Five Pieces for Orchestra

The Five Pieces for Orchestra (Fünf Orchesterstücke), Op. 16, were composed by Arnold Schoenberg in 1909. The titles of the pieces, reluctantly added by the composer after the work's completion upon the request of his publisher, are as follows:

  1. "Vorgefühle", Sehr rasch ("Premonitions", very fast)
  2. "Vergangenes", Mäßige Viertel ("The Past", moderate crotchets)
  3. "Farben", Mäßige Viertel ("Summer Morning by a Lake: Chord-Colors", moderate crotchets)
  4. "Peripetie", Sehr rasch ("Peripeteia", very fast)
  5. "Das obligate Rezitativ", Bewegte Achtel ("The Obbligato Recitative", busy quavers)
Five Pieces for Orchestra
by Arnold Schoenberg
Portrait of Arnold Schoenberg by Richard Gerstl, ca. June 1905.
Native nameFünf Orchesterstücke
OpusOp. 16
StyleFree atonality
DateSeptember 3, 1912 (1912-09-03)
ConductorHenry Wood

The Five Pieces further develop the notion of "total chromaticism" that Schoenberg introduced in his Three Piano Pieces, Op. 11 (composed earlier that year) and were composed during a time of intense personal and artistic crisis for the composer, this being reflected in the tensions and, at times, extreme violence of the score, mirroring the expressionist movement of the time, in particular its preoccupation with the subconscious and burgeoning madness.

The work had its world premiere in London at a Promenade Concert on 3 September 1912, conducted by Henry Wood.[1][2]

At Wood's suggestion, Schoenberg's British pupil and friend Edward Clark (later to become a renowned BBC music producer and conductor) invited the composer to make his British conducting debut with this work at the Queen's Hall, and on 17 January 1914 he conducted it at the same venue.[3][4][5] This was attended by Gustav Holst, who obtained a copy of the score, the only Schoenberg score he ever owned. Echoes of the work appear in The Planets (originally titled Seven Pieces for Large Orchestra), and in the opening of his ballet The Lure (1921), which closely resembles the third of Schoenberg's Five Pieces.[6]


The work exists in two different scorings: the original 1909 version for a very large orchestra and the revised version of 1949 which reduces the size of the orchestra to more-or-less normal proportions, "giving up the contrabass clarinet, as well as the four-fold scoring of the other woodwinds and two of the six horns". This version was published posthumously in 1952.

Third movement

According to Robert Erickson, "harmonic and melodic motion is curtailed, in order to focus attention on timbral and textural elements." Blair Johnston claims that this movement is actually titled "Chord-Colors", that Schoenberg "removes all traditional motivic associations" from this piece, that it is generated from a single harmony: C-G-B-E-A (the Farben chord, shown below), found in a number of chromatically altered derivatives, and is scored for "a kaleidoscopically rotating array of instrumental colors".

Whether or not this was an early example of what Schoenberg later called Klangfarbenmelodie (in his 1911 book Harmonielehre) is a matter of dispute. One scholar holds that Schoenberg's "now-famous statements about 'Klangfarbenmelodie' are, however, reflections, which have no direct connection to the Orchestra Piece op. 16, no. 3". An attempt to refute this view was published in the same journal issue.

Schoenberg explains in a note added to the 1949 revision of the score, "The conductor need not try to polish sounds which seem unbalanced, but watch that every instrumentalist plays accurately the prescribed dynamic, according to the nature of his instrument. There are no motives in this piece which have to be brought to the fore".



  • Doflein, Erich. "Schönbergs Opus 16 Nr. 3: der Mythos der Klangfarbenmelodie". Melos 36 (1969): 203–205.^ p. 204.
  • Doflein, Erich. "Schönbergs Opus 16 Nr. 3: Geschichte einer Uberschrift". Melos 36 (1969): 209–12.^ p. 211.
  • Erickson, Robert. Sound Structures in Music. University of California Press, Los Angeles, 1975. ISBN 0-520-02376-5 ^ p. 37.
  • Förtig, Peter. "Arnold Schönberg über Klangfarbe". Melos 36 (1969): 206–209.
  • Johnston, Blair. "Pieces (5) for Orchestra, Op. 16"., [n.d.].^
  • Mäckelmann, Michael. Arnold Schönberg: Fünf Orchesterstücke op. 16. W. Fink, Munich, 1987. ISBN 3-7705-2415-2
  • Neighbour, O. W. "Schoenberg, Arnold." The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. Macmillan, London, 2001.^
  • Rufer, Josef. "Noch einmal Schönbergs Opus 16". Melos 36 (1969): 366–68.^
  • Schoenberg, Arnold. Five Orchestra Pieces, Opus 16, score. Dover Publications, Inc., Mineola, New York, 1999. ISBN 0-486-40642-3 ^ p. 29.
  • Schoenberg, Arnold. Style and Idea. University of California Press, Los Angeles, 1984. ISBN 0-520-05294-3

Further reading

  • Burkhart, Charles. "Schoenberg's Farben: An Analysis of op. 16, no. 3". Perspectives of New Music 12 (1973–74): 141–72.
  • Craft, Robert. "Schoenberg's Five Pieces for Orchestra". In Perspectives on Schoenberg and Stravinsky, revised edition, edited by Benjamin Boretz and Edward T. Cone, 3–24. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1972.
  • Forte, Allen. The Structure of Atonal Music. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1973.
  • Rahn, John. "Analysis Two: Schoenberg's Five Peces for Orchestra: Farben, op. 16 no. 3". In his Basic Atonal Theory, 59–73. New York and London: Longman, 1980. ISBN 0-582-28117-2.
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