Fünf Orchesterstücke (‘Five Orchestral Pieces’), Op.16

Arnold Schoenberg’s Fünf Orchesterstücke Op.16 was composed in the summer of 1909 and first performed by Sir Henry Wood at the Proms on 3 September 1912.  This set of five short pieces is among the first works in Schoenberg’s output to dispense almost entirely with tonality.  The work is scored for a very large orchestra, with piccolo, three flutes, three oboes, English horn, four clarinets, bass clarinet, three bassoons, contrabassoon, six horns, four trombones, three trumpets, tuba, a range of percussion, harp and strings.  In 1949, Schoenberg revisited the score to make a version in which the orchestration is reduced to that of a standard sized orchestra. 

At the instigation of his publisher, C.F. Peters, Schoenberg later added programmatic titles to each piece in the set, which were included in the second edition published in 1922. 

  1. Vorgefühle / Premonitions 
  2. Vergangenes / The Past
  3. Sommermorgen an einem See (Farben) / Summer Morning by a Lake (Colours)
  4. Peripetie / Peripetia
  5. Das obligate Rezitativ / The Obligatory Recitative

The third piece was originally given the generic title ‘Chord-colours’, but Schoenberg later expanded it to ‘Summer Morning by a Lake (Colours)’, a title that reflects the visual stimulus for the work in the shifting colours created at sunrise over Lake Traunsee in Austria.  It is a notable example of the technique known as ‘Klangfarbenmelodie’, in which elements of a musical line or melody are broken up and distributed between several different instruments, thereby enhancing the colour and texture of the musical fabric.  Conceptually similar to the technique of ‘pointillism’ in art, the idea influenced Schoenberg’s pupil Anton Webern as well as later modernist composers, such as Karlheinz Stockhausen.   According to a note that appears in the score, ‘The change of chords in this piece has to be executed with the greatest subtlety, avoiding accentuation of entering instruments, so that only the difference in colour becomes noticeable… There are no motivs in this piece which have to be brought to the fore.’

Schoenberg himself conducted the work at the Queen’s Hall in London on 17 January 1914, a performance attended by the composer Gustav Holst.

Arnold Schoenberg

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