Schoenberg's Legacy on Form location:Montreal, Canada date:17-18 May 2008
Alban Berg's 1920 "Kurze thematische Analyse" of Arnold Schoenberg's symphonic poem "Pelleas und Melisande" has failed to convince recent scholars of early Schoenberg. Several authors, foremost among them Ethan Haimo (2006), adopt an outright critical attituted toward Berg's analysis, arguing that Berg deliberately underplays the significance of the program and at the same time overstates the case for "Pelleas" as an "absolute musical form."
Taking a more sympathetic stance toward Berg's analysis, I first show that the claim that Berg deliberately misrepresents the aesthetic and analytical facts is strongly exaggerated. Then I will demonstrate why his analysis nonetheless appears so unconvincing: it suffers from a careless use of analytical concepts and a lack of argumentation, so that the formal categories it deploys become virtually meaningless. Finally, I will "redo" certain passages from Berg's analysis, reconstructing the arguments he migh or could have used (or indicating the lack thereof), fleshing out his skeletal formal analysis with modern Formenlehre categories, and questioning some of the analytical decisions he makes. Thus trying to make Berg's analysis work, I intend to show that his central intuition about "Pelleas" - that the work is a combination of a single-movement sonata form and a multi-movement sonata cycle - is essentially justified.