The codification of pitch organisation in the early atonal works of Alban Berg

Gates, Bernard (1999). The codification of pitch organisation in the early atonal works of Alban Berg. PhD thesis The Open University.

Abstract

There has recently been an unprecedented flurry of interest in the music of Alban Berg, although responses towards his first atonal works remain relatively sparse. This thesis presents detailed analyses of the pieces written between 1909 and 1913: the fourth Opus 2 song, the String Quartet, Opus 3, the Altenberglieder, Opus 4, and the Four Pieces for clarinet and piano, Opus 5. It also provides a systematically-developed theoretical framework for each.

Analyses of the String Quartet and the Altenberglieder explore the development and transformation of motives, and identify different aggregate systems which temporarily limit the range or arrangement of pitches to certain defined scales, such as the whole-tone or octatonic, or to the interaction between different scales or different versions of the same scale. The Four Pieces for clarinet and piano require a rather different form of investigation, into the interrelationship between intervallic cell and pitch-class set and genera-based material. A factor consistent across all four works is the presence of symmetrical pitch structures such as interval cycles, wedge formations and transpositionally invariant sets. The analyses are based on these foundations, while extending beyond them to incorporate related asymmetries and more complex relations and transformations.

Any codification of pitch organisation in these early atonal works of Berg has to contend with their particular complexities of expression and absence of any calculated method; this thesis nevertheless proposes several forms of categorisation which can correlate with many of the miriad pitch structures in the music, and which can in turn supply models for some of the discernible interrelational structural processes.

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