Compositional Techniques in Karel Husa’s Early Serial Works Poème and Mosaïques


Craig Cummings

      Karel Husa was born in 1921 in Prague, Czechoslovakia. He first intended to become a civil engineer, but the Nazi takeover of Czechoslovakia in 1939 made it impossible for him to pursue advanced studies in the field. After two years of private composition study with Jaroslav Řidký, Husa was admitted to the Prague Conservatory. Upon graduation in 1945, Husa won a fellowship to continue studying both conducting and composition in France - the latter with Arthur Honegger. By 1949, Husa’s passport had expired, and the Czech government - by now a communist state - gave him one month to return or forfeit his citizenship. He decided to remain in France, continuing to develop his working relationships with both Honegger and Nadia Boulanger. He states:

My main reasons for not returning when ordered to were artistic, not only political. I would study for two to four years in Paris, go to the United States, travel, conduct and become a known composer. It was not mainly politics; I wanted to prove I’m a composer.[1]


      Some observers describe Husa’s early compositions, such as the orchestra pieces Overture (1944), Sinfonietta (1944), and Three fresques (1947) and two early string quartets (1943 and 1948) as neo-Classic or neo-Romantic in style.[2] Eventually, however, Husa turned to serial techniques for creating musical compositions, though always with his own approach and musical end results. In an interview conducted in August 1995 and then published in ex tempore in 1996, Robert Rollin and Husa discuss much about the composer’s life and career. Several questions about serialism, along with Husa’s responses, are quoted below.

RR: When did serialism begin to influence you? When did you begin to experiment with serial techniques, and which composers at that time influenced you?

KH: It was already starting in Paris in 1946 - 8, when I began to hear the 12 tone music, as well as being fascinated by Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern. And I have heard a lot of Webern, starting in ‘48 in Paris, and also in Germany. I went to Darmstadt in 1949-50, and, of course, I was interested. I thought it was a good thing to experiment. I think that a composer, when he or she is young, has to experiment, because there is so much knowledge around, and so much of it can be of help to you. You cannot ignore things. Every composer was the father and grandfather of someone, and so it’s also like a family tree.

            RR: Schoenberg was at this time in the United States?

KH: Yes, he was in the U.S., and I remember that they played The Dance Around the Golden Calf. It was rather amazing to me. That’s from Moses and Aaron. He was supposed to come, but he was sick, and very soon after he died, unfortunately.

            RR: So, who took his place as the most dynamic figure? Was Boulez already involved?

KHBoulez was known, and already I had heard his First Piano Sonata. It was mostly the works that I studied; it was not people. Stockhausen I knew also in Paris, and I met Boulez in Paris, too. In fact, I met him at Gerhard Samuels’ place, who is now a conductor in Cincinnati. One time he invited Boulez, Marius Constant, myself, and several others. It was when Copland was in Paris, so Copland came and looked over our music. He was interested in what was happening in Europe. [3]

                        Based on these comments, one might expect that Husa would have turned fairly rapidly to using serial compositional techniques. His life circumstances in the early 1950s may have temporarily prevented such experimentation. Husa married and had children, and he permanently left behind his Czech homeland, moving in 1954 to the United States and taking a teaching position at Cornell University. During this time of personal upheaval, Husa did write some pieces related to memories of his country, such as Evocations de Slovakie (1951), Eight Czech Duets (1955), and Twelve Moravian Songs (1956).


      The important first serial pieces came a few years later. Rollin’s conversation with Husa provides interesting background:


RR: Returning to the question of serialism and the new, more chromatic style that you were working on, which would you say, the Poème for Viola and Chamber Orchestra (1959) or the Mosaïques for Orchestra (1961), was the more pivotal piece for you in terms of serialism and the future of your music for later years?

KH: I would say the Mosaïques was more striking in colors, because I experimented with orchestral colors especially. I liked the Poème too, because it’s more austere in a way; it’s a piece for which I have affection, but it has less colors, because it’s only strings, viola, oboe, piano, and horn.

            RR: It’s within a more narrow coloristic band, but still a very lovely piece.

KH: It’s a twelve-tone piece, but it’s in a style, if you wish, of Schoenberg’s twelve-tone approach. Mosaïques is already more what also Boulez and Stockhausen speak about. It’s not only the twelve notes, but the rhythm and the dynamics are serialized too . . .

RR: I heard you conduct a performance of it at Cornell with the Buffalo Philharmonic when I was a student, and I remember thinking that it had an affinity to Webern, more than to Schoenberg, which makes sense because of the coloristic aspect - perhaps because of klangfarben, the very delicate movement of melodic material from one instrument to the other. So, perhaps in a formal sense, the Poème was the place where you first introduced serialism, then further developed it in Mosaïques. Were there chamber pieces around that time also, or were these the pieces in particular? KH: That [sic] would be the pieces; then later came the Third String Quartet (1968) which also uses some twelve-tone techniques, but it is much more free already.[4]


          Husa’s Poème, completed in 1959, thus marks a departure from his earlier style into a more austere approach characterized by greater dissonance and serial procedures; it is a turning point in his compositional output. It is interesting that its original title, as found on the cover sheet of its sketch file, was Abstract Poem. Within two years, Husa had completed his second largely serial work, Mosaïques (1961) for large orchestra. As the composer himself states, these pieces together represent an important change in Husa’s style and technique. Accordingly, these seminal compositions are the works examined in this study.[5]



          By 1959, Husa had fully settled into his new life, becoming a United States citizen and completing his fifth year on the Cornell faculty. Perhaps these accomplishments gave him the confidence to experiment in Poème for viola solo with a chamber orchestra consisting of oboe, horn, piano, and strings. As indicated on the score, Poème was premiered on June 12th, 1960 at the World Music Festival of the International Society for Contemporary Music, in Cologne, Germany. Ulrich Koch, the viola soloist, was accompanied by the Südwestfunk Orchestra, conducted by Hans Rosbaud.[6] The score was published by B. Schott, Mainz, in 1961.


        Poème is cast in three brief movements without breaks. The first movement, slow and rhapsodic, is labeled improvvisando. The misterioso second movement moves at a faster tempo and is the longest movement. The final movement, labeled dolce, returns to a slower tempo and more improvisational style. The first and third movements begin with lengthy solo viola melodies and the piece concludes with the solo viola fading away into silence.


      Husa’s sketches provide an interesting opportunity to examine the serial logic of Poème. Thirty-five separate sheets are included in the sketch file for Poème, located in the Husa Archive at Ithaca College.[7] They may be divided into two broad sets - those with page numbers and those without. The sketches without page numbers are divided into two basic categories: those with fragmentary ideas or working out a specific compositional detail, and a more crucial set of sheets on which Husa works out the tone rows for the composition. Those sheets which do contain page numbers represent compositional drafts of all three movements, including recognizably earlier and later versions of much of the work.


         While each movement has its own row, there are strong connections among the three rows - so strong, in fact, that Husa thinks of the piece as being based on a single row.[8] An especially interesting sketch page shows Husa’s creation of a row consisting of three tetrachords that he labeled A, B, and C (see Facsimile 1). He then rearranged the tetrachords to create rows for the other two movements. The end result is shown in Example 1. Tetrachord A is a [0,1,2,7] pitch class set, while tetrachords B and C are both [0,1,2,3] chromatic fragments, the latter being a T5 transposition of the former. As is evident from the example, the tetrachords labeled A, B, and C above the row for Movement I are reordered into C, B, and A for Movement II and B, A, and C for Movement III. Thus, each movement may be said to have its own twelve-tone row, yet the underlying unity among the rows is obvious.


Example 1: Tone rows used in Poème


Movement I

                  Movement I is heard in two main sections: mm. 1 - 9 and 10 - 19. Section I begins with a dramatic solo viola line, the orchestra’s first entry in m. 7 creating a strong subdivision within the section. Section II also falls into two subsections: mm. 10 - 13 and 14 - 19.  The first  subsection is characterized by the viola playing  repeated,  distinctive points of imitation in single then double stops (see the first appearance in Example 2). The orchestra accompanies with sustained pitches and suddenly reaches an apex in terms of pitch density, registral expanse, and rhythmic complexity at the beginning of the final subsection (m. 14). Interestingly, it is precisely at this moment that the technical virtuosity in the solo viola abates. The second subsection moves directly into the second movement. Figure 1 summarizes the first movement’s sectional design. It is important to note that tempo changes and phrase breaks create additional possibilities for sectionalization. Further, the manner in which pitch classes are gradually unfolded in the orchestra and a larger curve of gradually increasing musical intensity bind sections I and II into a single larger unit.


Figure 1:  Sections in Poème, Mvt. I



Example 2: Poème, Mvt. I, m. 10, solo viola

Karel Husa POÈME © 1959 Schott Music GmbH & Co. KG © Renewed All Rights Reserved Used by permission of European American Music Distributors LLC, sole U.S. and Canadian agent for Schott Music.


          Constantly changing meters - largely but not exclusively triple, quadruple, and quintuple - are prominent throughout Movement I. Within the context of this slow, rhapsodic movement these meters (and the changes in meter) seem relatively unimportant in comparison with the overall effect. It is interesting to examine a sketch for this movement from this perspective (see Facsimile 2). As is evident in the sketches for Poème and a number of other works from the late 1950s and early 1960s, Husa would write a lead line (the main melodic line) in black or blue ink. His lead lines at this time show a primary interest in pitch logic; corrections of rhythm (and even additions of meter signatures) and additions of dynamics and sometimes instrumentation were done later and in lead or colored pencil. Here, we see the solo viola line in black ink. The rhythmic  values  of  many of  the  individual  pitches  are  evident,  but the actual  meter signatures are absent. As with many of the sketches, the initial ideas written in black ink are covered with many changes and additions in red, green, blue, and lead pencil, and very occasionally in blue ink. These additions demonstrate that Husa adjusted pitches, dynamic levels, and orchestration; however, the absence of meter signatures might best be attributed to the rhapsodic character of the movement as a whole.



Facsimile 1: Sketch of Tetrachords used in Poème


Facsimile 2: Sketch, Mvt. I of Poème


                    In his article exploring Husa’s life and stylistic characteristics of his music, Lawrence W. Hartzell wrote:


in this work [Poème], pitches, dynamics, row organization, and different string sonorities are submitted to serialization. From this it can be seen that it is not the traditional Schoenbergian technique that interests Husa, but the various serial procedures that have come into being since World War II and the methodology that they imply.[9] 

Even without embarking upon a comprehensive analysis, one may perceive Husa’s serial techniques. Example 3 shows the initial twelve pitches heard in the piece; below the staff, the interval classes between successive pairs of pitches are shown.[10] The emphasis on interval classes 1, 2, and 6, the limited use of 3 and 5, and the exclusion of 4 are indications of Husa’s effort to depart from a neo-Romantic style into a more dissonant, atonal idiom. Further, the dramatic tritone at the opening is followed by several registrally distinct chromatic groupings. The leap in m. 2 from A4 to the D4/E flat4 dyad presents another tritone.


Example 3: Poème, Mvt. I, Initial Twelve Pitches.

         If one labels the initial tone row P0, then the solo viola continues with P5 and then P1; the beginnings and endings of rows are designed not to correspond with the junctures between phrases. Husa immediately begins to reorder pitch classes within these rows. The statement of P5 also features two registrally distinct [0,1,2,3] pitch class sets in m. 4. Note that changes of the contour in P5 (relative to the contour of the initial P0) unambiguously create the [0,1,2,3] groupings. The iteration of P1 (mm. 5 – 6, second system in Facsimile 2) becomes quite angular; almost all interval class ones are heard as major sevenths or minor ninths. Husa omits pitch class 11 (the note B) entirely, possibly because of its prominence in earlier measures, or perhaps because a misnotated B in a sketch of the row carries into the published version of the work. One might say that pitch class 0 (the note C) returns “when it should not” as part of the beautifully symmetrical gesture in m. 6. Row form I1 is then presented (circled in green in second and third systems of Facsimile 2); its final tetrachord is given special emphasis by virtue of fortissimo, repeated pitch classes in m. 8. Row form R1 concludes section I (m. 9, fourth system of Facsimile 2); here, Husa treats ordering within the second and third tetrachords with some flexibility. As is evident in the fourth system of Facsimile 2, the fortissimo A flat3 - G3 insertion was a later idea added to the sketch in green pencil; Husa experimented with an earlier location (see the scratched-out dyad in green pencil) before settling on the final location.


          Such freedom of ordering continues during section II of the movement. For example, the imitative passage in m. 10 (Example 2) is derived most closely from I7. One might think that pitch class 6 (the F sharp4, later respelled as G flat4) is moved to become the fourth pitch class in the first tetrachord, though a sketch of this excerpt (not shown in Facsimile 2) is written directly above a notated row form I7; the initial F sharp in the row is put into parentheses, as if it were to be omitted. While the imitation in double stops remains a constant, several other sketches reveal that Husa expended a great deal of thought as he crafted the viola line of mm. 10 - 13. The reorderings and the selection of row forms and their transpositions throughout all of the Poème seem to be more closely related to Husa’s musical preferences than to any particularly systematic or arithmetic derivational processes.  More generally, Husa’s compositions as a whole show a greater concern with the final, musical result than with strict allegiance to any mathematical systems. As Hans Hauptmann wrote in a review of the premiere of Poème:

Karel Husa, the Czech composer now working in America, has transcended structuralism as an end for itself in his Poem for viola and chamber orchestra and has incorporated musical fantasy, leading once more to melody, emotion, and instrumental color - a welcome dawn after the darkness of a period of technical experimentation.[11]

Of course, this is not to say that Husa’s works are anti-intellectual or were conceived with little thought. Intricate compositional details emerge during the second section. For example, the bass line from m. 10 through the end of the movement traces a chromatic descent from C down to A; the horn solo in the final measure replicates these four pitch classes, which of course form a [0,1,2,3] set - an important tetrachordal subset of the row. Just as the movement and the row began, tritones emerge at the end: the viola has a prominent E- B flat in mm. 18 -19, and the horn solo begun in m. 19 effectively concludes with the D4-G sharp4 dyad at the attacca beginning of Movement II.


Movement II


         The second movement, in some ways the 170 - measure centerpiece of Poème, differs in many respects from the first. Rhythm, meter, tempo, orchestration, form, pitch organization, and the serial techniques employed provide significant contrasts. As in the first movement, the sections here are most clearly heard as a result of changes in orchestration and other non-pitch parameters. Figure 2 outlines the principal sections along with brief textural descriptions of each. While the movement is lengthy and complex, this essay will focus on rhythm and meter, serial pitch organization, and other interesting compositional procedures found primarily in sections ‘b’ and ‘g.’

          Perhaps the greatest contrast between Movements I and II is in the area of musical time. The temporal flexibility of Movement I is replaced in Movement II by a faster tempo and by a constant 2/4 meter throughout the movement. Whereas the first movement featured many different rhythmic patterns and groupings, the second is limited almost exclusively to quarter, eighth, and sixteenth notes and rests. At the same time, a fundamental similarity exists in both movements’ ambiguity of meter; the simple duple meter of the second movement is not clearly heard at first, and the sense of 2/4 gradually emerges as the movement proceeds.

                 A syncopated rhythmic pattern evolves throughout the movement, as shown in Example 4. Example 4a shows the rhythmic interjection heard in the piano during mm. 33 - 35; it contrasts the even more stark and pointillistic material in the strings surrounding it, and it foreshadows the later rhythmic developments. Example 4b is similar; it depicts the rhythm in the tutti strings beginning at m. 61. In more than one sketch, Husa labels measures such as those shown in Example 4a with the letters A, B, and C respectively; it is apparent too that he contemplated reordering these measures (by reordering the letters representing them in the sketches) and then abandoned the idea. The first three measures of section ‘f’ are shown in Example 4c; throughout this section, the viola maintains the rhythm shown or some close variant, while the responses in the orchestral strings vary more widely. Note that the dynamics are fairly similar in the passages represented in Examples 4a - 4c. Section ‘g’ of the movement features an isorhythmic ostinato accompaniment in the piano, about which more is said later; its talea is shown as Example 4d (note that this talea is now only 1.5 measures in length).

      Turning now to pitch, Husa’s serial procedures show some influence from Schoenberg’s later works in that he treats the three discrete tetrachords as individual collections within which order may be varied. The pointillistic texture and colorful use of timbres at the beginning of the movement, however, bear some resemblance to Webern’s writing. The sketch page dealing with row forms here is straightforward and efficient (see Facsimile 3). Husa writes out P0 (refer to Example 1 to review its order), then on separate lines he writes I0, P9, P0 again (but crossed out), I8, P8, P9 again, I1,


mm.:   1-4 5-32 33-35 36-60 61-84 85-99 99-128 129-153 154-160 161-170

idea:     a   b            c      d      e     f         g          h          i                 j

a:      horn introduction (completes the transition from mvt. I to mvt. II)

b:      pointillistic passage; emphasis on varied timbres and on tetrachords

c:      rhythmic interjection in the piano

d:         continuation of passage ‘b'; buildup of instrumentation and intensity to all strings and fortissimo by m. 60

e:      beginning of persistent sixteenth-note rhythmic interplay

f:       more texturally transparent rhythmic interplay between solo viola and orchestra

g:      ostinato in piano; melodies added in viola then horn; orchestral strings gradually join solo viola

h:      climactic passage; orchestra gradually thins out and dynamics grow softer

i:        beginning of transition to mvt. III; harmonics in viola

j:        remaining transition to mvt. III; primarily oboe solo


Figure 2: Sections in Poème, Mvt. II


Example 4: Syncopated rhythmic patterns in Poème, Mvt. II

and P0. These row forms (and their retrogrades) are among the most frequently used in the movement. In addition, on the right-hand side of the page, one sees these collections of letters: “O - RI - I - R,” “R - I - RI - O,” “RI - I - R - O,” and “I - R - O - RI.” Here, Husa is working out possible orderings of row forms; note that he uses “O” (for “original”) for the prime form (symbolized in our discussion by “P”). For example, the movement begins with P0 (mm. 5 - 21), RI0 (mm. 21 - 30), and I0 (mm. 30 - 32). The piano  interjection  in  mm. 33 - 35  is  based  upon  row  form P9 - although with several reorderings of pitch classes - and the piano carries eight of the twelve pitch classes; the orchestral strings and solo viola complete the aggregate in incisive rhythmic counterpoint against the piano. Husa then continues the opening process by making use of R0  beginning with the anacrusis to m. 36.




Facsimile 3:  Sketch of Row Forms for Mvt. II of Poème




Facsimile 4:  Sketch of a Passage from Mvt. II of Poème

          In addition to carefully disposing the row forms, Husa also does creative things with re-ordered pitch classes. The discrete tetrachords comprise first two [0,1,2,3] and then one [0,1,2,7] pitch class sets. In the beginning of the movement, each [0,1,2,3] is first heard pointillistically distributed among the orchestral strings, then it is heard again in a reordered burst of sixteenth notes in the viola. The same holds for the [0,1,2,7] set, except the reordered restatement is heard in the piano. The process of restating reordered tetrachords continues well into the ‘b’ section of the movement.

          Husa’s careful compositional control in the opening of the movement extends beyond  pitch  serialization  into  deliberate  ordering  of  string  timbres,  dynamics,  and rhythm. One sketch page in particular makes Husa’s technique clear: It features a rotational scheme in terms of timbre and also contains several different orderings of dynamic levels (see Facsimile 4). Figure 3 recasts some of the information, showing measure numbers, timbre types, dynamic levels, and rhythmic values. Each four-measure segment represents what is heard in the orchestral strings; the measures in between contain interjections by the solo viola (mm. 9, 15, and 21) silence (m. 10) or an interjection in the piano (m. 20). The timbre rotation scheme is a model of clarity: mm. 5 - 8 establish four different string timbres, and each subsequent segment rotates the first timbre to the end. Each timbre has its own particular rhythmic value (or at least attack location within the measure); interestingly, pizzicato would appear to be the exception to this pattern, though in a compositional draft the rhythm associated with pizzicato articulation is always as it appears in mm. 8 and 17.  Thus, there may be errors in the rhythms in mm. 13 and 22 in the published score. The dynamic patterning is less consistent, though, in general, four different levels are always used, and the louder dynamics are reserved for the pizzicato and harmonic timbres. It is also worth noting that pitch here involves statements of tetrachords from P0 or (in the case of mm. 22 - 25) RI0. [12] The careful organization of both pitch and non-pitch parameters continues after the piano interjection of mm. 33 - 35, then it gradually is overtaken by longer notes and a large crescendo leading into section ‘e.’


Figure 3: Control of Non-Pitch Parameters, Mvt. II of Poème

          Section ‘g’ is fascinating and builds to one of the registral and dynamic high points of the movement. As mentioned earlier, the piano presents an isorhythmic ostinato throughout the entire section. The repeated rhythmic pattern is two and a half measures in length, which means that it is heard exactly twelve complete times during section ‘g.’ Further, this talea, which contains eight attacks, occurs in association with a color that is thirty-two pitches in length; thus, the color is heard three complete times during the passage. Each piano hand carries a single line, and the two hands have identical rhythms (the talea) throughout the passage. Husa’s color is quite economical; each hand carries a [0,1,6] pitch-class set, and only four different pitch classes are heard in both hands together throughout the entire passage, comprising a [0,1,6,7] pitch-class set. Example 5 shows the first two times through the talea (thus, one-half through the first iteration of the color). The hands continue in contrary motion through the remainder of the passage; note that every vertical dyad is interval class 1. Further, a pattern may also be discerned in the dynamics - if one considers the talea to have four rhythmic “groups” (the pair of sixteenths, each isolated eighth note, then the group of four sixteenths at the end), then one sees that every fifth group is louder than the surrounding ones. This results in different parts of the talea emerging throughout the passage. 


Example 5:  Poème, Mvt. II, Mm. 99–103, Piano

Karel Husa POÉME © 1959 Schott Music GmbH & Co. KG © Renewed All Rights Reserved Used by permission of European American Music Distributors LLC, sole U.S. and Canadian agent for Schott Music.


          In the sketches, at least, Husa’s interest in compositional techniques more typically associated with the works of Olivier Messiaen goes beyond the isorhythm just described. The viola and horn solos during this same passage contain some evidence that Husa was experimenting with non-retrogradable rhythms.[13] Such rhythms do not substantially appear in the published score, though they are evident in the initial entries in both the viola and the horn (see mm. 105 - 110, and mm. 110 - 112, respectively). A separate and unnumbered sketch sheet reveals the pitch logic of this section: using black ink, Husa writes out various combinations of P and I row forms, aligned vertically in such a way that the exact contour mirroring is readily apparent. He finally arrives at the combination of P9 and I4, on which this section is based. The fourth and the final pitch classes of each row are circled in green pencil, and the two circles are connected. These four pitch classes are the ones used in the piano ostinato. The initial viola and horn melodies are based on I4 and as the horn finishes its I4 melody, the viola begins a new melody based on P9 (mm. 117 – 128 in the score). All the while, the upper strings of the orchestra gradually join the viola, culminating in a fortissimo, tutti restatement of the P9 melody in diminution (mm. 129 - 133). After this climactic passage, the orchestra thins out and the dynamics grow softer, leading eventually into the transition to Movement III. In a manner rather similar to the transition from Movement I to II, the solo oboe here carries an angular and rhythmically varied iteration of [0,1,2], concluding with a sustained G5 at the end of Movement II. It is noteworthy that the first pitch heard in Movement III is C sharp3: once again, Husa uses a tritone to connect the movements.

Movement  III

      Movement III reverts to a more traditional serial approach and recalls several prominent gestures as well as the slow tempo, and the free, rhapsodic melodic style of the opening movement. The plaintive character of the final movement is clear at its outset in the long passage for solo viola. Despite its wide leaps and range, this subdued melody has a lyrical quality perhaps because of its simple muted, bowed timbre and its freely flowing rhythms.

      Form in the final movement is articulated by orchestration (see Figure 4). Sections I and III feature the solo viola. Section II is characterized at first by interaction between solo viola and piano, followed by a slightly longer subsection with full orchestra and little or eventually no material in the solo viola. The concertante passages here differ from those of the first movement in that they are more simple and lyrical, and the viola sonorities are restricted to arco and con sordino.


Figure 4: Sections in Poème, Mvt. III

            Movement III is similar to Movement I in its constantly changing meters, but a somewhat wider variety of meters is encountered during the solo viola passages, while those including the piano and/or orchestra are largely in triple or quadruple meters. The sketch of this movement is similar to that of Movement I - Husa apparently wrote the solo viola line first, using black ink. Here, however, much of the solo viola line appears to have been notated in simple quadruple meter at first, then some rhythmic values were altered to create the changing meters. Some meter signatures were added later in pencil, which appears to have been the preferred writing implement used toward the end of the creative process. The sketches of the piano and orchestral material, all of which are in colored pencil (red, blue, or green), show densely drawn musical gestures that bear little relation to the meters found in the score itself.

            The serial technique in this movement is more conservative than in the others, although Husa does repeat pitch classes and frequently makes use of overlapped rows in which the final pitch class of one row form simultaneously acts as the first pitch class in the next - a technique reminiscent of Webern’s approach. One interesting facet of the row use in this movement is that Husa goes to some effort to conceal its relationship with that of the first movement (the original row for this movement, shown as the third line in Example 1, is not actually heard in the movement). Example 6 shows the initial fifteen pitches heard in the movement and reveals several interesting features. First, this disjunct succession of pitches turns out to be row form I6, relative to the P0 shown in Example 1. A sketch page for this movement makes these relationships clear: Husa notated here the original row for this movement (labeled “O” as shown in Example 1). Two staves lower, he notated what we have referred to as I6 and it is labeled “I.” To the left of this staff, he wrote the word “Begin.” Returning to Example 6, it is worth noting that Husa repeats pitch classes D, F sharp and F before moving on to complete the row. The G sharp at the end simultaneously functions as the first pitch class in the next row form encountered, I1.


Example 6:  Poème, Mvt. III, Initial Fifteen Pitches

            Without reviewing all of the many row forms encountered in the third movement, it is worth noting that the viola and its accompaniment each retain their own row forms (unlike the second movement) and there is little “sharing” or dividing rows among the performing forces. Similar to Movement I, the tone-row beginnings and endings here are designed not to correspond with the junctures between phrases. Once more as in the first two movements, the selection of row forms and transpositions seems to be more closely related to Husa’s musical preferences than to any systematic or arithmetic derivational processes.

            Thus, Husa designed his Poème as an arch, with Movements I and III evincing many similarities and Movement II contrasting in many ways. The pitch logic for all three movements is created via tightly-related twelve-tone rows built from three tetrachords and by experimentation with ordering, overlap, and omission or repetition of pitch classes. The second movement features additional compositional techniques, including serial ordering of timbres, rhythm, and dynamic levels, isorhythm, and occasional use of nonretrogradable rhythms.  Such organizational techniques are used freely as simple compositional tools that do not detract from Husa’s own characteristic style. Poème features intensely lyrical solo lines and colorful orchestration, yet its serial constructs mark an important change in Husa’s compositional technique. The work also is Husa’s first major “concerto” and therefore is an important composition in a genre that later became one of the composer’s favorites.



            Another important genre in Husa’s ouevre is works for larger instrumental ensembles, be they winds and percussion or full symphony orchestra. Mosaïques is Husa’s first serial composition for large ensemble. Commissioned by the Hamburg Radio, the composer conducted the premiere of this five-movement work on 7 November 1961, leading the Nord-Deutscher Rundfunk in Hamburg. Several small sheets in the sketch file show that Husa toyed with several different titles for the work, including Cinq esquises pour orchestre and Cinq Poémes pour Prague.[14] Mark A. Radice asserts that the final title “is so called owing to its pervasive use of two-, three-, and four-note cells that coalesce to form larger segments.”[15] Husa himself writes: “The colors were very important in my Mosaïques, but much more exciting was assembling the small stones of notes into the five pictures.”[16]

           While the five movements in the published version have no individual titles, the sketches show that Husa did consider titling individual movements (see Table 1). As is evident in the projected titles, and of course in the conversation with Robert Rollin, as quoted earlier, Husa’s score evinces a great concern with orchestral colors. Radice writes: “More than any of his works to this point, Mosaïques employs each of the orchestral choirs fully and effectively,”[17] and, in a personal letter to Husa, dated June 2, 1963, referring to Mosaïques, Ernst Krenek states, “It was very interesting to listen to your remarkable work. I liked especially the opening and concluding sections, which are full of very arresting and suggestive sounds. May I thank you sincerely for letting me become acquainted with this composition.”[18]




Table 1:  Movement Titles for Mosaïques, As Found in the Sketch File.

           When compared with those for Poème, the sketches for Mosaïques include a larger number of sheets with tone row manipulations and/or with sketches working out a specific compositional problem, and fewer recognizable complete drafts of individual movements. On the other hand, the sketch file for Mosaïques  does include three neatly written pages that reveal some important details from each movement. What we will be calling the “crucial overview” may well have been Husa’s own notes for a lecture on the work.



Movement I

            Husa’s interest in color is perhaps most evident in Movement I, whose provisional title, “Les cloches,” aptly describes the instrumentation as well as the colors heard. The movement originally was scored for xylomarimba, vibraphone, chimes, suspended cymbal and gongs, celesta, harp, and piano; however, a note appearing along with the sketches and manuscript score reads as follows: “Marimba should be used in Mosaïques (not Xylomarimba).” The note, written in Husa’s hand and signed by him, is dated October 31, 1999. In the “crucial overview,” Husa writes, “rhapsodic mvmnt., no strict organization of rhythm,” adding “retrograde from measure before [rehearsal] B.” As shown in Figure 5, Movement I is 39 measures in length, so its midpoint falls in the exact middle of m. 20. It is cast entirely in three-four meter, though surface rhythmic patterning does not articulate this meter in any way; the meter signature seems to be simply a temporal organizational convenience. The movement as a whole is one large crescendo then diminuendo in rhythmic and textural complexity as well as dynamic level, reflecting the symmetry of motion forward to the midpoint then an exact retrograde.


Figure 5: Sections in Mosaïques, Mvt. I.

            Measures 1 - 10 sound introductory and are Webernesque in their delicate timbres, pointillistic texture, and angular gestures, as mentioned by Rollin in the excerpt from “A conversation with Karel Husa…” cited earlier. Example 7 shows a transcription of Husa’s notation of the original tone row for Mosaïques (P0) along with its inversion; the numbering of the pitch classes and mirror inversion are written carefully by the composer. Interestingly, the introduction does not contain these row forms; rather, it features row form R11 then a portion of P11. The sketches contain Husa’s notation of P11 and I11; they are written exactly as were P0 and I0, except down one half step. D4, the axis of symmetry, is clearly heard in the chimes in mm. 1 and 6, perhaps bringing this important pitch to the fore. While one can find suggestions of R11 in mm. 3 - 6, Husa does make some use of reorderings here. Since it concludes R11 and then begins P11, the tritone D - A flat is heard in mm. 6 - 7. In mm. 7 - 8, one hears the first portion of P0, though it is reversed with a Webern-like palindrome in the piano. P0 does not come into full fruition so much as Husa simply alludes to it, returning to the D - A flat tritone in m. 9. This tritone is heard prominently - indeed, exclusively, with the exception of a grace note - in mm. 9 -10. These measures, rather static (yet unstable) in pitch-class content, represent a transition ending the introduction and announcing the beginning of section II at m. 11. The D - A flat tritone forms the first two pitch classes in both P11 and I11, thus creating a suitable transition.


Example 7.  Mosaïques, Transcription of Sketch Showing Row Forms P0 and I0


            What I will call section II, mm. 11-20, begins with a melodic iteration of row form I11 in the marimba, borrowing the A4 from the vibraphone to form a complete aggregate in a single measure. The transitional D-A flat tritone carries over and accompanies in the vibraphone and celesta. Over the course of just three measures - mm. 12-14 - Husa introduces row forms R0, I10 (twice) and P6. The chimes continue to present an important pitch - E flat4 - during the second beat of m. 14, followed by an E flat-A tritone in the vibraphone and marimba which is attacked on beat three and sustained for almost four beats. The shift to E flat4 and to the E flat-A tritone is significant, as these introduce row forms P0 and I0, which are then presented simultaneously in the two hands of the piano and are completed by the D-E dyad in the celesta on the downbeat of m. 15.


            The passage from the introduction of P0 and I0 in m. 14 through their retrograde, concluding in m. 26 becomes remarkably complex, replete with many textural layers articulating repeated patterns quite rapidly. The effect - especially around the midpoint of the movement, where the retrograde begins - is a quasi sound-mass in its layering and overall fabric of sound; the instrumentation, repeated patterns and brief ostinati lend an almost Eastern quality to the passage.

             Rather than journey measure by measure (and row by row) through this passage, I am electing to let an interesting sketch by Husa stand for itself - see Facsimile 5. This sketch page is published in the collection Notations by John Cage.[19] Some explanation is in order. A note attached to Husa’s sketches, in his hand, reads, “Esquises de Mosaïques ? - no. 5 given to John Cage (Lincoln Center).” In the index of Notations, Cage appropriately indicates that the sketch is from the fifth movement of the work. The top five staves do contain ideas fleshed out in Movement V, and I believe that this single sheet of manuscript paper forms the background of the facsimile; note the extreme right edges of the remaining ten staves and the tape mark at the right of the facsimile. The remainder of the page is cut out from a different sketch (note the wider staves) and then taped onto the back sheet. The taped-in portion is a sketch from Movement I - specifically, from the passage in question (mm. 14 - 26).


Facsimile 5:  Sketch Page of Mosaïques, from Notations score Collection by John Cage 

          A number of interesting features are present here. First, the sketch features a lead line in what appears to be black ink; the sheet from which this is cut out has notations of P0 and I0 in black ink immediately above what is seen here (similar to what is transcribed as Example 7). This sketch is extraordinary and efficient since it presents a compressed digest of the most important gestures of the passage. The first system and all but the final flourish of the second present the original musical ideas; from the final flourish to the end, the ideas occur in retrograde, with some minor modifications. Mirror symmetry is evident - for example, E flat4 is the axis for the first chime attack, then again on the final sixteenth of the first full measure, leading to a reiterated E flat4 on the next downbeat. In the remainder of this measure, P0 and I0 are presented such that A3 is the axis, though of course E flat may be heard as a secondary one.

          Measure two is a good example of a passage that looks somewhat symmetrical due to contrary motion, but in fact is not mirror symmetrical. Here, Husa distributes P0 with considerable reorderings across the hands. In this movement as well as others, Husa uses the chimes or sometimes celesta to complete the aggregate, or to launch a new one. An interest in aggregate completion, which became somewhat less important to Husa in later works, is evident in the first two complete measures (and the final E flat4) of Facsimile 5. In summary, the gestures seen in the facsimile are the most important ones encountered in the middle portion of the first movement. They are heard many times in changing temporal and textural contexts and combinations. Measures 26 - 29 complete what will be called section III, and are of course a retrograde of mm. 11 - 14 which began section II.  Measures 30 - 39 conclude the movement quietly and gently with a retrograde of mm. 1-10.


Movement II

        Movement II provides a striking contrast in orchestral colors, as it features the string section - both solo players and the full sections - and the xylophone, celesta, and harp play a small but structurally important role. As shown in Figure 6, the movement falls into five sections suggesting an arch design in the similarities between sections I and V and also II and IV. The introduction consists of string gestures using a combination of row forms P4 and I4. Example 8 is a transcription of a related sketch; essentially, nine pitch classes from I4 - those connected by slurs - form the three melodic trichord gestures heard in the solo violin, ‘cello, and viola. The accompaniment is drawn from P4 and in particular from those pitch classes that are circled. The final attack heard in the introduction, G sharp5 in the viola, completes the aggregate.

                     In a manner similar to section I, section V consists of the combination of two row  forms  -  here,  R4  and  RI4.  Just as I4 did earlier, RI4 provides the nine pitch classes projected melodically in a pitch-class retrograde of the nine from the beginning. The accompaniment in section V is a bit different from that of the introduction, but it still projects P4, only in retrograde. The movement concludes with a sustained G3 in the solo ‘cello, completing the aggregate launched at the outset of the section.


I: Introduction; gestures using a combination of row forms P4 and I4; ends with aggregate completion (G# in viola)

II: Expressively thematic, row forms P4 and R4 in a myriad of configurations and rotations

III: Wide-ranging, near mirror-symmetrical verticalities with aggregate completion and initiation in celesta; row forms P0 and I11 and their retrogrades are projected; row forms R0, I10, and three pitch classes from I2 projected in mm. 23-25

IV:  Thematic viola and ‘cello duet; row forms I2 (from section III) and then R12 are used

V: Mirrors section I, but loosely in retrograde (combines row forms R4 and RI4); ends with aggregate completion (G3 in ‘cello)

Figure 6:  Sections in Mosaïques, Mvt. II



Example 8:  Mosaïques, Mvt. II, Sections I and V, Transcription of Sketch (row forms P4 and I4)

          Sections II and IV are similar in their rhythmically diverse yet dramatically sustained lines. As mentioned beneath Figure 6, the second section of the movement consists of row form P4 and its retrograde, arranged into a variety of configurations. Example 9, a transcription of another sketch, provides some insight into Husa’s thought process. Row form P4 is shown again, now partitioned into trichords. As sometimes is his practice in such sketches, Husa then numbers the twelve pitch classes. Each trichord is then assigned a rhythmic profile - that is, the time span over which the three pitch classes are to be projected. Note that the quarter note duration of the third trichord may be thought of as a set of eighth-note triplets, or even as a set of sixteenth notes. Each trichord is also assigned a dynamic level, with trichord number two being either piano or pianissimo. Next, Husa fleshes out pitch class reorderings - see the string of numbers. Row forms P4 and R4 are projected in order. The 3 2 1 concluding R4 simultaneously launches a reconfigured P4 - each trichord contains its third member, then second, then first. The same process then occurs, but in retrograde. At the bottom of Example 9, Husa’s sketch of the initial P4 and R4 is shown. The trichord design is easily perceived, and the temporal design conforms with his initial conception shown nearer to the top of the sketch, with occasional small alterations of the rhythms, especially those of the first two trichords. The sketch is played out quite clearly in section II of the movement, along with interesting changes in instrumentation bringing out the different trichords. A number of additional pages in the unindexed sketch file confirm that Husa’s thought continues in this direction throughout section II.


Example 9:  Mosaïques, Mvt. II, Section II, Transcription of Sketch (row form P4)

          Section IV, comprising mm. 26 - 30 and carrying over into m. 31, is performed by only two instruments: solo viola and ‘cello. Its pitch logic is quite straightforward, continuing row form I2 which had been initiated in m. 25 in the harp, then turning it around into RI2 in mm. 28 - 30. The rhythm, while seeming to be freely syncopated, was the product of precompositional planning as well. Example 10 is a transcription of a small sketch in which Husa writes out row form I2 and associates specific note values with each pitch class. The viola and ‘cello parts in mm. 26 - 27 adhere almost exactly with Husa’s plan, if one allows a bit of freedom at the glissando in the ‘cello. Row form RI2 also holds fairly close to Husa’s sketch, again allowing some margin of error, especially near the glissando.



Example 10: Mosaïques, Transcription of Sketch of Row Form I2 Pitch Classes with Associated Temporal Values (Note that the row form in question for Mvt. IV is P4, not I2, but the temporal succession still applies and appears in a different sketch.)


      Section III, the peak of the arch design, is radically different music than that of the other sections. In just the first two measures (mm. 19 - 20), Husa presents row forms P0 and I11 in a seemingly bewildering array of registers, instruments, dynamic shadings, and rhythms. Example 11 is a graph of mm. 19 - 21, showing pitch vertically and elapsed time horizontally; the gradual deployment of dyads is clearer there. Initially, P0 is the higher pitch in each dyad, though at order positions 5 and 6 (using Husa’s 1 - 12 numbering), both row forms contain the pitches C and F and they perform an exchange as P0 becomes the lower member of the next couple of dyads. The passage conveys near mirror symmetry about an axis of G sharp3/A3, though some pitch classes are in different octaves. Each dyad has its own dynamic level (with duplications) and there does not appear to be a strict temporal logic at play, though the last few dyad attacks do occur at closer and closer time intervals. The first nine pitch classes of P0 and I11 are presented in this manner, and then the celesta wonderfully completes both rows with a burst of major and minor second clusters. These clusters then take on a new role, pivoting to become the first three pitch classes in the retrogrades, R0 and RI11. Afterwards, the remaining nine pitch classes of R0 and RI11 are projected in a manner similar to that heard in mm. 19 - 20 (see Example 12). Here, the temporal logic is more transparent: the attacks of the dyads grow further and further apart, moving from a distance of a single sixteenth note to two, three, four, and so on. As these row forms are completed in m. 23, the celesta reenters with an echo of the earlier clusters, followed in mm. 24 - 25 with row forms R0 and I10. As shown in Example 12, the large chords are sustained until the very end of m. 25.


                 Thus, the second movement of Mosaïques evinces a wide-ranging variety of compositional techniques. Sections I and V are created via vertical and horizontal presentations of row forms related by inversion. Combinatoriality does not play a role, but each section concludes after the aggregate is completed. Section II features an interesting pitch-class rotational strategy - also projecting row form P4 and then its retrograde - and dynamics and temporal values are also serially organized. Section IV is  similar,  though  less  complex  and  bearing  a  different  precompositional temporal organization. Section III is about gradual dyadic additions and registral symmetry, with some minor asymmetries resulting from octave placement.


Example 11 and 12: Graph of Mosaïques, Mvt. II, mm. 19-24. Pitch space (the vertical axis) is calibrated in half steps at one square each.  The numbers in the left margin are standard octave numbers, where middle C is labeled as C4.  Time is shown along the horizontal axis; the figure ‘19/1’ refers to m. 19, beat 1 and

so forth.  Each square thus represents a thirty-second note.


Movement III

      The third movement begins with piano, percussion, and woodwinds, immediately establishing the colors to be featured throughout the movement.  Eventually, the entire orchestra comes into play, though the strings do not enter until almost halfway through the movement, and even then they play a minor role. Movement III may be heard in five sections, creating a rather rondo-like form, as shown in Figure 7. Section I begins with a three-measure introduction, after which frenetic melodies are heard in the woodwinds.  In the “crucial overview” of the entire work, Husa writes “bird calls” as representing these melodies, also writing down the names Janáček and Messiaen. The additive and repetitive nature of the melody heard in the piccolo in mm. 4 - 8 typifies a technique found in some of Husa’s later serial works. An early sketch shows an even more comprehensive additive process (see Example 13). The transcription clearly shows Husa gradually adding pitch classes - and eventually eliminating the early ones - until all of row form P3 has been presented. In the published score, Husa modifies the comprehensive additive treatment in favor of chords articulating five or six members of the prevailing row while the woodwind melody presents the rest in an additive manner. Section I dissolves into a passage with rapidly repeated notes (and chords); the woodwind melodies resurface at m. 34, accompanied by a metronomic wood block.



Figure 7: Sections in Mosaïques, Mvt. III


Example 13: Mosaïques, Mvt. III, Transcription of Sketch Showing Additive Pitch-Class Process

      Section II is characterized by a melody in the strings and brass, accompanied by woodwinds continuing frenetic rhythms, now as an obbligato accompaniment, along with the metronomic percussion. Serially straightforward but metrically complex, section II holds to alternating five-eight then seven-eight meters throughout, heard in groupings 2 + 3 and 4 + 3. Interestingly, in an early sketch for the movement, a black ink lead line contains no meter signatures, but Husa does write 2 + 3 + 4 + 3 + 2 above the score, and the melody reflects these groupings. A later iteration of the passage, notated on different paper in blue ink, shows a four bar pattern: two-eight, three-eight, four-eight (later simplified to two-four), then three-eight. Husa later used a red pencil just above the passage, marking 5 then 7 and adding brackets at the beginnings of two-eight with three-eight then two-four with three-eight respectively. Thus, the metrical design of the passage gradually took shape over time.

      Section III is a brief five-measure “break” where the woodwinds articulate their frenetic, angular melodies, accompanied by the metronomic wood block and other instruments. Section IV follows with the same basic idea as was discussed above in relation to section II, though here the brass section is silent and the melody is presented by piano and strings using glissandi, and the alternating meter pattern is the reverse of before – 7/8 then 5/8. Section V is coda-like, bringing back the repeated notes (and chords) along with a brief iteration of the frenetic woodwind melody, though now in the strings. The end result is a formal design that may be interpreted as rondo-like: A B A’ B’ A’’.


Movement IV

      Movement IV may be heard as a lengthy and complicated but still quite discernable ternary form. The main idea in the outer sections is a series of brutal, aggressive chords presented in varied, rhythmically incisive ways. The chords are made up of four prime row forms occurring simultaneously: P1, P5, P7, and P8. Facsimile 6 shows the logic found in the “crucial overview” of the piece. As can be seen, each chord contains one pitch class from each of the four row forms. The chords are then numbered: the odd-numbered ones occur principally in the brass while the even-numbered ones are heard mostly in the woodwinds and strings. After the piece opens with these chords and little else, Husa retains them as accompaniment to an angular melody in the lower brass, beginning two measures before rehearsal ‘D’. This melody adds row form P4 to the mix, and its rhythm was generated by pre-compositional organization (refer back to Example 10). The melody continues in such a manner for some time.

      The middle section is quite different from its outer counterparts in that it features a more lyrical melody, but still with strong punctuations in the accompaniment. Here, a repeating metric pattern of 3/8, 4/8, 5/8, 4/8, 3/8 occurs, cropping up as simply 3 + 4 + 5 + 4 + 3 in the sketches. The similarity to the metric scheme in the contrasting sections of the previous movement is obvious. Aside from metric complexity, Husa makes use of just two row forms - R9 and RI10 - in a very free way (see Facsimile 7). Note that “middle part, 7 after G:” points directly to row forms P9 and I10, notated to the right. Those pitch classes circled in red are used in the melodies written on the top two staves below the row notations, while those pitch classes marked in green are used in the accompaniment. To be even more specific, let us assume that the higher of the two melodies is accompanied by the lower of the two accompanimental strata. The melody begins with C sharp, the first pitch class in row form R9; it is accompanied by a B and then an F, which represent the second pitch class in R9 and then the third pitch class in RI10 - note the crossed arrows in the row diagram. The next pitch class in RI10, shown as G flat3 in the row diagram, is circled in red and also in green. It forms the next note in the melody (m. 2) as well as the first pitch class in its three-note accompaniment, which is F sharp3 - D sharp3 - E2 in the score and is seen as the green-circled G flat3 skipping to E flat3 and then E3 in the row diagram. The process continues in like manner and then partially retrogrades itself. The flashes of mirror symmetry and almost-mirror symmetry are not coincidental, as mirror symmetry plays an important role in many passages in many of Husa’s works. One thinks here of the important influence of Béla Bartók.


Movement V

      The calmer, almost elegiac fifth movement represents an interesting amalgamation of techniques from earlier movements - especially Movements I and II. Following Movements III and IV, in which the full orchestra is unleashed, the final mosaic also uses the entire orchestra, though in a quietly retrospective manner (as evidenced by the descriptive title “retrospective” found in the “crucial overview”). Figure 8 presents the sectional design of Movement V. During section I, the muted violins carry a sustained melody and the harp, xylophone, marimba, and piano contribute brief interjections. The violin melody consists of presentations of row form I2 and its retrograde; its temporal logic is seen in the final line of Example 10: the succession of note values is simply a doubled version of the succession from Movement II with the exception of an eighth rest rather than what should be an eighth note as the penultimate value. The melody in Movement V follows this succession (and its retrograde) quite closely. Given that this melody projects the same row forms and durational proportions as that from Movement II, mm. 26 - 30, it represents a striking return of the earlier melody, especially when following on the heels of a loud, aggressive ending to Movement IV. The marimba interjection in m. 6 bears a striking timbral and pitch class similarity to a passage in the marimba from Movement I, mm. 19 - 20.