Vienna Blues

Performed and written by Reynold Philipsek
Copyright Zino-Rephi Music (BMI)

Back in the mid-1970s, I took some college-level music classes. These were still the days when the Second Viennese School of Schoenberg, Webern, and Berg influence prevailed. They were the early 20th-century Austrian composers who explored the 12-tone technique. This roughly means a melodic line has to sound every note of the 12 possible choices without repeating. 

This is an over-simplification, as there were some very lengthy and specific, yet rather arbitrary, rules that Schoenberg prescribed. Like, no major or minor triads in any inversion, etc.

A matrix can be drawn using the original 12 tone row, which results in 144 distinct rows. Further manipulation can be done by casting a row in retrograde or inversion. The possibilities are vast.

To me, however, it always seemed a bit like “lab coat” music, yet it does still fascinate me in small doses. Plus, Schoenberg, Webern, and Berg were fascinating people. (Though I’m sure Schoenberg, Webern, and Berg sound more like the letterhead of a law firm than a composer consortium.)

This piece is based on a 12 tone row but I tried to relieve the melodic angularity by shaping the harmony, in a small way, to fashion a more blues-like mood. Of course, Schoenberg and “Blues” don’t seem like an obvious match but that was the challenge to and subtle joke about it. (Someone once said that the best jokes are the ones no one gets.)

The 12 tone row I used for “Vienna Blues” is B flat, D, E flat, C, F, G, E, F Sharp, A, G sharp, C sharp, B. (I’m pretty sure no one really cares about that info but I felt it was my duty to prove it really is a 12 tone row).

I wrote one other piece with 12 tones called “Alban’s Bolero” which is based on the 12 tone row from Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto. I recorded that piece with Sidewalk Cafe Trio which is on YouTube if you are interested.
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