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Methods of Analyis of Schoenberg’s Die glückliche Hand

Methods of Analyis of Schoenberg’s Die glückliche Hand
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I wrote this paper in  June 1993 for one of my graduate music theory classes, which I believe was taught by the John Crawford mentioned in this paper.

Schoenberg’s Die glückliche Hand is a work which combines music with other elements, such as drama, visual effects, libretto, and art.  It is perhaps different than other musical works falling into the category of opera in that these non-musical elements are so closely connected to the music that they are strictly notated in the music score.  These non-musical factors could be problematic to an analyst seeking to discover structural elements of the work in a solely musical environment.  This paper will examine the various approaches toward this work, determine to what extent non-musical factors play a role in the decision of musical structure, and discuss the effectiveness of such analyses.  Based on the writings below, the areas of examination will be the influence of color (in this work, colored lighting) on the music, the approach to formal examinations of the work (including the influence of the text on the music), and the aspect of motivic processes (primarily the “leitmotif”).  The non-analytic aspects of the following articles will not be discussed in this paper.

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Although much of the discussion about Die glückliche Hand has been historical in nature, the most significant historical topic relevant to this examination is the influence of painter Wassily Kandinsky’s theoretical work Über das Geistige in der Kunst, in which he proposes the existence of a union of all artistic categories into a higher form of “monumental art.”  As a part of this union, color and sound are closely linked, and Kandinsky offers tables that show his idea of various colors, their effect or mood, and their timbral correspondences.  Most colors are likened to a particular instrument or group of instruments that produce the timbre of that color.  An example is the color light blue having a sound “equivalent” of a flute, or vermilion being likened to a tuba or loud drum beats.  At the time Schoenberg began writing the libretto for Die glückliche Hand in 1908/9, Kandinsky began his own stage work, Der gelbe Klang, in which he sought to incorporate the sound-color principles of his Über das Geistige in der Kunst, which he was writing at the time.

Many writers have concentrated on Schoenberg’s connection with Kandinsky’s color scheme in understanding the relation of musical to non-musical aspects of Die glückliche Hand.  A particular occurrence in the work, the so-called “color crescendo” (scene 3, mm125-153), has been the most widely discussed as an example of Kandinsky’s color scheme influencing the music in Die glückliche Hand.  It is a point at which wind, light, and music crescendo simultaneously.

One such discussion is by John Crawford, who, in his “Die Glückliche Hand: Schoenberg’s Gesamtkunstwerk,”[1] presents a table by Kandinsky that lists colors with their psychological effects and their instrumental equivalents.  Next to this, a table of the “color crescendo” is given to show the colored lights specified in the score and the instruments used with them (Table 2 in his article, pp. 586-588).  This table of the color crescendo does little to show the musical correlation with Kandinsky’s table, aside from the similarity of the colors violet, “more glaring” red, and light yellow, which do correspond to Kandinksy’s table.  It does show the common succession of light between the two tables, however.  He gives examples of three motives “which recur in many rhythmic and melodic variants,”[2] (Examples 1a, b, c in his article, p. 592) throughout the crescendo, but does not elaborate on their significance or their relationship to the rest of the work.

A more convincing correlation between the “color crescendo” and Kandinsky’s color-sound table is shown in Philip Truman’s article “Synaesthesia and Die glückliche Hand.”[3] In this article, which was written to prove that the opera is an example of a successful “translation” of color into sound, a more detailed table is included (pp. 498-499 in his article).  Not only does the author reveal more musical events in this example (listed measure by measure, which Crawford’s does not specify for each color), but Truman has also pointed out the three primary motives that appear in the crescendo, which concur with Crawford’s (Ex. 4a, 4b, and 4c in Truman’s text, p. 498).  Truman likens these themes to the opening measures of the opera.  This table is preferable to Crawford’s because it clearly demonstrates to the reader the relationship of the musical events with the drama and the required colors.  Whereas Crawford’s chart lines up the Kandinsky chart next to the color crescendo to display a correlation, Truman’s chart is only of the color crescendo and gives a more adequate description of musical events, including each appearance of the three motives.

Although Crawford and Truman differ slightly in their presentation of the color crescendo, their claims (that the crescendo is held together by three reoccurring themes) are essentially the same.  What the reader is to infer (especially from Truman’s chart) is that dynamics, orchestration (timbral decisions), and texture (doublings and “thickness”) are the musical aspects influenced by the colors specified in these measures.

The discussion of the color-sound correlation is expanded in Truman’s article to other places in the opera.  He demonstrates that the opening measures of the work are synchronized with music, color, and drama.  This is shown by comparing the visual aspects to the musical aspects:

. . . one sees the gazes of the twelve men and women of a motionless chorus illuminated by twelve green spots; the rest is swathed in soft red veiling. The “sound” compromises an unchanging pedal chord (tremolos in 3 solo violas and 3 solo cellos) and two ostinatos C one for bass clarinet and bassoons, the other for harp and timpani; the chorus sings of the stillness and silence.[4]

Truman italicized the words in the above quote to clarify his comparison of the music and the visual events at the opening of the work.  The words gazes, spots, and motionless used to define the [email protected] in the drama is represented by such “stationary” musical events as ostinato and pedal.

A brief study of the color crescendo is by Harald Krebs entitled “The ‘Color Crescendo’ from Die Glückliche Hand: A Comparison of Sketch and Final Version,”[5] which provides a different analytic approach than Crawford and Truman.  Although not entirely analytical, this article provides another, more detailed look at this section of the work.  Beginning with an examination of what he terms “surface relationships,” Krebs claims that four themes are prevalent in the crescendo, as opposed to only three as Crawford and Truman indicate.  He adds to the previously mentioned themes, one consisting of “an oscillation between two notes a third apart,” beginning at measure 125 in the flute and bassoon.  Further appearances of this theme (motive ‘a’ in the article) are at measures 135 (harp), m. 138 (clarinet and bassoon), m. 140 (cellos 3 and 4), and measures 144-147 in the strings and woodwinds.  Next, Krebs indicates several of the occurrences of “motive ‘b'” (the same as Crawford’s first theme in Crawford’s analysis).  Krebs indicates a “variant” of the motive in which the final interval of a whole step is replaced by a third, and refers to measures 131 (cellos), 133 (trumpet), and 137 (clarinet).  In a footnote to this paragraph, Krebs states regarding motive ‘b’:

This motive, like motive ‘a,’ originates near the beginning of the opera.  The motive is first stated in the bass clarinet part in m. 4 (with register transfer).  The man’s first vocal utterance (mm. 29-31) is set to the inversion of the form found in the color crescendo.[6]

Krebs concludes the examination of the motivic structure by identifying (as he did with ‘a’ and ‘b’) the appearances of motives ‘c’ and ‘d.’  This aspect of Krebs’ analysis demonstrates in much more detail than Crawford or Truman the motivic figures that musically hold this section together.

Krebs next examines the “large-scale relationships” within the color crescendo.  Here, Krebs makes the claim that the opera as a whole hints at the key of D.  He first examines the color crescendo in terms of tonality, stating, “Allusions to the key of D permeate the first few measures of the completed scene (the color crescendo).”[7] Krebs is attempting to tie the “key” of the color crescendo to the “key” of the entire work.  After this statement, the color crescendo is then examined measure by measure, first using melodic and harmonic elements, then by observing notes emphasized in the bass parts.  His claims of a D harmony are supported by such examples as repetition of the pitches E=/F-D/F< (mm. 126-132), the D/F< in the flutes (m. 133), an F<-A-B melody in the piccolo (mm. 134-136), the “verticalities” D-A-C and F-A in the celesta and arpeggiations of a D minor triad by the bass clarinet (mm. 134-136), and a D/F< in the violas (m. 137).  Although the reader can see the purpose of this analysis, Krebs does not provide the reader with reassurance that the above “allusions to the key of D” appear with any prominence in the context of the music, nor does he explain the function of the E= that he cites in measures 126-132.

Following the melodic and harmonic “allusion to the key of D” of opening of the crescendo, Krebs provides a more defensible analysis of entire crescendo based on emphasized bass notes.  Claiming G= to be the first emphasized bass note, Krebs indicates the occurrences of it in measures 125-132.  The next bass note Krebs designates as significant is E, first occurring in measure 134 and continuing until measure 148.  The low F’s, D’s, and F<‘s that occur during these measures are analyzed simply as neighboring notes or embellishments.  Finally, Krebs indicates that the low E= that occurs in the last measure of the scene (m. 153) is significant because of its “position at the end of the scene, and because of its registral connection with the earlier E (m. 146-7).”  This completes what Krebs terms a “skeletal bass-line” of the crescendo consisting of G=-E-E=.

Krebs concludes his article by briefly completing his argument that the entire opera is based on a D harmony.  As an example, he refers to the measure just before the color crescendo which “sensitizes” the listener to D.  The skeleton bass line that ends the crescendo on E= is “resolved” to D fifty measures later, in measure 200.  This analysis, reminiscent of Schenkerian analysis, provides an alternative view of the color crescendo.  Unlike Crawford and Truman, Krebs does not examine the influence of the prescribed colors on the music.  His only mention of the colors are as a reference point, for example, “The ‘braun’ section…”[8]

Aside from the influence of colors on the music, the use of leitmotif in Die glückliche Hand has received examination.  Schoenberg’s use of the Wagnerian leitmotif is examined by both Truman and Crawford.  Truman’s discussion begins with the muted cello melody at measure 5 (marked H ), which, as he states, is associated with the Man (the principle character) by measure 28.  He calls attention to a special symbol in the score that requires this sound to be synchronized with the Man’s actions.  The contention, thus, is that a particular tone color (cello) as well as a melody are assigned to a specific character in the work.  This sound-color leitmotif is indicated by Truman and Crawford at measures 37-40, 73-81, and 84-88 (this time doubled by all the other low instruments in the score) to show its connection with the Man’s appearances.  Crawford’s discussion of the Man’s color-sound leitmotif is essentially the same as Truman’s, although he provides musical examples of the cello motifs mentioned by both he and Truman (Examples 2-5 in Crawford’s article, pp. 594-595).

The Woman’s leitmotif is handled similarly in Truman’s and Crawford’s articles.  Truman describes the color-sound leitmotif of the Woman character as “usually played on the solo violin within an environment of light, scintillating and shimmering colours from other instruments.”[9] This color-sound leitmotif first appears at measure 35.  As a further example of the Kandinsky influence, Truman refers to the calls for scenery at this point.  Each of the specified colors in the scenery is represented musically by their corresponding instruments (consistent with Kandinsky’s table), each marked with a Hauptstimme symbol.  Crawford notes that the Man’s color-sound leitmotif at measure 37 is in response to the first appearance of the Woman.  At the next entrance of the Woman (scene 3, measure 153), Truman tells us that her color-sound leitmotif is again present and played by a solo violin.  Crawford suggests that the melodic material associated with the Woman is transformed into a Viennese waltz at her reappearance in scene 3 because she has been cheapened by contact with the Gentleman character.

Large-scale formal symmetry of Die glückliche Hand is another area which has received conflicting investigations.  In this work, large-scale formal sections are typically determined by the return (or sometimes even called “recapitulation”) of similar material.  Crawford makes the following comment on the form of the piece:

The opera as a whole constitutes a closed form, since the mirror construction of the libretto is carried out in the music as well, though without the use of retrograde motion.  Episodes 1, 2, and 3 are freely recapitulated in episodes 6, 7, and 8.  One can speculate as to whether the dramatic or the musical conception came first, but in any case the net result is a musical and dramatic closed form.[10]

Comparing the large-scale symmetry of the libretto with the large-scale symmetry of the music is the obvious (and perhaps strongest) argument for a formal description of this work.  Crawford’s reference to retrograde motion in the above quote suggests that the music itself literally mirrored, but the large-scale form constitutes a mirror order of musical events, closely tied with the mirror order of the dramatic events.  Crawford does present the episodes of the drama in a manner that displays a return to the point of origin (Table 1, p. 586).  Aside from the above sentence of the “recapitulated” episodes, there are no musical examples to prove this.

Truman presents a chart similar to Crawford’s in his examination of form, though only mentioning the parallels of the first and last three episodes.  He states later in the article that the “color element is a useful, additional aid in following the symbolism and the musical organization of a score that lacks a conventional grammar in its atonality and comparative formlessness.”[11] Mirror treatment is not a “grammar” as stated by Truman.  In addition, the use of the word “formlessness” does not agree with his chart.  The chart of the dramatic symmetry is preceded by the statement, “the scenes and their subdivisions are presented in a mirror construction (there is also a rather free recapitulation of the music is the respective scenes).”[12] This statement (especially the use of the word “recapitulation”) and the chart of the dramatic symmetry indicate that the work does possess a symmetrical form.

A third discussion of the large-scale form may be observed in Joseph Auner’s “Schoenberg’s Aesthetic Transformations and the Evolution of Form in Die glückliche Hand.”[13] Unlike the approaches of Crawford and Truman (that the symmetry of the music is dictated by the symmetry of the libretto), Auner bases the formal symmetry of the work primarily on the return of the fanfare and ostinato in the fourth scene.  Auner later in his article seeks to refute the notion that the symmetry of the libretto was the sole reason for the music’s symmetry.  He attempts to show that Schoenberg had problems when first composing Die glückliche Hand because he was still interested in [email protected] composition.  Auner continues by claiming that Schoenberg completed the opera only after he became interested in writing symmetrical music.

Auner compares major elements of each recapitulated episode with the original occurrence to show the relationships.  He places a great emphasis on the “Ostinato Chord”[14] which “continues throughout the first scene and is a major structural element in the fourth scene.”[15] This is because when the backstage music and laughter reappear with the ostinato chord, though originally “softly scored”, it is now played by the full orchestra.  His chart of scenes one and four is a slightly better representation of the musical events than Crawford’s or Truman’s because it provides a more detailed breakdown than the previous two, including the Fanfare/Ostinato and Chorus sections in the first and fourth scenes, and the Transition in the fourth scene.  The chart, however, lacks the visual presentation of symmetry found in the previous two.  Auner’s general approach to large-scale form is to simply compare like sections with one another and point out similarities and differences.  Crawford and Truman view form in large sections of music based on the libretto and dramatic action.  Auner’s approach to form, however, is not as simple as that in his article.  He provides the reader with a detailed account of how he came to make decisions regarding form.

One way in which Auner defines form is through his examination of the libretto and a chronology of when the music for each section was composed.  Auner attempts to prove that, although the libretto was completed in 1910, “the musical connections between the two choruses that create the work’s symmetrical form were not the product of 1910, but of 1912 and 1913…”[16] This is an important point in Auner’s argument because (as he demonstrates through historical documents) 1912-1913 are the years when Schoenberg started to distance himself from such “free-form” works as Erwartung (1909) and began writing music with a sense of return.  He shows, for example, that the backstage laughter that precedes the fourth scene was not conceived until approximately 1912.  This, in Auner’s argument, helps prove that Schoenberg probably originally had the “free-form” of earlier works in mind, but developed a new sense of form by the completion of this work.

Auner’s examination of form relies primarily on “a recapitulatory passage from the final scene, which contributes most significantly to the work’s traditional formal shape.”[17] This quote is an example that Auner’s examination of formal relationships, although trying to downplay the influence of the libretto’s structure, is largely dictated by the return of similar material in sections that are governed by the libretto.  Auner attempts to prove a close tie of the first and last scenes by presenting evidence that they were written at the same time.  He uses early sketches of the work to prove that the ostinato chord had not appeared in manuscript until 1912-1913, thus the first scene (which is largely based on the ostinato chord) had not been composed until then.  Another example includes early sketches of the recapitulation of the chorus.  Because he has proven that the ostinato chord (and, thus, the first scene) had not been composed yet, these early sketches were in fact of the first scene.  There are sketches which he claims to be the foundation of the choruses from both the first and fourth scenes, therefore being closely linked musically.[18] In his conclusion, Auner states, “Furthermore, it is possible that the inherent circularity of the dramatic structure of the libretto . . . may have been a factor in Schoenberg’s difficulty completing the work,” and, finally, “The completion of Die glückliche Hand may have had to wait until Schoenberg’s attitude toward repetition had changed to the extent that he could write music that was formally consistent with the text.”[19] This is Auner’s assertion that Schoenberg could only complete Die glückliche Hand once he gained an interest in writing symmetrical music (large-scale symmetry in this case).

Aside from the question of validity of Auner’s assertions that the sketches actually reveal that the music from the first and fourth scenes were written at the same time, his approach to the large formal structure of this piece is imaginative.  Whereas a typical analysis is based on the final draft of a score, Auner questions the musical symmetry as a pre-conceived idea, and seeks to prove his speculation based on the earliest available materials.  He is, however, aided by the ambiguity of sketches.  His chronological reasoning seems sound, but his musical reasoning is never explained in sufficient detail.  When he claims a theme is “similar” or “related,” there is not always an explanation of the similarity.  He often lists a sketch that is “similar” to the final draft, and only point out how it is different than the final draft without discussing the actual similarities.  This forces the reader to be skeptical of such claims without a more detailed explanation.  Though his article provides photographic evidence of the sketches, they are too small and illegible to be of much use, and they are never placed in context with the music of the final draft.

The various approaches toward explaining Die glückliche Hand are numerous.  The articles examined above show how differently this work has been approached.  Crawford and Truman base their musical analyses on the influence of the libretto, drama, and especially on use of colored lighting.  This allows them to divide the music into sections based on the drama.  Their discussions of the leitmotif also stem from the view that Schoenberg was attempting to recreate musically the action and the libretto.

Large-scale form, in Joseph Auner’s article, is not influenced by the libretto as much as it is by Schoenberg’s interest in symmetry.  Thus, although Auner’s analysis of large-scale form resembles Crawford’s and Truman’s, it is based on strictly musical decisions rather than on a dramatic plan.  Harald Krebs, like Auner, analyzes the music without regarding the influence of the colors prescribed in the score.  He shows the musical relationships within the color crescendo, based on four reoccurring themes.  Crawford and Truman mention three of these themes in their articles, but place a greater emphasis on the influence of color on texture, orchestration, and dynamics.  Krebs attempts to analyze the opera in terms of a “key” or “harmony.”  He applies Schenkerian processes to the work, using “emphasized bass notes” as criteria for establishing a “skeletal bass line” that is used to aid his claim of a “D harmony.”

The above articles do not represent the entire analytical picture of Die glückliche Hand.  H.H. Stuckenschmidt has been quoted as seeing “preliminary stages of the consequent twelve-tone technique everywhere” in this work.[20] Krebs, in a footnote in his article, states, “The last four notes of the contrabass statement of motive ‘d’ in m. 5 of the sketch form the tetrachord 4-19 (0148).  That tetrachord is also found in several prominent statements of motive ‘d’ in the completed work.”[21] This statement forces the reader to suspect that Krebs has possibly done a pitch class set analysis of at least the color crescendo.  The results of such an analysis would see an appearance of yet another perspective of a work that continues to pose numerable challenges to analysts.


[1]Musical Quarterly, vol. 60, no. 4, October 1974, pp. 583-601.

[2]p. 591

[3]Interface, vol. 12, no. 3, 1983, pp. 481-503.

[4]p. 494

[5]Journal of the Arnold Schoenberg Institute, vol. 12, no. 1, June 1989, pp. 61-67.

[6]Footnote 4, p. 67.

[7]p. 64

[8]p. 63

[9]The wording of this quote (p.496) is remarkably like Crawford’s, who states: “The Woman is consistently associated with an actual leitmotif, usually played by the solo violin.  She is further characterized by a complex of light and shimmering tone colors including flutes, piccolo, celesta, and harp.” (p. 594)

[10]This appears to have been answered by Jelena Hahl-Koch in “Kandinsky and Schoenberg” from Arnold Schoenberg-Wassily Kandinsky: Letters, Pictures and Documents, p. 152, proving from letters from Schoenberg to Kandinsky that the libretto had been completed two years before the music.

[11]p.497

[12]p. 488

[13]Journal of the Arnold Schoenberg Institute, vol 12, no. 2, November 1989, pp. 103-128.

[14]Though Auner claims that this is Schoenberg’s name for the chord, the source he cites translates it as the “ostinato-like chord.” Because Auner bases so many of his conclusions on the appearance and role of this chord in various sketches, one may speculate that Auner used the term “Ostinato” rather than “ostinato-like” because the latter implies that it is a substitute for a pre-conceived ostinato, or is functioning (without possessing all of the characteristics) as one.

[15]p.110

[16]p. 112

[17]p. 105

[18]p.120

[19]p.123

[20]H.H. Stuckenschmidt, “Schoenberg’s Glückliche Hand in Breslau,” Der Auftakt, vol. 8, no. 4, 1928, p. 98. Cited in Jelena Hahl-Koch, ed., Arnold Schoenberg/Wassily Kandinsky: Letters, Pictures and Documents, translated by John C. Crawford, p. 157.

[21]Footnote 5, p. 67.

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