Matthew Arndt

A Non-Tonal Problem in a Piece by Schoenberg (op. 19/2)

Starting with Carl Dahlhaus, music scholars have often put forward the notion that coherence in common-practice music is primarily tonal, whereas coherence in post-common-practice music is primarily motivic, and they have used the post-common-practice music of Arnold Schoenberg as an exemplar of motivic coherence. But in fact tonal (tone-based) and motivic coherence are two sides of the same coin for Schoenberg, who writes: “Everything emanates from the tone”;  and “Everything within a closed composition can be accounted for as originating, derived, and developed from a basic motive”. To a certain extent, theorists have recognized Schoenberg’s understanding of a connection between tonal and motivic coherence by analyzing so-called ‘tonal problems’: tones brought about through motives that have harmonic consequences. But for Schoenberg, “every succession of tones produces unrest, conflict, problems,” not just successions in tonal music (music with tonality). Until recently, however, we have lacked the ability to analyze problems in Schoenberg’s non-tonal music properly, on account of a faulty understanding of the harmony, motivic development, and formal functions. Building on William Caplin’s theory of formal functions, John Covach’s and Olli Väisälä’s insights into the harmony, and Christian Raff’s insights into the motivic development, I will analyze a problem and its solution in Schoenberg’s Little Piano Piece, Op. 19 No. 2. In a nutshell, F sharp in m. 2 is problematic, unrestful, in that it riles up the tonic C when it implicitly resolves to the dominant G in m. 3. Through the development of the melody and accompaniment motives into one another, F sharp is clarified and stabilized as the dominant of B, which counterbalances C at the cadence in m. 9. This finding suggests a greater degree of continuity between tonal and post-tonal music than has been recognized.