Sechs kleine Klavierstücke, op. 19

Arnold Schönberg


Original recording by Jesús María Sanromá:












My recreated performance:




















Cross-cut video:




















Annotated score:




The PETAL project


In March 2018, I participated in a workshop at the Universität für Musik und darstellende Kunst Graz (KUG), Austria. I had in advance been asked if I could recreate a historical recording of the complete Arnold Schönberg cycle of Sechs kleine Klavierstücke, Op. 19. I was given a list of several recordings to choose from. I found this to be an excellent opportunity to link this work to my research project. I therefore selected the recorded performance of Puerto Rican pianist Jesús María Sanromá, born in 1902.[1] Although younger than Viñes, Sanromá was nonetheless a contemporaneous pianist who recorded the Schönberg pieces only one year after Viñes’s last visit to the studio. I could quickly hear that Sanromá’s performance style was relatable to that of Viñes. Although my agenda for choosing this recording was not to investigate early performance style in the context of Schönberg’s compositions, it is certainly interesting to observe how the Sanromá recording dramatically differs from newer recordings, especially with regards to overall tempo and the flexibilities therein.


The research project “Performing, Experiencing and Theorizing Augmented Listening” (PETAL) aimed to focus on the area of macroformal analysis by systematically investigating and categorizing performance strategies towards cyclic works. The research was led by three researchers: Prof. Christian Utz as principal investigator, Thomas Glaser as a post-doc-researcher, and Laurence Willis as a pre-doc-researcher, together with the two post-doc associate scientists Cosima Linke and Kilian Sprau. One of the milestones of this large-scale research project was the published article Gestaltete Form – Interaktion von Mikro- und Makroform in 46 Interpretationen (1925–2018) von Arnold Schönbergs Sechs kleinen Klavierstücken op. 191.[2]  In this work, 46 different performances of the cycle were thoroughly analyzed and compared. Three of these performances were conducted by Till Alexander Körber, Han-Gyeol Lie, and myself. My contributions to this project were made at a workshop in Graz in March 2018. The complete work included my own interpretation of Sechs kleine Klavierstücke, which I recorded beforehand, the complete recreated performance of Sanromá (also recorded beforehand), and finally a 60-minute presentation of my research project including a discussion and three live performances of the Schönberg pieces over a two-day span. All of these performances were analyzed and compared in relation to the 46 different performances of the cycle as part of the PETAL project. The research results of this can be studied in the article. However, with regards to this research project I have included only the recreated recording of Sanromá to be used in comparison to Viñes. 


The recreating experience

In the annotated scores, I have marked the practices found in Sanromá’s performance which relate to the romantic performance practice of Ricardo Viñes; In other words, unmarked tendencies such as rushing/slowing, “dislocated attacks,” and arpeggios. These romantic tendencies in Sanromá’s playing vary in their degree of subtleness and the markings in the scores should therefore act primarily as a guide when listening to the recordings.  



One of the key factors in this performance is the “forward-moving” rubato, which means that Sanromá is periodically rushing and does not strictly follow the written pauses or note values. There is also a very subtle, but nonetheless evident use of “dislocated attacks,” i.e. delaying and thus emphasizing the motives Sanromá considers more important in the hierarchy of the polyphony. Although his approach deviates from the score, in my opinion, Sanromá certainly adds a rhetorical quality to the work.



Sanromá does not seem to focus on maintaining a strict pulse. In fact, he even slows down the tempo he establishes at the beginning of the piece already by the end of the first bar. As a result of Sanromá’s “dislocation practice,” we hear a clear polyphony between the voices, and in bar 3 the main theme is played after the second third but before number three. There is also a very subtle arpeggio in the last chord; probably the intention here was to emphasize the top note of the chord.  In his interpretation, Sanromá deviates from the more typical “forward-moving” tendencies we hear in the other movements. By slowing down at the beginning, one gets a feeling of restraint. He also plays the thirds very softly, and not very short, as marked in the original score. 



Sanromá greatly rushes the timing in bars 2 and 5. He uses “dislocation” to bring out the polyphony in the beginning of the first bar. By doing this, Sanromá achieves a “recitative-like” quality in these sections, so that the melodic lines are interrupting the general pulse. There is a rhetorical quality to this interpretation, perhaps made possible by reading the score in a more general rather than literal sense.



Sanromá plays the first note (F natural) as a demisemiquaver note, not a semiquaver as indicated. This could be a score/edition issue, but most likely it is a result of the gestural “sweeping way” in which he plays the beginning. The attention to rhythmic detail here is indeed more gestural, and not literal. There is also a very subtle, almost inaudible arpeggio in the chord on the fourth beat of bar 4 (probably more a tendency leaning towards the top note)



Of all the tempos in the Sanromá recordings, this is the most extreme. He plays very fast – as if the whole piece is delivered in one single breath. His attention to the details in the articulation as well as the rhythm is also more gestural here rather than literal. 



There is a kind of mystical suspense in Sanromá’s performance, leaning more towards something “organic”– like uneven heartbeats rather than a strict metronome. This was very challenging to recreate, and I had to implement some “creative” subdividing to match Sanromá’s timing. There is also some subtle use of "arpeggiation" (like before, this is almost inaudible, probably leaning towards upper notes). In the second last bar, howeverhe clearly rolls the chords, probably to achieve a more expressive sound and timing. 


Final thoughts


As a part of my contribution to the PETAL project workshop in March 2018, I had the opportunity to record a total of five different interpretations of the Schönberg cycle. It was interesting to observe the profound influence Sanromá’s recording had on my own performances. When I compared the very first recording (made before I recreated the Sanromá performance) and the live performances following the recreating process, I could hear how the recreated performance had both intentionally and unintentionally influenced my playing. 

When comparing Sanromá’s playing with Viñes’s, I found that in general, there are several striking similarities. Both pianists tend to lean towards high tempos and have a “forward-moving” tendency. They both use “dislocated attacks,” i.e. delay of the melody, as well as unmarked “arpeggiation.” The independent timing between the two hands is also a significant aspect they shareHowever, despite these tendencies being apparent in both players, they are more exaggerated in the case of Viñes and less so in Sanromá’s playing. 

Having thoroughly recreated three complete recorded performances by the contemporaneous pianists Sergei Rachmaninov, Ignacy Friedman and Jesús María Sanromá, it had become clear to me that although their characteristic playing styles differ, they are all “speaking the same language” as Ricardo Viñes. Despite their different nationalities and backgrounds, all four pianists operate within a playing style featuring romantic performance practices such as “arpeggiation,” “dislocation,” rushing/slowing, and “polyphonic rubato.” Imitating and embodying the subtle differences in how these pianists use these romantic performance practices through their characteristic playing styles was for me a tremendously rewarding experience.



[1] Schönberg, A. Sech kleine Klavierstücke, Op. 19. Played by Jesús María Sanromá. Jesús María Sanromá: RCA Victor Red Seal M 646, 1937, re-released on CD by Pearl GEM 0076 mono ADD (2000). Not available on YouTube, however, the complete original recording can be heard in the first video at the beginning of this text (the black-and-white video of my performance). 

[2] Utz, Christian / Thomas Glaser. Gestaltete Form. Interaktion von Mikro- und Makroform in 46 Interpretationen (1925–2018) von Arnold Schönbergs Sechs kleinen Klavierstücken op. 19. Graz: Universität für Musik und darstellende Kunst Graz, 2020. Accessed on November 2, 2021,

Previous                                                                                                                                                                              Next