I. Leicht, zart II. Langsam III. Sehr langsam IV. Rasch, aber leicht V. Etwas rasch VI. Sehr langsam
Schoenberg wrote these pieces some ten years before he invented his dodecaphonic system of composition. The first five were composed in February 1911 (if we can believe the date on the manuscript, then he wrote them on a single inspired day, the 19th). He wrote the last one somewhat later. Each can be described as a dense aphoristic creation. The most expansive is the first – but even in the Wiener Urtext published edition, this fits on a single page with relative ease. Its musical material is rhapsodically varied, expressive, and an analyst can roughly indicate common denominator between individual figures and melodic fragments: a basic motif with intervals of a third and a second. In the second piece, the repeated major third interval (g-b) offers some kind of basis for orientation. The music sets off from here and arrives roughly at the two thirds point at a dissonant chord combining two diminished thirds. Then the g-b third is again repeated. The original left hand of the original piano piece slowly steps downwards, to the c-e third which implies C major. This is joined by a chord as a cadence, which also has the g-b, and instead of two diminished thirds, we find two augmented thirds. The interesting aspect of the third piece is its two dynamics. One level of sound is powerful and noisy, the other begins with a baleful pianissimo. The fourth movement is a kind of capriccio. At the end, the initial melody is heard, distorted and accelerated to a point where it is barely recognisable. There is no repetition whatsoever in the fifth piece, and we hear continuous musical prose. The sixth piece is perhaps the most remarkable. Two chords are repeated, then we hear a profusion of melodic fragments. Ever new notes make an entrance. Finally, the twelth, a C sharp, is heard. A great leap in intervals seems to draw attention to this. Then the initial two harmonies return, and two deep notes round off this astonishingly simple work. In the manuscript, we find a date: May 18th, 1911, the death of Gustav Mahler.
Zoltán Kocsis about his transcription:
The transcription, which was commissioned by the Forrás Chamber Music Workshop in 1996, faithfully follows the original text. The combination of colours compensates the listener, which is determined primarily by the fact that ever instrument has a soloistic role in the ensemble. The different characters of the movements are underlined by the relatively economical use of different percussion instruments.