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.

Musical scores are temporarily disabled.

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 978-0691048611.
  2. ^ Ennulat, Egbert M. (ed.) (1991). Arnold Schönberg Correspondence, pp. 216, 231. ISBN 978-0810824522.
  3. ^ Daniels, David (2005). Orchestral Music: A Handbook, p. 335. ISBN 978-1461664253.
  4. ^ Hoffer, Charles (2010). Music Listening Today, p. 271. ISBN 978-0495916147.
  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 978-0195372380.