Arnold Schoenberg: "Farben" from Five Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 16


In 1911 Arnold Schoneberg published Theory of Harmony ("Harmonielehre"), the fruit of many years of self-guided labor in the field. In its idiosyncratic prose, Schoenberg lays out an all-embracing theory that begins with the natural overtones of a particular pitch, proceeds through intervals, chords and modulations before moving further afield from standard nineteenth-century harmonic practice. He moves to chords comprised of repeated intervals, chords of five or more notes demonstrating with each how it can be utilized to effect directed harmonic change. At the conclusion of this revelatory work he writes:
I will forgo any further description in favor of yet another idea I want to mention in closing...The evaluation of tone color, the second dimension of tone, is in a still mch less cultivated, much less organized state. ... Nevertheless, we go right on boldly connecting the sounds with one another, contrasting them with one another, simply by must also be possible to make progressions out of tone colors....progressions whose relations with one another work with a kind of logic entirely equivalent to that logic which satifies us in the melody of pitches.
He continues, relating such tone-color melody (Ger: klangfarbenmelodie) to the dream-like states much in vogue among the Expressionists and Symbolists:
[This] has the appearance of a futuristic fantasy and is probably just that. But it is one which, I believe, will be realized. I firmly believe it is capable of heightening in an unprecedente manner the sensory, intellectual, and spiritual pleasures offered by art. I firmly believe that it will bring us closer to the illusory stuff of our dreams; that it will expand our relationships to that which seems to us today inanimate as we give life from our life to that which is temporarily dead for us, but dead only by virtue of the slight connection we have with it.
Tone-color melodies! How acutre the senses that would be able to perceive them! How high the development of the spirit that could find pleasure in such subtle things!
In such a domain, who dares ask for a theory!

Farben ("Colors"), the third movement of his 1909 composition Five Pieces for Orchestra, Opus 16 was written roughly contemporary with his work on the Harmonielehre and is perhaps Schoenberg's attempt at the subtleties of the spirit he writes about.

Things to Note
While Arnold Schoenberg is better known as an Expressionistic composer or for developing the Twelve-tone system, Farben ("Colors") perhaps one of the clearest examples of Impressionism in music. Originaly Schoenberg wished that the individual movements of the work should not have titles, but eventually gave in to his publishers wishes and gave the work the ambiguous title Farben; in a revised version of the score from 1925 (the original is composed for a prohibitively large orchestra) he amplified this with a subtitle: "Summer Morning on a Lake." Whatever the title, there is little "real" melody in the work = it simply presents a chord progression enlivened by orchestrational changes, a series of shifting colors. These changes begin rather slowly and eventually speed up presenting an almost kaleidoscopic effect before
Formally, it is an ABA with a tiny B section interrupting the calm of the A section. It has become de rigeur for theorists to attempt an analysis of the shifting tone-colors of the work.

JMW Turner: Sunrise with Sea Monsters

Listening Chart: Schoenberg: Farben from Five Pieces for Orchestra (1909) (Timings match video; video includes movement 4 an 5 as well)
"A" section: slowly shifting chords enlivened by change in orchestration. (The first two chords use the same pitches)
2:20 B section: odd piccolo melody.
2:28 Return to the calm of the A section


All text © Todd Tarantino 2002-2012.
Not to be reprinted without permission.