Abstracts of issue 3/1985 (3)

George Zervos

Alban Bergs Allegro Misterioso: The Meaning of the Theme and its Relation with Contemporary Polyphonic Techniques

Taking as point of departure the Allegro Misterioso in Alban Bergs Lyric Suite, in this article it is intended to show that:
  1. The composers of the Second Viennese School, especially Alban Berg and Anton Webern, conceive the theme in a new way.
  2. Their understanding of the term is related to 15th and 16th century polyphonic techniques.
Their conception of a theme lies on the nature of atonality itself and on the serial material. The fact that a row with its permutations is the unique thematic nucleus of a serial work impedes the creation of distinctly characteristic secondary themes, while it retracts the conventional, during the classic and romantic periods, conception of the theme as a harmonic-melodic unit not reversible in time. It is precisely this unity that is abrogated by Berg in the Allegro Misterioso of his Lyric Suite. The basic compositional material of this movement is:
  1. a row;
  2. two rhythms RH and RN deriving from the row according to an arbitrary logic, independent of the melody,
  3. those rhythms constituting a certain kind of theme,
  4. clothed in varied intervallic relationships,
  5. a certain fragment of the row consisting of the notes b flat a f b natural in varied successions, subjected to RH and RN.
Considering the macrostructure of the movement, the re-exposition (bars 93-138) is the retrograde of the exposition (bars 1-69), with certain omissions.
The meaning of the row been split into various areas (melodic, rhythmic etc) and conceived independently from its own rhythm in the sense that rhythm does not coexist with the row, but derives from it in an arbitrary way the creation of a primal idea (theme), understood as a melodic-harmonic unit, is retracted. The theme as a being non-inverted in time is a creation of the late baroque, the classic and romantic periods, coinciding with the style called homophony. On the contrary, the serial thematic idea, as a being invented in time, is the creation of contemporary serial music, coinciding with the style called polyphony.