Preferred Citation: Frisch, Walter. The Early Works of Arnold Schoenberg, 1893-1908. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1993 1993.




In an afterword to a reprint of Egon Wellesz's book Arnold Schönberg (1921), Carl Dahlhaus muses that since that first monograph, the literature on the composer "has grown to such enormous dimensions that it almost seems that those who read criticism about the music outnumber those who listen to the music itself" (Wellesz 1985, 153). Although the Schoenberg bibliography is indeed vast, the works of the earlier years, up to the so-called atonal compositions of 1908–9, have received relatively little attention. For several reasons, the time is ripe for a fresh investigation.

Aside from general surveys of Schoenberg's work, there are, to my knowledge, only five full-length studies that have focused in detail on this repertory: Friedheim 1963, Bailey 1979, Thieme 1979, Ballan 1986, and Hattesen 1990 (see Bibliography for complete citations). Each of these works originated as a master's or doctoral dissertation, and three of them remain unpublished; each has something of both the value and the limitations of the dissertation format.

In this book I have drawn readily and (I hope) appreciatively on some of these earlier studies, as well as on other important literature, stretching from Alban Berg's early analyses to the present day. (Although Berg never completed the book project mentioned in the epigraph to the present study, his own Führer to several Schoenberg works, as well as his other writings, are invaluable.) Of special value are the scores and critical reports that have appeared as part of Schoenberg's Sämtliche Werke. Most of the volumes pertinent to the music treated in this book have been edited over the past decade or so by Christian M. Schmidt—and edited for the most part in exemplary fashion. Schmidt's work, together with the generous policy adopted in the Sämtliche Werke of printing transcriptions of sketches, alternate or preliminary versions, and many fragments, has opened up a gold mine for the critic-historian.


Apart from the commentary in the critical reports, which is normally brief, and essentially documentary rather than analytical or interpretive, these sources have yet to be explored. The present book should be taken in part as a first step in that direction. During my research I had occasion to examine, and draw my own conclusions from, most of the primary manuscript sources to which I refer. I have also not hesitated, when it seemed appropriate, to modify or recast my ideas in light of the Sämtliche Werke, volumes of which continued to appear as I worked.

The bulk of this book consists of close, detailed musical analysis of selected works. The commentary attempts to take into account relevant aspects of the individual Entstehungsgeschichte and of the context of a composition among Schoenberg's other early works (and occasionally those of other composers). There are probably several hundred complete compositions or substantial fragments from Schoenberg's early years. To examine them all would swell this book (and test the reader's endurance) well beyond reasonable proportions. I have concentrated on those compositions that I believe are most important and interesting, and through which a development in Schoenberg's musical language can be traced.

I also believe it is important not to let any search for "development" override the aesthetic or technical qualities of individual pieces. Too often in musicological writing, compositions become primarily stages or steps in some broader evolution, either within a composer's work or within an entire historical style. (With his strong historicist orientation, Schoenberg himself was somewhat guilty of this attitude, although he did, of course, often analyze works, including his own, in loving detail.)

Theoretical writing often falls prey to a different, and in my view equally inadequate, practice: individual compositions are pillaged or dismembered for particular examples of harmony, rhythm, motive, and so forth. A book about the early Schoenberg could indeed be organized that way (or could be written solely about harmonic practice), but here again, I feel the qualities—both strengths and weaknesses—of the individual works would get lost in such a topical reshuffling. These qualities also tend to disappear in analyses such as those of Allen Forte (1972, 1978), which have a more specifically theoretical orientation.

The challenge, ultimately, is to find a balance between doing justice to the theoretical, technical, and aesthetic dimensions of the work and placing it persuasively in its compositional and historical context. My own solution—an attempt to provide detailed analyses in chronological or developmental order—is to some extent based on a fictional construct, but it is one that musical criticism is obliged, I think, to adopt.

A respected music theorist once told me I was brave (read "foolhardy") to be working on a repertory as complicated as the early Schoenberg, when Wagnerian


chromatic practice is still so poorly understood. This remark reflects an unfortunate mind-set. We shall probably have to wait many years before comprehensive or systematic theories of Wagnerian and post-Wagnerian music emerge. And then, precisely because of the diversity and complexity of the music itself, any such theories would be so vast as to collapse under their own weight.

I make no claim to have invented or employed a theory in this sense for the early Schoenberg. The closest thing to a fully formed theoretical viewpoint that appears in this book is that of Schoenberg himself, upon whose writings I draw frequently, especially the Theory of Harmony (whose English title is a misrepresentation of Harmonielehre, a book that Schoenberg insisted embodied no "theory"). However illuminating and stimulating, Schoenberg's theoretical writings should not—and by their nature cannot—be applied like a template or key to his own compositions. Although Schoenberg the theorist and Schoenberg the composer were united in the same body, they were not always necessarily allied in spirit. This has long been recognized in the case of the twelve-tone works, which often violate the "theory," and it is true of the tonal works as well.

This book is fundamentally about Schoenberg the composer: about the compositional decisions he made and the compositional strategies he adopted or abandoned both in individual works and across or between works. The analyses represent my attempts to get inside the mind of Schoenberg—not systematically to retrieve his creative process, which would be impossible, but to evaluate and assess the results of that process. When Schoenberg the theorist can help, he is brought in, but only as an advisor, not as commander. Inevitably, this and other methods used in this study will seem ad hoc to more orthodox theorists still waiting for the key to unlock the chromatic music of 1850–1910. For this I make no apology; I wish only to make my own position clear.

The basic "story" told in this book is not a revisionist one. The three-stage picture of Schoenberg's early development, from a Brahms-oriented period (1893–97), to one in which Wagnerian expanded tonality becomes allied to Brahmsian techniques (1899–1903), to a more wholly individual synthesis (1904–8), has been adumbrated before, not least by the composer himself. The interest of the book will lie not in the periodization (three-stage, early-middle-late divisions seem to be universal in music-historical writing), but in the analyses of the compositional techniques Schoenberg employs within each of the three periods. If there is one overarching concept, it is that through the first movement of the Second Chamber Symphony and up to the beginning of the Second Quartet—thus until about the spring of 1907—Schoenberg is a profoundly tonal composer, one who manipulates theme, harmony, phrase design, and large-scale form to create coherent yet varied tonal structures.

This will certainly not be the last book written on Schoenberg's early tonal pe-


riod. If it serves primarily as a stimulus for historical musicologists to tell a newer story, or for theorists to continue the search for a more systematic (but still, it is hoped, humane) approach to this repertory, it will have served its purpose.

A word is appropriate here about the musical examples transcribed from original sources. All transcriptions in this book are, except where specifically noted, my own and may differ in some details from those in the Sämtliche Werke. Since this book is a critical-historical study, and not a scholarly edition, my goal has been practical, rather than purely diplomatic and rigorous. Orchestral or chamber works (from both manuscript and printed sources) have been reduced to one or two staves and have sometimes been excerpted; occasionally, an ellipsis has been made in portions of a larger continuous sketch or draft. Details such as stem directions or accidentals have been adapted for these purposes. Where a significant ambiguity as to meaning may arise, my own editorial suggestions, such as clefs, time and key signatures, and accidentals, are placed in square brackets. In order to keep the examples free from unnecessary clutter, however, such markings have been used sparingly.

Portions of chapter 1 of this book have appeared in different form in Brahms and His World (Frisch 1990a); portions of chapters 3, 4, and 8 in the Journal of the Arnold Schoenberg Institute (Frisch 1986, 1988b); and other portions of chapter 8 in the Journal of the American Musicological Society (Frisch 1988a). I am grateful to Princeton University Press, the Arnold Schoenberg Institute, and the American Musicological Society, respectively, for permission to adapt this material.

The planning, researching, and writing of this book extended over many years and several grant periods and leaves; the work took place in various locations, with the support of numerous institutions and individuals. Rather than trying to formulate my gratitude too discursively, I offer my sincerest thanks in a more compact form to:

· The Schoenberg family, especially Lawrence, for generously authorizing access to many primary sources.

· Belmont Music Publishers, Pacific Palisades, California, for permission to use Schoenberg's music in musical examples within the text of the book and in the appendix.

· The staff of the Arnold Schoenberg Institute in Los Angeles, including its director (until the end of 1991), Leonard Stein, its associate director, Heidi Lesemann, and three successive archivists, the late Clara Steuermann, Jerry McBride, and Wayne Shoaf.


· The staff at the Library of Congress, especially Elizabeth Auman.

· The staff of the Austrian National Library, especially (during 1986) Rosemary Hilmar.

· J. Rigbie Turner of the Pierpont Morgan Library.

· The Music Division of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center.

· A number of components of my home institution, Columbia University, including the Council for Research in the Humanities (for summer funds), the Arts and Sciences (for junior faculty leave), and the Music Department (for leave and sabbatical time).

· The National Endowment for the Humanities for a fellowship during 1985–86, during which much of the preliminary research was accomplished.

· The Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung in Bonn for a grant, which brought me to the Musikwissenschaftliches Seminar of the University of Freiburg during 1990–91; and to Hermann Danuser, who served as welcoming Gastgeber.

· Reinhold Brinkmann, Ethan Haimo, Martha M. Hyde, Oliver Neighbour, and Richard Swift for insightful readings of all or part of the manuscript and for other advice generously offered.

· Don Giller, for preparation of the handsome musical examples.

· Karen Painter, for careful and perceptive research assistance in the preparation of the final manuscript.

· Michael Rogan, for the helpful transcriptions of passages from the autograph of Verklärte Nacht, prepared in conjunction with an M.A. essay at Columbia University in 1986.

· Ruth Spevack, for help in preparing the index.

· The staff at the University of California Press, including Pamela MacFarland Holway, Doris Kretschmer, Jane-Ellen Long, and Fran Mitchell, all of whom helped guide this book through the treacherous seas of production.

· My family, Anne, Nicholas, and Simon, the most wonderful, nourishing alternative to scholarly work imaginable.



Preferred Citation: Frisch, Walter. The Early Works of Arnold Schoenberg, 1893-1908. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1993 1993.