Preface to Volume 11, 3 B
The present volume brings together two works that at first sight seem quite disparate: the Chamber Symphony for 15 solo instruments op. 9, in the version for orchestra of 1914, and the Three Pieces for Chamber Ensemble of 1910. The Chamber Symphony, which had been composed in 1906, was a culminating point in Schönberg’s artistic development, though its significance was at first not apparent even to the composer himself. The wealth of themes and melodies in the work, developed through variation and combined contrapuntally in constantly new ways; the tonality, expanded to the very limits; the concentration of both expression and form – in all of these respects the work had gone as far as it was possible to go, and the only future course of action was a complete breakthrough, which Schönberg achieved, two years after completion of the Chamber Symphony, in the programmatic final movement of his second String Quartet op. 10. As the work’s title implies, the Chamber Symphony is paradoxical in character, combining inward, purely musical compression with outward-directed effect, and this dual nature also had consequences for performance, inasmuch as the work survives in more versions than any other composition of Schönberg’s, the different realizations seeking to bring out either the chamber or the symphonic aspects of the work.
As a note in the original printed edition of 1912 makes clear, Schönberg had envisaged from the outset that an ‘orchestra-sized number’ of strings, complemented by occasional doubling in the winds, was a possible option in the event of performances in larger halls. Although the specific realisation of this adaptation had originally been left to conductors, in the light of his own growing experience as a conductor Schönberg added a note, in the ‘Revised Edition’ of 1914, that ‘performance in large halls is permissible only from a score specially adapted for the purpose, which the publisher will make available on request’. He had made this arrangement of the score himself during the summer months of 1914, ahead of a planned performance that he was to conduct in St Petersburg. The changes in question essentially accord with his own indications of 1912: the string parts are given to larger numbers of players, and the wind parts are doubled ‘in the places where it is necessary’. Amendments to the original sonority through doublings by another (wind) instrument at the unison or octave are infrequent and are made only for purposes of clarification. This early version for orchestra therefore occupies a mid-way position between the original version and the later orchestral arrangement, op. 9B, of 1935: it offers a genuine alternative to each version, by improving the balance in sonority between wind and strings while avoiding the unchamber-like showiness of the wind writing in op. 9B with its added trumpets and trombones.
Schönberg’s continuing preoccupation with the hybrid genre of the chamber symphony is evident not only from the second Chamber Symphony op. 38, which he began writing immediately after op. 9 in a version for soloists and which was not completed until three decades later in a revised version for orchestra, but also from the second work contained in the present volume, the Three Pieces for Chamber Ensemble of 1910. This extremely short work – the first, and longest, piece runs to no more than twelve bars, and the fragmentary third piece would probably not have been much more substantial – comes, like the monodrama Erwartung op. 17 (1909), the Six Little Piano Pieces op. 19 and the Lied Herzgewächse op. 20 (both 1911), at the end of the process of transformation which led to the almost total dissolution of the traditional categories of music and their associated conventions that had been taken to their limits in the first Chamber Symphony. Here, musical gestures replace motifs in the thematic sphere, and ultra-subtle variations in sonority create contrast and cohesion at the different levels of form. The structural use of instrumental timbre and coloration – previously regarded as lower-order musical parameters – is shown in the gradual increase in the number of instruments from the first to the third piece, and in the sonority created by the organ (or harmonium) and celesta in the third. The miniatures resemble the Chamber Symphony in the sense that the scoring for twelve solo instruments gives the work a similarly hybrid character midway between orchestral and chamber music. Apparently, Schönberg had at first thought in terms of orchestral forces in the string parts, only subsequently scoring the parts for soloists – in other words, he reclaimed, as it were, the orchestral palette for the purposes of chamber music, in a reversal of his procedure with the first Chamber Symphony, where the early orchestral version of the work had constituted a translation of specifically chamber writing into orchestral terms.
Berlin, January 2010