Listening Log – [Pt. IV]- Schoenberg’s ‘Variations for Orchestra. Op. 31 (1928)


Schoenberg’s ‘Variations for Orchestra. Op. 31 (1928)

Listening Log – [Pt. IV]- Schoenberg’s ‘Variations for Orchestra. Op. 31 (1928). Throughout March- April 2020 Listened /watched (streaming) to youtube video: For copyright info and credits see information under video clip.


According to our course text Schoenberg’s first serial orchestral work ‘Variations for Orchestra. Op. 31 was written in 1928 and used the tone row below as its main underlying melodic theme. Various inversions. Retrogrades and transpositions were then used for variations. The work was then set within a classical form ‘variations.’

Here are the tone rows and theme from our course text:

As is evident when looking at the Thema above the phrases are structured in a ‘call and response’ fashion with an ‘antecedent and consequent’ creating sentences or periods in a similar way a fugal Bach piece might. This mimicking of a contrapuntal musical sentence and the repetition of patterns gives us the feeling of melodic movement and progression. The antecedent opens with the tritone interval Bb to E below. A tritone interval is repeated in the response. The contrapuntal writing becomes very evident when the violin joins in at bar 51 to, in effect, take over the Cantus Firmus role from the cello and the cello line becomes the contrapuntal line.  What is evident in the traditional compositional devises Schoenberg uses is just how knowledgable and deeply rooted his modern music was in the earlier Viennese and German Classical styles. He even features a Bach homage in the shape of the BACH motif Bb- A- C- B ♮ in one of his melodies. Bach himself had already used a tone row in one of his preludes in the Well-tempered Clavier. The use of hexachords and tone rows go as far back as medieval music polyphony. A fact I am sure Schoenberg was keenly aware of. Schoenberg’s musical heritage is very audible in the piece, although the tritone intervals and dissonances make it sound very atonal and modern.

Arnold Schoenberg – Variations Op. 31 {Chicago/Barenboim LIVE}
Chicago Symphony conducted by Daniel Barenboim live 6 October 2005, Orchestra Hall, Chicago.