[Most references to the vocal score represent excerpts from Wozzeck performed in the course of the lecture.]
When, fifteen years ago, I decided to compose the opera Wozzeck, the musical situation was very unusual. We of the Viennese school, under the leadership of Arnold Schoenberg, had just developed beyond the beginnings of the movement that people quite wrongly called atonality. At first composition in that style was restricted to the creation of small forms such as songs, piano pieces and orchestral pieces or, if it was a question of extended works (such as the twenty-one Pierrot melodramas of Schoenberg or his two, one-act, stage works), to forms that, without exception, derived their shape from a text or a dramatic basis. The so-called atonal style still lacked large-scale works -- works with a traditional four-movement structure and of a size that had until then been usual, symphonies, oratorios, large operas. And the reason for this was that in renouncing tonality the style renounced with it one of the strongest and best-proved means of building small-and large-scale formal structures. Once I had decided to write an opera that would last a whole evening I faced a new problem, at least as far as harmony was concerned: how, without the proven means of tonality and without being able to use the formal structures based on it, could I achieve the same sense of completeness, the same compelling musical unity? And, what is more, a sense of self-contained ness not only in the small-scale structure of the scenes themselves (I shall have a lot to say about this later) but also, what was much more difficult, a sense of completeness in the larger structures of the single acts and, indeed, in the architecture of the work as a whole?
Text and action alone could not guarantee this unity; certainly not in a work like Büchner's Woyzeck which, as is well known, consists of many (twenty-three) loose, fragmentary scenes. And even if it were possible to find a three-act scheme which achieved some unity of dramatic action, by arranging the scenes in three groups of five in a way that clearly distinguished between exposition, peripetia and catastrophe - so that a sense of dramatic unity was imposed on the work -- this, in itself, would not give a sense of unity and complete-ness to the music.
We shall see in the course of my talk the different ways in which I have tried to achieve this. But first of all I would like to draw your attention to a harmonic feature and especially to the harmony at the end of each act. The point in a tonal composition at which the return to and establishment of the main key is made clear, so that it is recognizable to the eyes and ears of even the layman, must also be the point at which the harmonic circle closes in an atonal work.
This sense of closure was first of all ensured by having each act of the opera steer towards one and the same closing chord, a chord that acted in the manner of a cadence and that was dwelled on as if on a tonic.
At the end of Act I this chord is heard in the following form: [Vocal score p. 81, bar 715 to end of act}. At the end of Act II: [Vocal score p. 180, bar 809 to end of act}. At the end of Act III: [Vocal score p. 231, bar 398 to end of act].
You will notice -- and it will strike you even more clearly when you hear it on the orchestra -- that these closing chords, although always built from the same notes, always appear in a different form. These musical differences were not only determined by the changing situations resulting from the dramatic action. The desire for musical unity and (to use a term of Schoenberg's) musical coherence stands, of course, in opposition to another equally strong aspiration, which is the desire for musical variety, for a diversity of patterns. Thus Acts I and III close with the notes of the chord played simultaneously -- I repeat: Act I: [Vocal score p. 81, last bar}; Act III: [Vocal score p. 231, last bar}. At the end of Act II, on the other hand, the chord dissolves, as it were, more and more into its constituent parts [Vocal score p. 180, bar 809 to end}, leaving behind as its last vestige
this low Bl).
I should like at this point to mention, in anticipation, that the low B that accompanies the prophetic last words of Act II ('He bleeds', 'One thing after another') has both dramatic significance and significance as regards the formal design for one of the most important of the later scenes. We shall come back to this point. In order to show you even more clearly how this sense of, on the one hand, unity and, on the other, variety manifests itself I shall, in a moment, ask the orchestra to play the last scenes of the three acts. I should also like to say something about the formal effect of the way in which this important harmony links up to the beginning of the acts.
The dramatic content of the last scene of Act I is, put briefly, the seduction of Marie by the Drum Major; musically it is a rondo-like Andante affettuoso [Vocal score: Act I, p. 73, bar 656 to end]. The fairly short orchestral introduction to the following act, played while the curtain is still down, takes up this closing chord: [ Vocal score: Act II, p. 82, bars 1-6 (without the last quaver)}. Then the curtain rises on Act II.
The last scene of Act II depicts the encounter between the jealous Wozzeck and the Drum Major, which ends with the defeat of Wozzeck. Notice, by the way, that the fight between the two in this scene is musically just the same as that between the Drum Major and Marie, which ended in her seduction, in the previous closing scene. Another means, therefore, of establishing a musical cohesion!
These and other dramatic parallels between the two closing scenes also bring about - quite unconsciously - a musical parallel. But whilst in the passionate Andante of the earlier scene the Rondo form is only hinted at, here the piece is structured, with true military precision, according to the strict formal rules of a Rondo, a real 'Rondo marziale' to be sure [ Vocal score: Act II, p. 173, bar 761 to end}.
The closing scene of Act III, and thus of the whole opera, is based on constant quavers, a sort of perpetuum mobile movement, which depicts the games and the play of the poor working-class children amongst whom is the completely unsuspecting child of Marie and Wozzeck, now orphaned twice over [Vocal score: Act III, p. 229, bar 372 and previous upbeat to end]. And thus the opera ends. And yet, although it again clearly moves to cadence on to the closing chord, it almost appears as if it carries on. And it does carry on! In fact, the opening bar of the opera could link up with this final bar and in so doing close the whole circle [Vocal score: Act III, p. 231, last bar & Act I. p. 9, bars 1-3}.
This, like much else that I am now telling you, was not intentional and the theory behind it only became clear to me when I looked back on it ten or more years later. Thus, for example, to stay with this opening passage, there are two introductory string chords before the drama begins. In order to make the crescendo between the first and second chord clear there is a soft crescendo roll on the side drum. That was a purely instrumental, and thus a musical-acoustical, matter. But when I heard it for the first time I discovered, to my great astonishment, that I could not have indicated the military milieu of the piece in a more pregnant, more concise way than through this little side-drum roll.
To return to my attempts to have both great variety and integration: from the different kinds of openings and closings of all three acts you have seen that there is enormous diversity in addition to the ways which the chord changes which we have already mentioned. In the first scene the curtain rises immediately after the first orchestral bar;
at the end of the act it falls with the last bars of the music. The curtain at the beginning of the second act rises after the short orchestral introduction that you have already heard. When the music of this act has finished, the last stage picture is held for a moment and then the curtain falls. Similarly (again in an attempt to establish a connection) the curtain to Act III rises before the music begins. The music first starts after a (silent) pause. The final curtain eventually falls before the music has finished - not, as it did in the first act, to a chord that gradually increases in volume but before the unchanging pianissimo of the chord fades away.
Finally, in discussing these attempts to fashion a closed structure, to say something about the large-scale architecture of the opera: the methods by which I constructed the three acts of the work allow the whole piece to be interpreted as a traditional three-part (ABA) structure in so far as the first and third acts have certain architectural similarities (although, of course, the last act is not a musical reprise of the first). Of shorter playing time than Act II, the two outer acts enclose the much longer and weightier central act in what I should like to call a symmetry of time. And while, as we shall see, this central act exhibits from the first to last bars a totally integrated structure, the forms of the two outer acts are much freer. They consist of five loosely-connected pieces of music corresponding to the five loosely-related scenes of the act. The five scenes of Act I could be described as five character pieces each of which presents a new figure in the drama in relation to the main title figure -- his superior officer the Captain, his friend Andres, his mistress Marie, the Doctor and the Drum Major. The five scenes of Act III consist of five musical forms the self-containedness of which is based on another principle of musical unity - the unity of a theme that is then varied, of a single note, a chord, a rhythm or a constant pattern of movement.
Thus, these two outer more loosely-structured acts, in which the scenes are concerned with a unifying idea (the five character pieces of the first act, the five unifying principles of the third) like the two 'A's of a three-part song form, enclose the more rigorously-structured central act, in which the five scenes are inseparably linked together as the movements of a (in this case, dramatic) symphony. That is, there is a sonata-form first movement followed by a Fantasia and Fugue on three themes, a slow movement (the Largo), a Scherzo and, finally, the 'Rondo marziale con introduzione' that we have already mentioned. The middle act, like the 'B' section of the corresponding three-part form, is thus clearly identified as the central part and is essentially different from the two 'A' sections, which are similar to one another in structure.
This discussion of some of the harmonic and formal features of the opera should be enough to make you aware of the large-scale cohesion of its music, a cohesion which, as I said at the beginning, was achieved without using tonality and the formal possibilities which spring from it.
Such cohesion was, of course, also necessary on a small scale and it may be that it was this simple consideration that led to the use of certain 'old forms', a use that has been much discussed and which until now has done as much as the performances to make the opera well known. In trying to achieve musical variety, and in order that a piece with so many scenes should not be totally "through-composed", as most music dramas since Wagner have been, there was nothing left but for me to find another shape for these fifteen scenes. On the other hand, the self-contained nature of these scenes required a self-containedness in the music, which in turn necessitated securing some kind of cohesion between these shapes and, in a word, giving each a closed musical structure. The dramatic application of these forms then resulted as naturally as the selection for this purpose of the forms themselves.
There was not, therefore, any desire for the 'archaic' in using such forms as variations, or even passacaglia and fugues in this opera and it would be even more wrong to suppose that these things had anything to do with the atavistic 'Back to. . .' movement, which, by the way, started much later. As a matter of fact to do what I needed I not only had to find these more or less 'old forms' but, as I have already shown in my short analysis of the three acts, I had to seize on new forms, or forms based on new principles such as those based on 'a note', 'a rhythm' or 'a chord'.
The relatively large number of musical interludes between scenes, resulting from the three scene changes that take place within the course of each act, was further reason for me to be as diverse and varied as possible. To have written symphonic transitions or intermezzi for all of these transitions (as I saw done later in the case of another contemporary work with a lot of scene changes) would not have accorded with my idea of music drama which, in spite of my respect for absolute music, I have never lost when composing for the theatre.
I was here also, therefore, forced to strive for a variety and contrast, making some of the interludes transitional, making some of hem codas to the previous scene, some introductions to the following scene or in some cases combining these two functions. In doing this I sometimes tried to achieve an almost unnoticeable connection between the different parts of the musical forms while, elsewhere, I preferred abrupt juxtapositions. We shall hear some examples of these in the course of my talk.
I shall now go through the single scenes of the opera, less to guide you through all the musical forms (which, as I have said, the newspapers and specialist periodicals which have carried reviews of the piece have been providing for a long time now) but rather to take the opportunity, from time to time, to point out something that is not immediately obvious about the formal structure. Such as, for example, that the very first scene of the opera is designed as a suite may be due to the fact that the dialogue of this scene, in which nothing really takes place, is also made up from different loosely juxtaposed topics. It was natural to try to match these different topics with small musical forms which would together create a larger form, such as a suite, made up of a succession of such small musical units. That it proved to be a suite built mostly of old, and more or less stylized, forms - such as Prelude, Pavane, Cadenza, Gigue, Gavotte with Doubles - was no accident, even though it happened unconsciously. Through this the first scene acquires (albeit, as I said, unintentionally) what I would like to call a certain historical coloring. Listen, for example, to the Gigue of this Suite and then to a cadenza-like solo on the double bassoon which links the Gigue to the beginning of the Gavotte: [ Vocal score: Act I, pp. 15-19, bars 65-120 (first crotchet)}. The feeling that the Suite has a completeness and self-containedness is achieved, amongst other things, through the little introductory Prelude returning like a refrain at the end of the scene, albeit in retrograde, which is to say that it runs note-for-note backwards. In this the music matches the example of the dramatic structure of the scene, in which topics from the opening also return at the end. The first orchestral interlude, which follows the scene as a postlude, is simply a development of the main musical ideas of the different movements of the Suite.
Whereas the first scene is built on an old musical form, the scene that follows has a quite different basis. The unifying principle of this scene is harmonic: three chords which represent the harmonic skeleton of the scene [ Vocal score: Act I, p. 30, bars 203-4}. That such a principle can act as a structural element will be admitted by anyone who thinks of tonality as a means of building forms and regards these three chords as having functions comparable to those of the tonic, dominant and subdominant. It goes without saying that the ways in which these chords and the chord sequence are presented are very diverse and varied throughout. To give one example: [Vocal score: Act I, p. 30, bars 201-7 or Vocal score: Act I, p. 32, bars 225 (or 227) to 234}.
I did not, of course, shun the chance of writing ariosos and song-like pieces. In fact, as examples, there are two songs in this scene and the next. The first of these, inserted between the presentations of the more rhapsodic chord pattern, is the three-strophe coloratura song of Andres. The following scene includes a military march and Marie's lullaby.
I should like to make two general observations at this point. The first concerns the handling of the singing voice in this opera. It has often been said that this is not a bel canto opera. But it is not often realized how much of what is regarded as truly vocal can also be achieved through a 'bel cantare' delivery. As I have said, I have never renounced the possibility of coloratura singing and indeed there is almost no recitative to be found in my opera. But I think that I have made ample amends for this deficiency by employing, for the first time and for a length of time that is unique in opera, the so-called rhythmic declamation' that Schoenberg introduced twenty years ago in the speaking chorus of Die Gluckliche Hand and in his Pierrot Lunaire melodramas. It has proved that this 'melodramatic' method of handling the voice - while, it should be noted, fully preserving all the formal possibilities of absolute music in a way that recitative, for example, does not -- that this melodically, dynamically and rhythmically determined way of speaking not only offers one of the best means of ensuring that the words are understood (as they must be from time to time in an opera); it has also enriched opera with a valuable means of expression, created from the purest musical sources, which - ranging from the pitchless whispered word to the true belparlare of broad speech melodies -- offers a welcome addition and an attractive contrast to the sung word.
My second observation concerns the way I have handled the folk songs in the work and the need to establish a relationship between art music and folk music, something that is fairly self-evident in tonal music. It was not easy to make these different levels clear in so-called atonal harmony. I think that I have been successful and I took great care to ensure that everything to do with folk music in the opera (including the atonal harmonies) has an easily understood simplicity. Thus, for example, these sections favor symmetrically built periods and phrase structures, harmonies that are based on thirds (or, more especially, fourths), and melodic patterns in which an important role is played by the whole tone scale and the perfect fourth, as opposed to the diminished and augmented intervals which otherwise dominate the atonal music of the Viennese school.
So called 'polytonality' is another such means of creating a harmonically primitive music. We find such a popular touch in the military march (with its 'false bass') and in Marie's lullaby with its fourth harmonies, pieces which the orchestra will now play to you. But, please, also notice during this performance the way in which the link with the second scene, about which I have already spoken, is effected. I have shown you the three chords of this second scene: [ Vocal score: Act I, p. 38, bar 286 (L.H. stronger)}. The following three thirds in the bass are the basis of these chords: [ Vocal score, p. 38, bar 286 (first two crotchets)}. From these spring the representation of the uncanny sunset with the following, more motivic, shape: [Vocal score: Act I, p. 39, bars 286-93 (first crotchet)}. Elsewhere these three chords become the harmonic basis of a wide-ranging melody: [ Vocal score: Act I, p. 39, bars 302-10 (or 312)}, which, leading to the end of this second rhapsodic scene, becomes the interlude music and leads in turn into the march of the approaching military band with which the next scene begins and which is then interrupted by the following song from Marie: [ Vocal score: Act I, pp. 38-48, bars 286-426}.
I have let the music be played up to this point and am only interrupting now in order to mention another dramatic device the only purpose of which, again, is to ensure a musical unity. These fifths [Vocal score: Act I, p. 48, bars 425-6} are, along with other recurring motives and musical shapes, characteristic of the figure of Marie. I could say that this point of harmonic repose depicts that aimless waiting, a waiting which finds its resolution only in her death. This idea is used several times, in the manner of a leitmotive. Similar repetitions are also found, as I have said, in the case of other motives that are associated with different characters and different situations.
I need hardly say that I have also exploited the possibilities of using these leitmotives, or rather motives of reminiscence, to establish connections and relationships and, therefore, as a further means of attaining unity. Let us take as an example the chords in the second scene which, one could say, are to be understood as a sound of nature. Here, in the second scene, they represent the inanimate nature which so terrifies Wozzeck; in the last scene of the second act they represent the nature sounds of the snores of the soldiers sleeping in the barracks. Here they appear on the orchestra; there in the form of a wordless chorus (sung with closed lips) which joins with the sound of Wozzeck groaning in his sleep: [ Vocal score: Act II, p. 169, bars 737-43}.
The Passacaglia or Chaconne of the fourth scene is built upon a twelve-note theme: [Vocal score: Act I, p. 55, bars 486-7}.
Needless to say, the working out of the variations of this theme is not mechanical or even done in terms of pure, absolute music but has the strongest possible connection to the dramatic action. Even the first statement of the twelve-note row has a dramatic basis in that it appears with the first words of the scene, growing out of the speech of the Doctor and almost submerged by the excitement of the rubato of the 'cello recitative: [Vocal score: Act I, pp. 55-6, bars 488-95}. There then follow twenty-one variations: [Vocal score: Act I, pp. 57-72, bars 496-642}. These are true variations, concerned with one and the same theme, with the same idee fixe of the Doctor, an idee fixe which finds its echo when the harassed Wozzeck seizes on his words: [ Vocal score: Act I, p. 61, bars 525 (with upbeat) - 531 (first half)}. When finally, in the last variation, the Doctor breaks into a call for immortality - the most elevated of his obsessions - the bass theme which has been concealed in the course of the Passacaglia returns with renewed clarity, with chorale-like harmonies, and, in a kind of stretto, closes the movement [ Vocal score: Act I, p. 72, bars 638-55}. As soon as this ends, the opening bars of the Andante affettuoso introduce the last scene of the first act.
The second act starts with the little orchestral introduction that you already know and has, as its first musical form, a sonata movement. It is not, perhaps, an accident that the three figures appearing in this scene, Marie, her child and Wozzeck, form the basis of the three thematic groups of the musical exposition - the first subject, second subject and coda - of a strict sonata structure. Indeed the whole of the dramatic development of this jewel scene, the twofold repetitions of certain situations and the confrontation of the main characters, lends itself to a strict musical articulation with an exposition, a first reprise, development and finally a recapitulation. The following diagram makes this clear:
First subject: Vocal score: Act II, p. 83, bars 7 (with upbeat) - 14
Transition: Vocal score: Act II, p. 84, bars 29-36
Second subject: Vocal score: Act II, p. 85, bars 43-6
Coda: Vocal score: Act II, p. 86, bars 55-9 and with it ends the exposition.
The first reprise clearly repeats the exposition, although in a varied and shortened form. The development, that part of the scene in which the main figures (both human and musical) come into conflict, leads to the climax of the sonata, a statement of the leitmotive which runs through the whole work: [Vocal score: Act I, p. 22, bar 136; 'Wir arme Leut' - see Ex. 3, p. 27] Wozzeck's words 'Here is the money, Marie. My wages from the Captain and the Doctor' are sung to a held C major triad. How this C major triad (could the objectivity of money and what it represents be expressed more clearly!) leads to the final sonata recapitulation and thereby ends the Sonata, is shown by the remaining music of this scene and the subsequent orchestral interlude which, musically, belongs to and closes this scene.
That this orchestral interlude has an independent life of its own, and thus forms a separate musical unit, while, at the same time forming a link to what follows, can perhaps be demonstrated by the fact that the moment at which it begins is marked by a harp glissando, an effect which returns at the moment when the same interlude ends - the first of these a descending glissando, the second ascending. Please notice this as the orchestra now plays the recapitulation of this sonata as it grows out of the C major triad [ Vocal score: Act II, pp. 93-6, bars 123-70].
The next scene also brings three people onto the stage, although, to be sure, their relationship to one another is looser than that of the three members of the family group in the previous scene. Whereas that scene could generate a musical structure (the sonata form) in which the parts were organically related, here the form is constructed from elements that stand in opposition to one another, that is to say, a fantasia and fugue on three themes. The motivic independence of these three themes, in contrast to the more closely related melodies of the previous sonata, itself suggests a strict fugal form, although the austerity of the form is, admittedly, somewhat relieved by the fact that it employs motives that have already been heard. That of the Captain has dominated his first scene at the very beginning of the opera: [Vocal score: Act II, p. 97, bars 171-2 (Right hand)}; that of the Doctor has appeared in the third scene of Act I: [Vocal score: Act II, p. 97, bars 171-4 (Left hand)}; while finally that of Wozzeck is a motive that has clearly been anticipated, even if it has not been literally stated, in the previous sonata movement: [ Vocal score: Act II, p. 108, bars 173-4}.
The slow movement of this symphonic act is a Largo. Apart from the obvious thematic relationships which make this Largo a self contained movement it has one peculiarity: the instrumentation is that of chamber music and indeed corresponds exactly to the instrumentation of the Chamber Symphony of Arnold Schoenberg. I wanted here at the central point of the opera to pay homage to my teacher and master. I want to take this opportunity to mention that in the instrumentation and orchestral layout of the whole opera I tried hard to take into account my desire to achieve, on the one hand, unity and integration and, on the other, variety and multiplicity. Not infrequently in this opera one finds sections or whole scenes, such as this, which are characterized by a specific instrumentation. Thus the sections of the little Suite in the first scene are each allotted a small instrumental obbligato group - five woodwind, or three drums and harp, or three flutes, or four brass instruments or a string quintet for example. One self-contained section of the second scene is wholly confined to the sound of muted brass and bowed col legno strings, a fugal section in the first scene of Act III to the sound of five solo strings. I should finally also mention the very last scene of the opera, the scene with the children, which does without the oboes, bassoons, trombones and double basses.
To return to the Largo. The way in which it is introduced and ended is also an example of the way in which a sense of self-containedness, of a kind that was formerly only possible by returning to the main key, can be achieved by other means. The clarinet figurations that emerge from the fugal material of the previous scene form a transition to this Largo, reaching an almost static chord [Vocal score: Act II, p. 124, bars 365-6} that acts as the harmonic foundation of the opening of the Largo theme: [ Vocal score: Act II, p. 124, bars 363-8]. The end of the Largo comes from the same harmony which, set in motion again, forms the retrograde of the same clarinet figurations from which the chord originally developed: [Vocal score: Act II, p. 134, bars 406 (with upbeat) - 411} .These clarinet figurations then lead into the subsequent orchestral interlude: [Vocal score: Act II, pp. 135-6}.
I would like to illustrate the symmetry of the architectural construction of this surrounding frame on the orchestra. The orchestra will first play the introduction and the first of the Largo ideas and will then play their musical mirror, the music that closes the scene and leads into the interlude, which, in turn leads into the following scene with a slow Landler.
In this Landler and in the other dance music you will find some passages that might strike you as being 'dissonant' in a way that is different from that of the strictly atonal music - dissonant in a way similar to what might result if a number of pieces in different keys were played at the same time, the sort of thing that you will have heard at fairgrounds. This obvious dissonance springing from poly- tonality is intentional, of course, but it is not indiscriminate; it springs not only from the dramatic situation but also from musical logic. An example: the antecedent phrase of a Landler in G minor can, according to the rules of form, lead either to the dominant (D major) or back to the tonic. It is the fact that both happen together here (and who could blame a drunken pub-band for it!) that causes the confusion here: [Vocal score: Act II, p. 136, bars 424-5]. Since one part of the band that has modulated to the dominant now returns, according to the rules, to the tonic, G minor, while, at the same time, the other, equally correctly, modulates to the relative major, the confusion continues. It is a miracle that they all find themselves back together again at the end of the Landler.
Now I would like you to listen to this. As I've said, the orchestra will first play the introduction to the Largo: [ Vocal score: Act II, p. 123, bars 360 (with upbeat) -372} and then the retrograde passage at the end which leads into the Landler: [Vocal score: Act II, p. 134, bars 402 (with big upbeat) - 442].
I have already said that the scene that now follows acts as the scherzo of the dramatic symphony of this second act. The Landler which you have just heard is the first scherzo. A song by a traveling apprentice represents the first trio, a waltz on the tavern, band, the second scherzo, and the hunting song of the young lads, the central section of the whole thing, the second trio. There then follows, in accordance with the strict structure of such scherzo movements (think, for example, of those in Schumann's symphonies), the reprise of the first three-part scherzo group. To be sure the reprise of these three little forms (Landler, song and waltz) is not literal but is greatly varied, following the development of the dramatic action. Thus the Landler, although repeated exactly, is placed in a quite new musical context. The first trio, represented by the song of the traveling apprentice, is repeated in so changed a manner that the harmonies on which it is based are split up to produce a chorale melody in semibreves which, played by the bombardon, becomes the basis of the Melodrama. This melodrama, a harmless parody of a church sermon, is thus, on the one hand, the reprise of the first trio and, on the other hand, a strict (albeit a five-voice parody) chorale variation.
The repeat of the waltz of the tavern band does indeed finally appear as a waltz but, since it is at the same time the music of the interlude that leads to the next scene, it takes the more extensive form of a symphonic development section played on the full orchestra. When this music is cut off we hear, at first from behind the closed curtain, the nature sound of the snoring chorus of soldiers in the barracks that I have already mentioned.
I have already spoken about the separate forms of Act III and the generating principles on which they are based. Scene 1 is based on the principle of a theme that is varied. The strictness of the architecture (I use the word intentionally) shows itself in that the two-part theme (antecedent and consequent) has seven bars, that there are seven variations, and the subject of the double fugue (reflecting the two parts of the theme) consists of seven notes.
It would be easy to make fun of the mathematical aspects of this form. As a matter of fact, that is what happened on the occasions of the first (concert) performance of this music, when a critic talked about the performance of this Bible scene, a performance that had not in reality even taken place. Although not a note of this music had been played, the keen-eared critic could confirm and could already tell his readers how bad such a mathematical organization would prove and how absurd it was that such things should exist.
The low B in the double basses that sounds with the final chord of this fugue (we already know it as the last note of the important closing cadence of Act II) now becomes the unifying force, the cohesive principle of the succeeding murder scene, although it also is, of course, treated in the most diverse ways imaginable - as a pedal point, as a fixed middle or upper voice, doubled in one or more octaves and appearing in all conceivable registers and timbres. When the murder of Marie finally takes place to drum beats which gradually build up to fortissimo, all the important musical figurations associated with her are played very rapidly over this pedal point, as at the moment of her death the most important images of her life pass through her mind distorted and at lightning speed - the lullaby to her child from her first scene [ Vocal score: Act III, p. 196, bar 104}, reminiscences of the jewel scene [bar 104], the Drum Major himself [the same bar], the motive of Marie's sorrow over her misfortune [bar 105] and, finally, when she draws her last breath, the fifth motive of her hopeless waiting [bars 106-7] that I have already
The music of the following short interlude brings the Bl) to the fore once more. This time it appears as a unison, as the only note of the entire scale common to almost all the instruments of a full orchestra, and beginning with the softest imaginable sound (a muted horn) and increasing through successively louder entries until it finally bursts out in full force on the whole orchestra, except percussion. A point to notice about these entries is that they are not at regular distances but follow a particular rhythmic principle in which the rhythmically ordered entries of the wind and strings, following one another in canon at the distance of a crotchet, produce a distinct rhythm. The irregularities that result from this - and of which the listener is as little aware as he is of the regular ordering of entries - seem to give the crescendoing note a particularly strong feeling of life. In fact this crescendo is of greater dynamic effect and intensity than the repetition of this crescendo on B in different registers and supported by the whole percussion group.
The rhythm that I have just mentioned is not, of course, accidental any more than is the chord to which the first of these crescendos leads: [Vocal score, p. 197, chord, bar 114} and which also has important thematic significance. The rhythm is that which forms the basis, and which, since it can be traced in every bar, guarantees the unity of the following scene. This rhythm is not, to be sure, superimposed upon the scene as an ever-present monotonous ostinato but is handled in such a way that it makes possible the greatest diversity, even metric diversity, within this quasi-rhythmic uniformity - as, for example, in the fast polka for the drunken lads and girls with which the scene begins:[ Vocal score: Act III, p. 198, bars 122-9}, or the following passage in which the rhythm becomes the accompaniment: [Vocal score: Act III, p. 199, bars 145-52}, or those passages in which the rhythm is augmented, diminished or becomes displaced, as for example: [ Vocal score: Act III, p. 200, bars 152-9], or in which the rhythm is accommodated in other meters, is divided into triplets or is presented as two or more overlapping canonic entries.
A similar example of a musical 'object' being used in this way, such as proved successful earlier when the object was a note or, as now, a rhythm (you will notice that this 'objectivity' is older than its present use as a catchword), can also be found in the following scene, which is entirely based on a chord or, to put it better, on a collection of
This chord has, as I said, already appeared in the earlier short interlude based on the big crescendo on B. It is also the harmonic complement to the end of the interlude of the previous scene: [Vocal score, p. 210, bars 219-22}.
In spite of its being limited to this six-note collection, he scene again attempts to achieve both diversity and unity by subjecting the six-note chord, as had earlier been the case with the single note and the rhythm, to every possible kind of variation such as partitioning, inversion, redistribution and register changes of the notes, for example: [Vocal score, p. 213, bar 247, Vocal score, p. 217, bar 276\, and even dismantling the chord so that the notes are reinterpreted as melodies: [ Vocal score, p. 217, bars 278-83}.
Here again the overall structure of the piece is obtained through he use of the traditional symmetry of a ternary form, in that the six-note collection appears at only one transpositional level in the outer parts of the scene (although, obviously, in all varied forms) while in the central section it is transposed to all the other levels of the chromatic scale. When in the third part the chord returns to its original transpositional level - one might almost say that it goes back to its original tonal center - it acts as the harmonic link to following interlude, the D minor of which represents the resolution of this six-note collection: [ Vocal score: Act III, pp. 223-4 with upbeat to D minor}. More of this later. Just one general observation at the moment. It is clear that a music such as this, based solely on harmonies and superimposed chords, must, despite all its melodic features, have a strongly impressionistic character. That is, of course, something that is fitting for those dramatic events that are totally concerned with nature and natural phenomena. The waves in the pool as they close over the drowning Wozzeck or the croaking of the toads, for example: [ Vocal score: Act III, p. 222, bars 302-5}, or the rising of the moon: [ Vocal score: Act III, p. 222, bar 306}.
In spite of this, however, there was never any attempt at creating here a music of the kind one associates with Debussy and the French composers. Impressionism (to use yet another catchword of the last decades) of a kind that one might feel able to detect here and elsewhere in my opera can already be found in the music of the classical and romantic composers, to say nothing of the imperishable nature-impressionism of Wagner. In fact everything here that could be called impressionistic in this sense is far removed from the vague self-sufficient sonorities of that style; rather it has, as I have explained to you, much more to do with the building of a whole musical structure according to rigorous principles - provided here by the six-note chord, or in the second scene of Act I, about which we spoke earlier, by the repeated sequence of three chords.
The last scene of this act and of the whole opera, the scene with the children with its constant quaver movement from the first to the last bar (I could, referring back to older formal types, justifiably call it a 'perpetuum mobile'), is also governed by one ruling principle, although to be sure a principle that, as in other cases, I have laid down and required myself to follow. The final scene, which you have heard, is preceded by a somewhat longer orchestral interlude. From the dramatic standpoint this interlude is to be understood as an 'Epilogue' following Wozzeck's suicide, as a confession of the author who now steps outside the dramatic action on the stage. Indeed, it is, as it were, an appeal to humanity through its representatives, the audience. From a musical standpoint this final orchestral interlude represents a thematic development of all the important musical ideas related to Wozzeck. It is a three-part structure and its organizing principle is, exceptionally, tonality. To be sure the frontiers of this D minor, the function of which as a harmonic resolution I have already mentioned, are so stretched as to reach the very limits of its influence, as indeed happens in the climactic middle section of this piece, where the tight compression of the entries results in an aggregate which contains all twelve notes, although in the context of this tonality it only acts as a dominant which leads naturally and convincingly back to the D minor of the reprise.
I should like to take this opportunity of thanking, with all my heart, the orchestra, its conductor Herr Musikdirector Johannes Schtiler and the singers for their help. I shall now ask the orchestra to be kind enough to end my lecture by playing this epilogue, but I would first like to ask a favor of you - that you forget everything that I've tried to explain about musical theory and aesthetics when you come on Tuesday, or later, to see a performance of Wozzeck on the stage of this theatre.
First published in German in Hans Redlich, Alban Berg:
Versuch einer Wilrdigung, Universal Edition, Vienna 1957, pp. 311-27