Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Music (MM)




Arnold Schoenberg's development of twelve-tone serial ism in the early 20th Century had profound and far-reaching impact on the musical world. As Schoenberg himself grew and matured as a composer, so did the compositional technique of, and indeed his proficiency with, serialism. The opera Moses und Aron was composed in Schoenberg's third compositional period that lasted from 1923 through Schoenberg's death in 1951 and was characterized almost exclusively by this new technique of twelvetone serialism. Moses und Aron's first two Acts (as well as the libretto for the third) were written from 1930 to 1932 and based entirely on a single tone row. Though the opera itself was composed in the early 1930s, it had its beginnings as a religious play, similar to Schoenberg's earlier work, Oer Biblische Weg. Schoenberg left the opera as it was in 1932 and failed to return to score the libretto in Act III. Despite remaining unfinished, Moses und Aron is still widely regarded as one of Schoenberg's finest works and displays a composer working at the height of his skill.

This project brings to light the brilliance of the tone row Schoenberg chose as his foundation for Moses und Aron through examining the various tone row transformations used throughout the opera as well as their specific setting and orchestration within the context of each scene. More than simply a musical background for the dramatic events of the Exodus narrative, the tone row becomes a character in-and-of itself, transforming and shifting to mirror dramatic events and becoming a driving force throughout the opera. In addition to informing dramatic content and context, the way in which Schoenberg scores the tone row also helps to illuminate the large scale musical form of each scene and is even essential to the dramatic tension and characterization within the narrative.

In addition, this project endeavors to show that Moses und Aron displays Schoenberg's mastery of the compositional technique of twelve-tone serialism by examining in detail the significance of the functional orchestration as well as the divisions, or partitions, of Schoenberg's twelve-tone row. Inseparably connected with a discussion of the functional orchestration and partitioning of Schoenberg's tone row is a discussion of the different kinds of counterpoint that often occur as a result of such partitioning within the choral and instrumental orchestration of Moses und Aron. These concepts of functional orchestration, partitioning, and multiple forms of counterpoint are defined and unpacked in the upcoming chapters. As counterpoint functions as such an important aspect of the partitioning of the tone row, a brief discussion of counterpoint in serialism, specifically in Moses und Aron, accompanies the discussion of functional orchestration and the row partitioning. This understanding of the function of counterpoint in twelve-tone serial atonality is essential to this study.

Much has been written, specifically by Michael Cherlin, about the formal and dramatic organization of Moses und Aron and how Schoenberg's permutations of his tone row both influence and are influenced by the formal and dramatic context. Cherlin has also given significant attention to defining links between tone row partitions and dramatic events or characters within Moses und Aron. An important part of my research, therefore, includes examining the analytical findings of Cherlin as well as those from other scholarly sources. This project also challenges or supports these findings based on my own analysis and discusses what I believe to be a new facet of the organization of Moses und Aron not previously revealed in other studies. In Chapter 5 of this project, I bring to light two specific partitions of the row that occur within the choral counterpoint of the opera and have not been mentioned in any study of Moses und Aron that I have discovered in my research.

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