1. Kräftig  

2. Nicht zu rasch

3. Etwas langsam   

4. Etwas rasch

5. Rasch

6. Ohne Bezeichnung

7. Kräftig

8. Getragen

9. Lebhaft

10. Nicht rasch 

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DURATION: ca. 15 Min.

PUBLISHER: Belmont Music Publishers

"I can claim the achievement of having written a truly new music that, just as it is based on tradition, is intended to become a tradition." Arnold Schönberg's (as it was still spelled before he came to America, that is, with an umlaut) essay "National Music" of 1931 assesses a connection to tradition as a historical necessity that is not only manifested in a technical and mechanical mastery of the material but also goes beyond artistic boundaries and is thus legitimized as an existential dimension. The use of Viennese Classicism as a model is clear, especially in the use of materials and in the handling of themes; nevertheless, Schönberg also belongs to the tradition of Mozart and Beethoven as an artistic personality who suffers from the ignorance of conservative surroundings. Freed of academic constraints, the initially autodidact composer's studies of the works of Bach and Mozart ("primarily") as well as Beethoven, Brahms, and Wagner ("secondarily"), moreover, placed Schönberg within a stylistic continuum that he also wanted his own students to continue.

When did Schönberg become Schönberg? Until he was 17 his attempts at composition were, in his own words, limited to "imitations of the only music available to me: violin duets and arrangements of opera potpourris for two violins, and the music that I heard played by military bands in concerts in public gardens..." (My Evolution, 1949). The surviving compositions from this period include the Alliance-Walzer that he wrote in 1882, when he was eight, and dedicated to his grandmother.

The only known instruction Schönberg ever received was from his later brother-in-law, Alexander Zemlinsky, whom he met in 1895. At the time Zemlinsky was the director of the Polyhymnia Musical association in Vienna. According to Zemlinsky, the orchestra consisted only of "a couple of violins, a viola, a cello, and a contrabass." Schönberg, who had quit his job at the Werner & Co. Bank in summer 1895, was active in Polyhymnia, according to Zemlinsky's 1934 memoir of his youth, as a cellist whose playing was "as fiery as it was wrong". Polyhymnia's first official orchestra concert took place on March 2, 1896, and its program included works by Zemlinsky and the first official performance of a score by Schönberg.

It was probably for Polyhymnia that Schönberg wrote a series of ten waltzes for string orchestra (an eleventh remained unfinished), but there is no evidence of an contemporary performance, and if one did take place it was probably not public. Faced with a lack of documentary evidence or a date on the autograph manuscript found in the composer's papers (Arnold Schönberg Center, Vienna), the waltzes can only be dated by philological methods. In addition to the handwriting, the primary evidence is the manuscript paper used, which can be compared to other scores. Schönberg used the same 18-line paper for a series of compositions in various genres written between March 1897 and July 1898. The manuscript of the score of the waltzes for string orchestra reveals a number of graphological parallels with his manuscripts of 1897, from which we may assume that the waltzes were written between spring and autumn 1897.

However much his style may have changed over the following period, the composer remained faithful to that genre even into the advanced compositions of his later years. To judge from the opus numbers of his works, the waltz Op. 23, No. 5, represents the first work in which he applied the path-breaking "method of composition with 12 tones related only to one another". Schönberg makes use of the genre again in the Suite, Op. 29, and the Variations for Orchestra, Op. 31, in which the new method was already worked out. In addition to examples of his own composition there were also famous Strauss waltzes he arranged for specific occasions.

That waltzes in Vienna are best composed after the fashion of popular tunes may be heard from the ten charming attempts the young self-tought composer created in 1897. The waltzes from his youth are closer to the idiom of Schubert's dance music, in particular the Ländler, then to that of the Strauss dynasty.

Therese Muxeneder; translated and adapted by Steven Lindberg and Herbert Glass

© Salzburger Festspiele