Áine Heneghan

Schoenberg’s Sentence

Writing in English for the first time inspired Schoenberg to rethink not just his nomenclature, as he was forced to find terminological equivalents in a new language, but also the very nature of the theme, as he considered anew its structural and expressive features. It was then that he was motivated to expound on ‘melody and theme’, delivering a lecture before the American Musicological Society, and sending to Prentice Hall the ‘sample’ chapter for Fundamentals of Musical Composition. In its earliest drafts, all themes were designated “sentences” (attractive because of its syntactic parallel), and “schemes for the construction of sentences” were “distinguished according to the kind and degree of subdivision and repetition into undivided and subdivided sentences.”

Schoenberg’s writings invite us to consider the “two main forms of the sentence” (periods and sentences) not as “fundamentally opposing theme-types” (Caplin) but as different manifestations of the same principles. The ‘Formgefühl’ (feeling for form) that Fundamentals aims to foster enables the student of composition (and analysis) to negotiate coherence and contrast, thereby creating (and recognizing) sentences in their various guises. Exploring the complicated evolution of ‘Satz’ and ‘sentence’ permits an understanding of thematic construction that is both flexible and nuanced. Moreover, it encourages us to attend to the performative aspects of the theme, comparing the balance and repose of the period with the dynamism of the sentence, a dynamism that is apparent not only in the analysis of Beethoven’s Op. 2 No. 1-i but also in Schoenberg’s own Menuett from the Suite, Op. 25.