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GCSE Music Notes - Arnold Schoenberg - Peripetie

Updated on December 23, 2015


Schoenberg wrote Peripetie in 1909. This piece is an example of the musical style expressionism. Schoenberg formed the Second Viennese School with Berg and Webern, and he was one of the founding figures of serialism.


The piece is in free rondo form, meaning it is in rondo form but it is very flexible. It can be divided into 5 sections, A,B,A1,C,A2, however it contains no formal structural reference points. The returning A sections have been developed and changed so much that they are hardly recognisable.


There are 7 main motifs presented in the A section. They are believed to be based on hexachords, which can clearly be seen in the first two motifs. The principal voice is marked as haupstimme while the secondary voice is marked as nebenstimmer. The melodies are often very disjunct and angular. Schoenberg often uses octave displacement where some notes are unexpectedly moved up or down an octave. He also uses melodic inversion, where the melodies are essentially flipped upside down.


The texture of this piece is mainly contrapuntal, and extremely layered. However, there are some sections where homophony and monophony become apparent, for example the first bar. Complex textures are built up through the use of different rhythmic layers and imitation. The final climax has a tutti, where all the orchestra plays at once.


There is a huge dynamic range in the piece, ranging from ppp to fff. There are also a large number of crescendos and diminuendos, which are often very short and sudden, sometimes only lasting for one bar. Fp is also used, adding to the sense of unpredictability. In the final section, the clarinets play fff then ppp, creating a huge dynamic contrast.


Peripetie is written for a very large orchestra, typically of about 90 players. Interesting techniques are used, such as the symbol being struck with the mallet, or a tremolo being created using a cello bow. Schoenberg gives very detailed instructions to the players, and they are required to play at extremes of ranges and pitches. The horns are often played hand stopped, creating a thin, nasal sound.

Harmony and Tonality

The harmony is very dissonant, and one of the most prominent features is the use of hexachords. There are many chromatic notes, for examples when the trombones are playing in bar 3. A hexachord is a chord made of 6 notes. This piece is completely atonal, as its key is ambiguous.

Rhythm, Metre and Tempo

The metre changes from 3/4, 4/4 and 2/4, but most of the time it is 3/4. The tempo of the piece alternates between sehr rasch, meaning very quick, and etwas rugier, meaning somewhat calmer. IN the A sections the rhythms consist of many triplets, sextuplets and demisemiquavers. The rhythms are very complex and elaborate, and also change very quickly. Cross rhythms can also be found in the piece, for example in bar 30.


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