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Music : Expressionism

Essay Topic: ,

‘Prettier’ from five orchestral pieces is an atonal (no significant key signature) Expressionist piece of music written by Austrian composer Schoenberg (who is associated with the expressionist movement of the early twentieth century and was the founder of the second Viennese school of music). It was composed in 1909, written for a big orchestra, made up of mainly flutes oboes clarinets and bassoons.

Additionally some other brass instruments and percussion play in the piece such as the trumpet, trombone, xylophone, cymbals and bass drum.

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Prettier’ can be described as a very intense and restless piece of music with many quick changes in speed, mood and instrumentation. The translation of Prettier into English is ‘ a sudden change in fortune”, which perfectly describes the nature of this piece. One factor which makes ‘Prettier’ a clear example of expressionist music is the instrumentation.

In this piece the instruments are often played at the extreme of their registers, heightening the dramatic style which sets the stage for this expressionist piece of music by including extreme contrasts in the dynamics, which an be seen in the score of the piece where Schoenberg marks from ‘up’ to ‘if. Another two factors which portray the genre of this piece are the constantly changing textures and unusual structure; there are many motifs which are changed throughout the piece however there is no concrete main melody.

It is made out of complicated melodic fragments which are based on 6 notes from 12 different semitones in a scale, known as hexachord, which are almost in rondo form (abaca.. ) where the same melodic idea returns many times. The ‘a’ theme, which returns more than twice, are each very different to each other and described as ‘almost unrecognizable’. This creates a sensation of unawareness , a feeling of unpredictability and suspense for the listener, we never expect what we will hear next.

The idea of using free rondo form is used to bring the same atmosphere, mood and feel of a motif rather than the exact, precise copy of notes. An example of a hexachord in this piece is the recurring hexachord in bar 8 , ( a, b flat, c , c sharp, e , f) laded as a motif and chord by the horns Each different section of the piece varies in length swell as the continuously varying textures and tempos. Schoenberg frequently changes the speed within Prettier. He uses a lot of different note lengths ranging from deem-semiquavers to semibreves.

This use of constantly changing tempos, melodies and dynamics heightens the dramatic nature of the piece making it very exciting for the listener! The timbre, pitch and harmonies of this piece are very particular to the style of expressionism. The dissonant harmonies and clashing sounds throughout this piece create discomfort for the listener and are successfully used to convey the desired emotions of the composer, which he was aiming to express through his music.

As well as the sudden and extreme changes in dynamics and rhythms in this piece, the textures vary as well. This piece has a contrapuntal texture with moments of polyphonic and homophobic textures too; ranging from a solo flute to the whole orchestra playing which provide possibilities of creating dramatic moments of climax thin the song, once again conveying deep emotions and conflict, fitting perfectly into the expressionistic genre.

The melody in Prettier is fragmented and is played by all the instruments at different times throughout the piece, known as ‘agglomeration’s’ (tone-color melody). Additionally the melody is very angular and distinct and often uses repeated notes or short motifs, which enhances the uncomfortable feeling for the listener. Schoenberg plays with the timbre of this piece, with quick, sudden changes between families of instruments such as the brass ND woodwinds; which in result varies the sound of the piece making it more unusual and unpredictable.

Prettier perfectly fits into the category of expressionism through the exiting use of changing dynamics, tempos, harmonies, textures, orchestral devices, melodies and rhythms, making this piece exiting and vibrant to listen to every time. Each time it is played new moments are found that were previously unknown to the listener, bringing something new to its audience each time it is heard, whether it be emotional or categorical, thus evidently fitting into the genre of expressionism.

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