We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more

Contents

Music in the Early Twentieth Century

GRUNDGESTALT

Chapter:
CHAPTER 6 Inner Occurrences (Transcendentalism, III)
Source:
MUSIC IN THE EARLY TWENTIETH CENTURY
Author(s):
Richard Taruskin

Never before have we devoted so much space to analyzing so little music. It was a necessary extravagance, matching the extravagant intricacy of the composition. That intricacy was mandated by Schoenberg’s famously contradictory aims, according to which a spontaneous impression had to be undergirded by a very deliberate, even cerebral, process of control. On the one hand, Schoenberg aimed to compose “expressionistically,” as if by primitive instinct, avoiding all trace of established or uncritically accepted routine; and on the other, he felt a strong obligation to compose “responsibly,” unifying his composition “organically,” according to the standards set by the masters he revered. The result was an “athematic” music, as Schoenberg called it, in which there were no obvious tunes—and no obvious “received” formal design—on the musical surface, but in which there was a teeming “subcutaneous” profusion of complex motivic work.

What unified the composition was no longer a theme in the traditional sense but what Schoenberg called the Grundgestalt or “basic shape”: a motivic complex that could serve as a source or quarry for everything that happened in the composition (or at least everything that happened in the pitch dimension). All melodic shapes, all harmonies, all contrapuntal textures were to be derived from it by the composer—and therefore, at least theoretically, deducible through analysis, which thus constitutes a test of the composer’s success (or, even more strongly, of his ethics).

Citation (MLA):
Richard Taruskin. "Chapter 6 Inner Occurrences (Transcendentalism, III)." The Oxford History of Western Music. Oxford University Press. New York, USA. n.d. Web. 12 Jul. 2020. <https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume4/actrade-9780195384840-div1-006011.xml>.
Citation (APA):
Taruskin, R. (n.d.). Chapter 6 Inner Occurrences (Transcendentalism, III). In Oxford University Press, Music in the Early Twentieth Century. New York, USA. Retrieved 12 Jul. 2020, from https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume4/actrade-9780195384840-div1-006011.xml
Citation (Chicago):
Richard Taruskin. "Chapter 6 Inner Occurrences (Transcendentalism, III)." In Music in the Early Twentieth Century, Oxford University Press. (New York, USA, n.d.). Retrieved 12 Jul. 2020, from https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume4/actrade-9780195384840-div1-006011.xml