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J. Daniel Jenkins (University of South Carolina), Chair

Chromatic Function in Schoenberg’s Atonal Music

David Hier (University of Texas at Austin)


I propose a theory of harmony for Schoenberg’s atonal music (roughly 1909–1916) in which voice-leading distances in a two-voice contrapuntal structure are arranged to form a normative cadence.  The contrapuntal structure contains an ascending structural voice (ASV) and a descending structural voice (DSV).  The two voices converge or diverge in pitch space.  Each voice progresses by semitone(s) (S), then by larger interval(s) (N), then by whole tone(s) (W), and finally by semitone(s), forming the cadence, S–N–W–S.  I term the voice-leading distances “chromatic functions” because they recall the syntactic ordering of Riemann’s (1896) tonal functions.  I link the semitone’s role in my theory to its connective role in late romantic voice leading, and provide a typology of cadences and a graphical system for tracing a piece’s chromatic structure.  I conclude with a detailed treatment of the harmonic, motivic, and phrase-structural features of the first number of Schoenberg’s Sechs kleine Klavierstücke, Op. 19.

Supplementary Material(s)

Cadence as Gesture in the Writings and Music of Arnold Schoenberg

Andrew Eason (Lebanon, OR)


Form-functional analysis has been tied to the harmonic conventions of 18th-century European music. However, this narrow focus hinders adaptation to musical styles that do not exclusively rely on that same harmonic language. To address this problem, I look at Schoenberg’s music theory, the original source of formal functions, and apply it to his own compositions. In this presentation, I show how Schoenberg uses rhetorical and syntactical processes to articulate closure in his tonal and twelve-tone music. I argue that Schoenberg’s descriptions (1975) can align with Agawu’s beginning-middle-end paradigm (1991) and that Hatten’s gesture (2004) is particularly effective in describing non-tonal formal functions. Schoenberg explains how middles of themes typically use faster rhythms, wider tessituras, and louder dynamics; i.e., middles build energy. “Cadence Contour” responds to this energy through a contrasting gesture, either with a slow, quiet sigh or an exuberant outburst. Identifying how musical gestures communicate formal closure better informs formal processes in a wider variety of music. I focus on twelve-tone music as a negative dialectic, where the absence of triadic relationships and tonal centers provides more clarity into the rhetorical and syntactic. However, this study can easily be adapted for the chromatic wanderings of the late Romantic to the present day. Gesture may provide insight into Burstein’s “more perfect” cadences (2020). Further, by radically “dis-regarding the tone rows” (Kurth 1996) my analyses show how similar Schoenberg’s cadences are across harmonic languages and that the perception of twelve-tone forms is not fundamentally different.

Supplementary Material(s)

Dancing Dodecaphony: The Form and Function of the Waltz Topic in Schoenberg’s Twelve-Tone Music

Johanna Frymoyer (University of Notre Dame)


This paper, drawn from a larger study of applications of topic theory in modernist music, explores how techniques of partitioning, variants, and combinatoriality support waltz topics in Schoenberg’s twelve-tone music. Interestingly, despite very different row structures across the works examined here (Op. 26, Op. 29, and Op. 30), Schoenberg repeatedly uses partitions that support stock features of the waltz topic such as fourth or fifth relationships for bassline downbeats (“oom”), unordered invariant harmonies for repeated “pah-pah” chords on beats two and three, and half or whole steps for sighing figures. These pitch and harmonic features are not aberrant, but rather conform to invariant relationships and partitioning strategies identified in studies by Haimo (1990), Mead (1985), and Boss (2014). Topical identity therefore emerges from, rather than violates, a work’s established twelve-tone strategies. Moreover, the waltz topic often coincides with important moments in the formal structure or signals the appearance of novel partitioning strategies. Contrary to readings that interpret Schoenberg’s topical gesture through autobiographical or programmatic narratives and/or identify such gestures as ironic or distorted, I conclude that Schoenberg used topics to enhance the clarity and accessibility of twelve-tone procedures. In effect, topics make the work’s twelve-tone structure “audible” and, one might even say, embodied through the use of dance gesture. In this regard, the use of topics aptly fulfills Schoenberg’s own imperative to use the twelve-tone method in service of “the same kind of form or expression, the same themes, melodies, sounds, rhythms as you used before” (Schoenberg 1984, 213).