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Variations for Orchestra (Schoenberg)

Variations for Orchestra, Op. 31 (1926–28) is an orchestral set of variations on a theme, composed by Arnold Schoenberg and is his first twelve-tone composition for a large ensemble. Premiered in December 1928 by the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Wilhelm Furtwängler, it was greeted by a tumultuous scandal.[1]

Variations for Orchestra
Arnold schönberg man ray.jpg
Arnold Schoenberg in 1927 by Man Ray
Native nameGerman: Variationen für Orchester
Other nameOrchestral Variations
Period20th-century music
GenreMusical modernism
StyleTwelve-tone technique
Composed1926 (1926) – 1928 (1928): Germany
Movements12 sections
DateDecember 1928
ConductorWilhelm Furtwängler
PerformersBerlin Philharmonic

The theme of the piece is stated in measures 34–57.[2] The orchestration includes a flexatone.[3] The piece features the BACH motif (B-A-C-B).[4][5] The tone row in its four permutations (labeled Prime, Retrograde, Inversion, and Retrograde Inversion) are shown below.

#(set-global-staff-size 17)
\override Score.TimeSignature
#'stencil = ##f
\override Score.SpacingSpanner.strict-note-spacing = ##t
  \set Score.proportionalNotationDuration = #(ly:make-moment 3/1)
\new StaffGroup <<
   \new Staff 
      \relative c'' {
         \time 12/1
         bes1^\markup { P } e, fis dis f a d cis g aes b c
         c^\markup { R }  b aes g cis d a f dis fis e bes'
   \new Staff {
      \relative c'' { 
         bes1^\markup { I } e d f dis b fis g cis c a aes
         aes^\markup { RI } a c cis g fis b dis f d e bis
      } }

Schoenberg opened a lecture on the composition with the following tyranny of the majority defense of less common aesthetics: "Far be it from me to question the rights of the majority. But one thing is certain: somewhere there is a limit to the power of the majority; it occurs, in fact, wherever the essential step is one that cannot be taken by all and sundry."[6]

The piece has been arranged for two pianos by Charles Wuorinen and this arrangement was set to a ballet, Schoenberg Variations (1996), by Richard Tanner of the New York City Ballet.[7]


  1. Introduction
  2. Theme
  3. Variation I: Moderato
  4. Variation II: Adagio
  5. Variation III: Mässig
  6. Variation IV: Walzer-tempo
  7. Variation V: Bewegt
  8. Variation VI: Andante
  9. Variation VII: Langsam
  10. Variation VIII: Sehr rasch
  11. Variation IX: L'istesso Tempo
  12. Finale

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Frisch, Walter (1999). Schoenberg and His World, p.270. ISBN 9780691048611.
  2. ^ Ennulat, Egbert M. (ed.) (1991). Arnold Schönberg Correspondence, p.216 & 231. ISBN 9780810824522.
  3. ^ Daniels, David (2005). Orchestral Music: A Handbook, p.335. ISBN 9781461664253.
  4. ^ Hoffer, Charles (2010). Music Listening Today, p.271. ISBN 9780495916147.
  5. ^ Stein, Erwin (ed.). 1987. Arnold Schoenberg letters, p.206. University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-06009-8
  6. ^ Schoenberg, Arnold (March 22, 1931). "Variations for Orchestra, Opus 31: Frankfurt Radio Talk", reprinted in Schoenberg, Nuria (ed) (1988). Arnold Schoenberg Self Portrait, p.41. Cited in Frisch (1999), p.99.
  7. ^ Feisst, Sabine (2011). Schoenberg's New World: The American Years, p.240. ISBN 9780195372380.