A Tonal Paradox in Sonata-Allegro Form: 1 in Schoenberg’s Second String Quartet in F Minor, Op. 10

Severine Neff


This essay scrutinizes composer Arnold Schoenberg’s relationship to that paradoxical chromatic function b1. First I discuss Schoenberg’s theoretical consideration of flat 1 in his Theory of Harmony (1911/1922) and in his later renowned essay, “Brahms the Progressive” from the collection Style and Idea (1948/1975). Ultimately, I scrutinize the role of the function b1 in shaping the sonata-allegro form of the first movement of Schoenberg’s Second String Quartet, Op. 10, composed in 1907. Schoenberg’s liberal uses of b1 in conjunction with invertible counterpoint, unexpected choices of key and harmony, and skewed presentations of formal parts strongly rule the movement’s radical presentation at every step. Thus understanding the quartet’s first movement in this fashion allows us a glimpse of sonata-form in Vienna, 1907 – a paradoxical schema simultaneously preserving and undermining its own tradition.

Keywords: b1, Schoenberg, Theory of Harmony, Schoenberg’s Second String Quartet, sonata form in Vienna in 1907

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