Webern and How His Passacaglia Compares To Schoenberg and Stravinsky's Music
Upon listening to the styles of Schoenberg's string quartets as well as Webern's Passacaglia For Orchestra that the styles are similar in sound quality. For example, they both evoke a sense of reaching toward a perceived climax while, in truth, there is something more lurking behind all the striving and reaching. Perhaps, the intent is that there is no goal to reach. We must be kept in suspense that never resolves. Schoenberg and Webern both are treating the music to purely coloristic purposes. For example, the very non-tonal nature of both of these works suggest an unordered network of colors. Examples could be the low notes of the particular twelve-tone rows each composer is using combined with striking high notes. It doesn't strike me as completely pointalistic but the contrast is more than enough to have attention drawn to the works.
In Webern's Passacaglia, there is much traveling on the low tones of the orchestra's range as if to say the texture is bubbling up to a climax, but very slowly. Finally after about two and a half to three minutes Webern brings out a first climax with the strings first resounding high B-flats, chromatically down to A-flat, stopping abruptly and in an allegro tempo with the lower strings doing a chromatic pizzicato, the violins hit high E and G#'s, and etch their way back down to middle range B-flat and D-flat. For much of the remainder of the work, Webern paints a texture in an adagio like manner with a violin or two going solo or certain string instruments like the viola and cello going in pizzicato.
In Schoenberg's string quartets, I feel as if I am lost in a sea of notes and sounds, the textures at the start of the piece, but almost immediately, he starts bending notes and the ground falls out from what could have been stable. For example, In the first string quartet, he starts in a somewhat predictable D minor, but six or so measures after this lovely D minor music, he throws in high and octave, chromatic strings. Occasionally he makes the point to return to the D minor tonal center, but it is all abandoned within the space of a few measures. It's like he is trying to bluntly illustrate that he is going away from the land of tonality to embrace uncertain atonality. While in uncharted atonal territory, Schoenberg embarks on a mashup of tones, that don’t relate back to the perceived D minor tonality and other tonalities throughout the quartets. His tones go everywhere struggling to find an identity. They never do, except for harkening back to a seemingly tonal center. It’s not tonal much of the time of course.
In both works, I can hear the tension that we used to have in Wagner's never ending melodic rising, that constant lurching, going higher and higher, but never getting any resolution. Being of the atonal nature is enough to suggest that all gasps of pure romanticism have seized to exist and that deepest, darkest fears and uncertain but existential angst that seems so relevant to this time period in music.
As a heavy contrast to Berg, Schoenberg, and Webern, Stravinsky in his Symphony in C demonstrates a quasi-want to return back to the classical music that shows more depth than just the twelve-tone structures that are heavily celebrated as the Wave to the Future. While Stravinsky does seem to embrace a more tonal center as in the second movement of his Symphony in C where he first finds himself in the familiar territory of D major, in some places, for example the allegro movement of the symphony there is some dark tonality with the strings and other textures plodding along. It leaves the listener unsure of where the piece is going to end up. Another example of this is when Stravinsky sounds a C major chord in the middle of the second movement and puts a low F in the cello or bass against it. Later in the third movement he has juxtapositions of color that suggest a G major chord but they are put over a C#. Toward the end, he has these chromatic flushes of color in the piano and harp instruments. These jet out in the strings from G to C# and then culminate in an awkward G augmented sixth chord. The texture goes from G to A augmented sixth or some other juxtaposition of the chord, finally culmination of the C- sharp six chord. The very chromatic nature of the third movement moves me to suggest that Stravinsky wasn't that different from Schoenberg or the others in his camp at all. He uses similar chromatic structures that are not too far off from Schoenberg and the other camp. It is just that Schoenberg takes these chromatic dissonances yards further by having no breaths of familiarity.
Stravinsky, however seems to mix the two, dissonance and consonance, tension, and release. For example, Stravinsky would do sections of chromatic gestures that then plateau on a major, minor or modal sounding structure. You won't get this in Schoenberg, Webern, or Berg. Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern all represent in their twelve-tone structures a preverbal shift in the way of thinking about music and psyche with how their melodies have no clear cadence defined and are always reaching but for nothing, creating a nebulous, wandering of a mind threatening to burst. The overall shifting between points of tension really point out the conflicts and the torments of a disturbed mind. There is always this hint of what the composer is feeling at the moment of his composition. We talked in class about Schoenberg being the tortured mind which he later proves to be. Stravinsky is taking what, at first, seems to be a more conventional form, but then exploits the atonal structures set up by his contemporaries.