Georgia Kalodiki


Six Sketches - Form & Structure

Serialism, an organized atonal system of composition introduced by Arnold Schoenberg in the early twenties, was one of the most revolutionary developments in musical history. By using a pre-determined row created from the twelve-tone scale for every composition Schoenberg managed to bring unifying order to the material of atonal chromaticism.

Six Sketches, for piano, is a piece which relies on a purely schematic approach derived from twelve-tone technique. In composing this work, an effort has been made to conceive of the manipulation of the twelve-tone series - together with its transpositions and transformations - as a rich harmonic and melodic web of sounds to be used as a palette of colours with which to fill in geometrical structural patterns.

A continuous fragmentation and amalgamation of the row (example 1) and its formal components takes place during this piece. Unity is therefore preserved not by the use of the row as an entity but rather as a modal sequence of notes, giving rise to different intervallic configurations created by using segments of the row. Row segments are interconnected without any pre-planned order. The move from one row to another does not follow any rule, being purely a matter of aesthetic choice. Pitch coherence is ensured by the intervallic consistency of the row, containing as it does intervals of semitones, fourths and fifths all symmetrically arranged into trichords (example 1).

Example 3.1
Example 1

It is self-explanatory that this approach cannot be consistent with a strict serial compositional technique. Instead the serial working in this piece works as a point of departure, and a series can be freely divided into many cells to be used for the creation of extended varying pitch aggregates. The mobile forms of the well-known abstract kinetic artist Alexander Calder could be used to describe in an accurate and effective way the manner the particular approach to serial techniques embodied in this composition.

Six Sketches explore about a constant interplay between the theoretical basis of serial techniques and the application of variation form. Webern's comments on this are instructive:

Examining the development of variation technique one has direct access to serial technique. Relationship to theme or row is quite analogous. But Schoenberg once said: the row is more and less than a variation-theme. More, because the whole is more strictly tied to the row; less, because the row gives fewer possibilities of variation than the theme 1.

I consider Six Sketches as six different ways of approaching the twelve-tone row. One could assume that this group of sketches is a sequence of variations, although there is a complete absence of a theme. Every sketch is characterized by a focus on a different musical parameter in a manner that prepares the way for the subsequent sketch. To be more specific, the accelerating and complex character of First Sketch leads to the second one which is fast and rhythmically simple. Second Sketch preserves the fast tempo acquired from First Sketch. The musical parameter of volume is being gradually increased and as one can see from the score, the spatial pitch distribution is also gradually changing. In Third Sketch, small fragments of fast melodic and rhythmic figures act as remnants of the previous sketch. During this new sketch, the parameter of density is changed via the creation of varying formal gestures. Fourth Sketch then makes a strong contrast by introducing the idea of scales. Rising and falling movements of scale-like gestures take place, creating a flowing motion. Fifth Sketch interchanges long and short note values and Sixth Sketch creates a contrast between the vertical and horizontal planes by the use of brief chordal gestures combined with trilling figures of varying duration.

  I0 I7 I6 I1 I2 I9 I8 I3 I4 I11 I5 I10
P0 G D C# G# A E D# A# B F# C F
P5 C G F# C# D A G# D# E B F Bb
P6 C# G# G D Eb Bb A E F C F# B
P11 F# C# C G Ab Eb D A Bb F B E
P10 F C B F# G D C# G# A E A# D#
P3 Bb F E B C G F# C# D A D# G#
P4 B F# F C C# G# G D E Bb E A
P9 E B Bb F F# C# C G Ab Eb A D
P8 D# A# A E F C B F# G D G# C#
P1 G# D# D A Bb F E B C G C# F#
P7 D A Ab Eb E B Bb F F# C# G C
P2 A E Eb Bb B F# F C C# G# D G
Example 2

First Sketch

Musical Parameter: Speed


Beginning with the amalgamation of P8 (row transposed by an eighth) and RI7 (retrograde inversion at a seventh), the first sketch is a continuous transformation of the formal idea contained in the very first bar. In actual fact a multi-level construction is gradually unfolding through the use of polyrhythmic non-symmetrical patterns and cross-rhythmic phrases.

On consulting the score it is obvious that the first sketch is characterised by its increasing speed and density. The clarity and refined slowness of the first bars are gradually replaced by a more nervous and fragmentary texture based on more complex rhythmic combinations.

Pitch consistency is achieved by the use of intervallic relations taken from the row, constantly ornamented by adjacent notes. The resulting geometric shapes are subjected to spatial transformations, in order to create a rich fund of melodic progression. To be more specific, the intervals of the row are used to create a registral gap between the upper and lower melodic material, while multi-layered fragmentary melodic components create a rich fund of interconnected pitch cells (b. 5 - 6).

Second Sketch

Musical Parameter: Registral space - Volume

The highly compressed character of this sketch could be considered as a contrasting development of the previous one. In actual fact intervals taken from the transpositions of the row and its inverted forms are used to create shapes of varying structure. The pianist is asked to play gradually louder while the distance between their two hands gradually gets wider. In comparison to the previous sketch, here increasing density is achieved not by a gradual increase in rhythmic complexity speed but by the rising dynamic level of a regular and steady motivic pattern (b. 2).

Third Sketch

Musical Parameter: Density

The third sketch has an abrupt, subdued quality in comparison to the flowing character of the two previous sketches. In the first bar the initial ten notes of the original row start to unfold in a pointillistic way. Before the end of this exposition, one can observe a mirror pattern in the last three notes of the row (C# - G# - D - F# - C - F). From this point onwards small reflections of pitch cells, constructed from the row material, are used to create formal patterns. In actual fact a cumulative developmental process takes place, based on the multiplication of these pitch cells and based upon the main intervals of the row. In bar seven a point of high culmination is reached, after which a reduction in forces resolves the dense complexity. The texture becomes homophonic before fragmentary components of what has already been heard bring the sketch to its close.

Fourth Sketch

Musical Parameter: Direction

During this sketch the musical material is deployed in a more directly functional way. The basic characteristic of the sketch is the fragmentation of row components by the multiple transposition and permutation of small pitch cells taken from the row. Fast semitone scales, moving in different directions, alternate with chordal configurations based on a free manipulation of the row's intervallic configurations (see b. 10 - 11). The sketch finishes with a rhythmic and melodic dissolution of a rising scale pattern (b. 13).

Fifth Sketch

Musical Parameter: Note durations (a contrast between short and long values)

This sketch has a free melodic character. Grace notes function as to give motivic impetus while amalgamations of partial row transpositions and inversions and multiplications of cells act to preserve the linear consistency. Here, the series has a rather modal dimension to it. Having as a point of departure I4 intermingled with P1 row forms, a structural evolution occurs together with a gradual two level polarization (starting from b.7). Leading up to this point three lyric phrases have been deployed, each one of which ended with a repeated-note motive (b. 2: F#, b. 3: Bb, b. 5 - 6 G).

Sixth Sketch

Musical Parameter: Duration of trill figures

The last sketch of the set of six develops the trill idea, combining it with accented chordal aggregates in order to create a dramatic atmosphere of flowing and multi-layered patterns of repeatedly recurring shapes. The chordal structure of the last sketch has a close relationship to the intervallic content of the row (see b. 4: parts of I9 and I6 row forms).

1 Universal Edition 1960, Webern 1932-1933:58