Arnold Schoenberg - String Quartet No. 2, II





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Uploaded on Sep 25, 2010

String Quartet No. 2, for soprano & string quartet in F sharp minor, Op. 10 (1907-1908)

I. Mässig
II. Sehr rash
III. Litanei (Langsam)
IV. Entrückung (Sehr langsam)

New Vienna String Quartet
Evelyn Lear, soprano

The String Quartet No. 2, Op. 10, of Arnold Schoenberg is one of the key works of musical modernism. Composed between March 1907 and August 1908, its last movement marks the decisive point at which Western art music moved from a tonally based harmonic structure to what has been called an atonal harmonic structure. Prior to the Quartet No. 2, Schoenberg wrote in the highly chromatic post-Wagnerian harmonic language of the fin de siècle, a language that took tonal music to the limits of its coherence by delaying the resolution of dissonances for longer and longer periods. After the Quartet No. 2, Schoenberg, then his pupils and then much of Western art music abandoned tonality for harmonic structures that not only allowed an extremely high level of chromatic dissonance, but which no longer required the resolution of those dissonances.

The Quartet No. 2 itself begins tonally, and its first two movements are, in fact, in F sharp minor. The opening movement is in sonata form with the usual harmonic relation between keys. The second movement is a scherzo with trios, the second of which ends with a quotation from the plague song, Ach, Du Liebe Augustine. The third movement is in E flat minor, one of the most difficult keys for a string player to perform in, and sets Stefan George's poem "Litanei" (Litany) for soprano, the first time a vocalist had been used in a piece of chamber music. The final movement sets another poem by George, entitled "Entruckung" (Transport), for soprano and, although the movement ends on an F sharp major triad, it is for almost all the rest of its length, completely unconcerned with tonal harmonic relationships and structures. Instead, it relies on George's text and motivic relationships to give coherence to the music.

Interestingly, while the opening movements of the Quartet No. 2 are anguished in tone and the third movement is one of the most harrowing pieces Schoenberg was ever to write, the closing movement is calm and even serene in tone, despite being harmonically atonal. In part, the emotional sequence of the quartet is autobiographical: while he was composing the quartet, Schoenberg's wife, Mathilda, left him and their children for the painter Richard Gerstle. Although Mathilda was later persuaded by Schoenberg's pupil Anton Webern to return to her family, her return caused the unstable Gerstle to hang himself, and this in turn caused her to lose her own sanity. Shortly after the completion of the Quartet No. 2, Mathilda was placed in an institution, where she remained for the rest of her life. [Allmusic.com]

Art by Friedensreich Hundertwasser

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