time. A thorough examination of Schoenberg's manuscripts, drafts, and sketches—as well as his essays, aphorisms, and letters, along with written materials of his friends, colleagues, and students—will demonstrate that the difficulties and inconsistencies of dating the transition from freely atonal to twelve-tone serial composition are a result not of discrepancies in the primary sources, but rather of shoehorning false assumptions into data that support earlier, flawed, scholarly conclusions. The Suite for Piano, Op. 25, will be revealed as more than Schoenberg's first twelve-tone composition, as more than a laboratory of early twelve-tone row manipulations, as more than an example of Schoenberg's "neoclassical" period, but rather as a work totally representative of its time, an amalgam of ideals and idioms drawn from the various schools of musical thought evident in Europe after World War I, a composition that looks forward and reflects backward while embracing the present.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Simms, Bryan R.
Commitee: Brown, Bruce A., Lazar, Moshe
School: University of Southern California
Department: Music (Historical Musicology)
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-A 70/08, Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: Music
Keywords: Composition with twelve tones, Neoclassical, Op. 25, Piano, Prelude, Schoenberg, Arnold, Serial, Suite, Suite for Piano, Twelve-tone, Twelve-tone composition
Publication Number: 3368701
ISBN: 9781109294934
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