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Arnold Schoenberg: ‘Peripetie’ from Five Orchestral Pieces

Updated on January 31, 2015

Arnold Schoenberg: 'Peripetie' from Five Orchestral Pieces

Revision notes for the Edexcel GCSE Scheme of work

Born in Vienna, Austria in 1874, Schoenberg felt tonal music was too restrictive and couldn't completely describe the extent of human emotions, especially dark emotions, so therefore his works were famously known for being atonaler ones.

Serialism was invented in 1923 by Schoenberg. This is important to Schoenberg's style but the movement of serialism came after Peripetie was first composed - later being revised. Peripetie is the 4th movement of Schoenberg's 'Five Orchestral Pieces' and was composed in 1909.

Note from the editor:

If you are studying this piece, unless you truly find it amazing and mind-blowing, chances are you will hate this piece passionately - or alternatively be confused. Now if they ask you in the exam, "what are your feelings about the piece?" you MUST say why, not just because you hate it, but because it is Atonal, or has dissonance, or uses 'Klangfarbenmelodie' which you don't understand (but it will be defined later).

Personally, I don't like this set work... but you are required not to like it, but to study it. You are not taking a music critic exam, you must explore the devices and possibly (occasionally) mention your feelings with a musical justification i.e. I find the use of Klangfarbenmelodie confusing, as the music is atonal, however as the piece is expressionist, I understand and appreciate the use of timbre over tonality and think that it is an interesting approach to music.

Anyway, don't get bogged down on your feelings! Ignore them and just learn!

Key Features

Dates – 1900 – present

Expressionism – a style of music from the early 20th century

Key features:

- Angular melodies

- Dissonance

- Atonal

- Expresses only one main expression or emotion

- Full use of instrumental ranges

- Tends to be short due to no repetition

- Extremes in dynamics

- Timbre is thought to be as important as melody and harmony

- Chromaticism

Mad T-shirt

MAD T-SHIRT is a tip for remembering musical features by going through 9 key parts of any musical piece.

They are:

Melody, Articulation, Dynamics, Texture, Structure, Harmony (tonality), Instrumentation, Rhythm, Tempo

Mad T-shirt


- Use of melodic fragments (very short melodic ideas) & complicated fragmented rhythms in melody line

- The melody is passed around different instruments: Klangfarbenmelodie - tone colour melody. Idea that timbre contributes as much as pitch & rhythm. Hear examples of this in brass in Section B (as melody is shared out between different instruments)


- Slurs/ties are used to reduce the impact of the hexachords or compliments, or soften the longer notes to break from the dissonance.

- Accents and staccato melodic patterns add more effect, especially when the notes get to the top of the instruments register, giving a clearer, more powerful effect

Dynamics & Tempo

- Sudden and extreme changes in dynamics and tempo help this piece be more effective - typical of Expressionist style.

- In Section A (marked 'sehr rash' - very quick), instruments use short note lengths (i.e. demisemiquavers) to emphasise the fast tempo, and dynamics change from 'pp' to 'ff' very suddenly. Section B - principal voice instruments always f-fff. Other parts quieter


- There is no conventional structure - although it is like a 'free' Rondo with returning mood/orchestral sound rather than a melody.

- Section A - very quick, extreme dynamic contrasts, fast rhythms, huge crash at beginning.

- Section B - begins v quietly + immediate crescendo, very polyphonic, busy texture. Frantic.

- Section C - alternates between calmer & passionate. Principal voice = bassoon & cello. Sparse texture, overlapping solo instruments, delicate, with some individual crescendos to fff.

Harmony (tonality)

- Peripetie = atonal (all notes are equal) - typical feature of Expressionist music

- harmony dissonant & v. chromatic (using every note) e.g. uses hexachord which create dissonances, (all 6 notes played at the same time like a chord, or one after the other like a short melody)

Instrumentation & Texture

- The parts are very challenging to play - wide leaps, use of the lowest to the highest register of all the instruments

- Use of homophonic texture& solos in Section A; contrasts with Section B (v thick texture, polyphonic); Section C = sparse texture, solo instruments


- no clear sense of rhythm or metre due to polyrhythms and triplet rhythms


- Sehr Rasch - very quickly


Word Painting – the notes reflecting the tone or feel or lyrics of a piece

Accent – emphasis on a note or chord, telling the player to play louder or with more force

Bitonal – characterised by the simultaneous use of two different keys in one composition

Lyrical – suitable for, or suggesting the idea of a song

Aria – a solo vocal piece with instrumental accompaniment, like operas or ‘and the Glory’, showing the characters mood

Chromaticism – the notes that do not belong in the mode or scale upon which a composition is made

Sprechstimme – (speech voice) where the song is spoken with tone

Hexachord – a group of 6 notes that can be played to form a chord, but can also be used to form a short melodic idea

Compliment – a compliment uses the other 6 semitones that aren’t used in the hexachord; these can be used as a chord or short melodic idea as well.

Klangfarbenmelodie – ‘tone colour melody’ used to describe how timbre contributes to a melody, pitch or rhythm

Atonal – the absence of a key (tonality) in a piece

12 Tone System (Serialism) – order of the notes to help compose a piece (Prime Order)


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