Dramatic Vocalise Database

Arnold Schoenberg (1874–1951)

“Prelude” to Genesis, Op. 44 (1945)

From 1943 to 1945, Arnold Schoenberg (1874–1951) worked intensively with Leonard Stein on his book Structural Functions of Harmony, refraining from composing due to deterioration in his health. Following this hiatus, he was asked to compose the prelude to a suite for chorus and orchestra by various composers based on selections from the book of Genesis. According to a note in the published score written by Stein:

Shilkret, best known as a conductor of “pops” concerts on the radio, had engaged Aleksander Tansman (Adam and Eve), Darius Milhaud (Cain and Abel), Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (Noah’s Ark), Igor Stravinsky (Babel), Ernst Toch (The Covenant), and wrote one section himself (Creation).

The first recording of the Genesis suite includes a subtitle for Schoenberg’s Prelude, “The Earth was without form—Chaos.” Yet, the music is not chaotic, as Oliver Neighbour points out:

Neighbour’s formal description seems incorrect, since there are only four entries of the subject (or its inversion functioning as a fugal answer) before the stretto sections. The work consists of an introduction, a fugato, and a coda.

The chorus enters during the first stretto section, echoing the fugato subject on flute and clarinet at the distance of one measure. Schoenberg provided no text for the chorus; instead, according to Leonard Stein, he approved the use of an unspecified vowel sound.3

Schoenberg, “Prelude” to Genesis, op. 44, mm. 64–67 4

As to the significance of the choral passage, Peter Gradenwitz speculates the following, “[the] chorus—symboliz[es] the appearance of man.” 5 The work, written in the twelve-tone style, ends on octave Cs, suggesting form out of chaos, similar to the music accompanying the exaltation “and there was light” at the end of “The Representation of Chaos” in Haydn’s The Creation.

Schoenberg, “Prelude” to Genesis, op. 44, mm. 81–83 6

(Nauman 2009, 227–30)



“Prelude” to Genesis, Op. 44


1 Leonard Stein, preface to Prelude, op. 44, by Arnold Schoenberg (Los Angeles, CA: Belmont, 1945, renewed 1973), [ii].

2 O[liver] W[ray] Neighbour, “Schoenberg, Arnold,” in Grove Music Online, ed. Laura Macy, http://www.grovemusic.com (accessed 9 May 2007).

3 Leonard Stein, preface to Prelude, op. 44, by Arnold Schoenberg, [ii].

4 Arnold Schoenberg, Prelude, op. 44, 21.

5 Peter Gradenwitz, “The Religious Works of Arnold Schönberg,” Music Review 21 (1960): 24.

6 Arnold Schoenberg, Prelude, op. 44, 28.