Tonal Influences and the Reinterpretation of Classical Forms in the Twelve‑Note Works of Nikos Skalkottas



Eva Mantzourani



Norman Lebrecht's entry in The Companion to 20th Century Music neatly encapsulates Nikos Skalkottas's image as 'a pupil of Schoenberg, who returned to Athens with a gospel no‑one wanted to hear, played violin for a pittance and died at 45.[1]  Yet, in the 1920s Skalkottas was a promising young violinist and composer in Berlin, and a student of Schoenberg between 1927 and 1931. It was only after his return to Greece in 1933 that Skalkottas became an anonymous and obscure figure, who worked in complete isolation until his death in 1949.[2] Only recently has his music become more familiar, both in the world of commercial recordings and in academe.[3] Yet this isolation from subsequent developments in serialism resulted in the creation of a highly original twelve‑note compositional style. A distinctive feature of this style is his method of constructing and evolving formal designs, which are generated largely through the amalgamation of his idiomatic twelve‑note technique with his reinterpretation of classical forms. In this paper I will explore Skalkottas's approach to large‑scale formal structure, and particularly sonata form, with examples drawn from the “Ouvertüre” of the First Symphonic Suite (1935) and the Tender Melody for cello and piano (1949). 


As I have discussed elsewhere,[4] Skalkottas's most common compositional technique includes the use of a modified version of the twelve‑note method, the establishment of an analogy between 'tonal regions' and series as a means to delineate form, and the use of a motivic developmental technique, similar to Schoenberg's developing variation,[5] as part of the motivic organization of his compositions. In his dodecaphonic works he does not deal exclusively with a single basic set as the binding element between melody and accompaniment but consistently employs more than one series.  He generally presents them in groups, each consisting of several discrete series, and usually with a different group for each major section of a piece.  This contributes to the definition of the harmonic structure by establishing distinct harmonic regions, which largely delineate the large‑scale form.  Skalkottas conceives these serial groups within a single movement as contrasting 'keys', each theme being associated with a different group. The series are closely connected through numerous common and transpositionally or inversionally related segments, usually trichords and tetrachords.  Skalkottas does not exploit the combinatorial properties of his series, but he uses instead segmental association to connect logically their presentation within a group. Unlike Schoenberg, however, who also relies on segmental association to connect two or more forms of the basic set, Skalkottas uses unordered segments common to two or more different series of the thematic group.  The use of more than one series as the Grundgestalt of a piece both provides variety within the unity of the thematic block,[6] and challenges Skalkottas to move beyond an all‑embracing integration in his compositions. 


Skalkottas's approach towards both serialism and the construction of forms was very much influenced by Schoenberg's tonality‑based teaching of the Berlin period, and his ideas on comprehensibility and coherence.  Unlike Schoenberg, however, who allowed tonal foreground implications back into his later serial compositions, Skalkottas never abandoned tonal forms of construction and the integration of tonal elements in his twelve‑note works.  His formal designs emulate those associated with tonal music, such as sonata, rondo, ternary and theme with variations.  Similar to his teacher's approach to form, which was also influenced by nineteenth‑century attitudes to musical structure, for Skalkottas such forms are not style dependent, but are approached as a set of ideal shapes and proportions which can be realized in any of his chosen styles ‑ tonal, atonal and dodecaphonic, or a mixture of these.[7] Furthermore, his sonata form in particular is continually challenged and frequently combined with some other form to produce a complex synthesis of the two. 


The “Ouvertüre” of the First Symphonic Suite for large orchestra[8]  is an example of Skalkottas's approach to both twelve‑note handling and form.  The piece was composed in 1935, although it was sketched out ‑ the main themes at least ‑ in Berlin in 1929, possibly under the supervision of Schoenberg.  In the case of this particular work we are fortunate that Skalkottas left sketchy programme notes, in both Greek and German, which give some insight into his compositional strategy.  However, it appears that Skalkottas was not sufficiently careful in his writing, since there are several inconsistencies and contradictions between his descriptions and the music itself.  In these hand‑written notes, which remain unedited and unpublished, he claims that the “Ouvertüre” 'is written in sonata form'.  He clearly defines it as a binary structure consisting of two sections, as in Figure 1:



Section A                                  Section B

First theme        Second theme ‑ First theme


Figure 1: Sonata Form Outline of the Ouvertüre in Skalkottas’ Notes


The first section conveys the first theme; the second section “starts with the second theme [¼] is completely contrasting [...] and is found in great musical opposition to the first section [...] with a tendency to move towards the preparation of the first theme,”[9]  it also includes a curtailed repetition of the first theme (section A') and a short coda.  These sections are distinguished from each other by their different twelve‑note serial content, rhythm, instrumentation, articulation and character. However, this formal outline implies either a rounded binary form, which is the precursor to sonata form, or more likely, an Andante form (ABA'), which Schoenberg, in the Fundamentals of Musical Composition, groups with the rondo forms.[10]


Skalkottas writes in the notes that: “The twelve‑note harmony dominates [¼] and is strictly connected with the development of the themes', and that 'the first theme consists of three twelve‑note series.”  However, section A (the “first theme” or more precisely, the “first thematic group”) (bars 1‑61) is constructed from four, closely connected series, used in their prime form only (see Example 1).


In the foreword to his notes Skalkottas asserts that: “Unlike [other] works (especially those of diatonic harmony) harmonic transpositions here are avoided,” thus suggesting that in the Suite harmonic and formal differentiation are not dependent on transpositions of individual twelve‑note series and/or entire sections.  Instead he relies heavily on the abrupt sequential presentation of twelve‑note regions and the manipulation of motivic, rhythmic and textural parameters to create formal structures.  However, in other works (such as the “Presto” of the Octet, the First Suite for piano solo, the Third Concerto for piano and ten wind instruments and the Sonata Concertante for bassoon and piano), Skalkottas does use a transposition technique in which entire consecutive sections are transposed en bloc, predominantly at the fifth (although transpositions to the major and minor third and sixth are also used), thus creating a harmonic movement from a “tonic” region to another 'dominant' one.


As shown in Figure 2, which represents schematically the large‑scale serial and formal structure of the movement, the internal design of section A is complicated. It consists of three subsections aba', resembling a rounded binary form.  Subsection a (bars 1‑43) unfolds the first theme, and is also 'ternary' in design (bars 1‑12, 13‑31, 32‑43).  The theme in its opening appearance is characterized by a striking textural contrast between solo motives and large chords, whose homophonic structure gives a stable and affirmative quality to the opening of the “Ouvertüre,“ particularly the opening chord D‑A‑e‑B flat ‑eb1‑gb1 (see Example 1).  This chord provides one of the most distinctive sounds of the movement, and is used throughout as a harmonic landmark.  It is followed by a distinct motto‑like melody played by the horns, which Skalkottas claims “has the character of a signal”; this is used as an aural sign‑post, and on each reappearance it introduces the three phrases of the theme's ternary form, at bars 1, 13, and 32.






                                                       Example 1: “Ouvertüre,” Opening Gesture of the First Theme and Series

      All the musical examples from the “Ouvertüre” are presented in reduced form to facilitate the reading of the serial structure.



Figure 2 Large-Scale Thematic and Serial Structure of the “Ouvertüre”


The second and third subsections of the first section's ternary form have a developmental character and a highly contrapuntal texture.  Subsection b (bars 44‑53) (see Example 2), described by Skalkottas as 'a purely contrapuntal section of double counterpoint', also has a ternary design.  The canonic entries of the motives and the dovetailing of the phrases maintain momentum and keep the music in a state of flux.  Subsection a' (bars 54‑61) is a brief, modified repetition of the first theme.




Example 2: “Ouvertüre,” Opening Gesture of Subsection b


                       Section B (the 'second theme' or 'second thematic group') (bars 62‑108), having a “calm, dolce, espressivo” character, is built on four, new series, shown in Example 3, thus presenting a new twelve‑note harmonic region. 


As shown in Figure 2, its internal phrase structure also has a rounded binary form outline aba', similar to that of section A, but its developmental character contrasts noticeably with the clarity and stability of section A. In contrast to the first theme the orchestration is essentially soloistic, with large passages written for small instrumental ensembles, and the texture tending to thin out at cadences. Subsection a (bars 62‑84) unfolds the second theme and its varied repetitions.  Subsection b (bars 844‑1001), with its dense texture, agitated rhythms and the stretto‑like entry of the motives, is comparable to a contrasting middle section, while subsection a' (bars 100‑108) provides closure to section B and functions as the ‘retransition' to the recapitulation of the first theme.  As with the motivic and phrase structure of section A, here each of the developmental subsections are introduced with a varied form of the main thematic idea of the second theme.  Section A' (bars 109‑141), introduced following a long tutti pause, is a curtailed recapitulation of section A.  Although the internal phrase structure is maintained, the subsections are noticeably shorter than their equivalents in section A.  The section ends with a short coda (bars 142‑148)  based on long six‑note pp and twelve‑note ppp chords, played by the lower woodwind, brass and strings, which, according to Skalkottas, “emphasize more the end of the ‘Ouvertüre.”



In his notes to the Suite Skalkottas states that: “The frequent repetition of the same harmonic features gives the listener the opportunity to grasp more easily the musical meaning of the work, both harmonic and thematic.” This statement reveals his belief in the importance of repetition as the principal means of achieving coherence and comprehensibility within a movement. In the complex formal outline of the “Ouvertüre” harmonic cohesion is achieved by combining certain twelve‑note series and/or their segments (particularly trichords and tetrachords) to form distinct harmonic units which recur at regular intervals within the sections. This recurrent succession of different serial combinations underpins the formal structure and provides coherent harmonic support to the thematic and motivic development within the movement.


Appendix I presents an overview of the large‑scale formal, thematic and serial organization of the “Ouvertüre.” In section A, a short phrase presenting the opening, antecedent‑like gesture of the main thematic idea, or its varied repetition, is always based on series 1 and 2, as for example in bars 1‑42, shown in Example 1. These series are always presented together, with an E flat minor triad being both the opening and closing gesture of the phrase they support.  This serial combination when used at the closing phrase of a larger section or at cadential points functions as a perfect‑like cadence; in Table I it is symbolized as "a". This is generally followed by another short phrase, in the manner of a consequent or continuation, based on series 3 and 4, as for example in bars 43‑6 of Example 1. When used at cadential points, this serial combination functions as a half‑like cadence; it is symbolized as "b" in Table I. In the middle subsection b of the first theme, passages whose thematic material is based predominately on series 3 are symbolized as "b1", while others based on series 4 are represented as "b2". At developmental passages discrete segments from all four series are juxtaposed in quick succession  or  used simultaneously in different formations; these are represented as "c", "c1", "c2" and "c3" respectively. 


Similarly, in section B the series are largely employed as pairs 5‑6 and 7‑8.  Here, contrary to section A, all four series are used simultaneously within a phrase.  However, at each reappearance of the group a particular serial combination predominates by supporting the main thematic or motivic idea of the passage. The letter "d" represents phrases in which series 5 and 6 predominate or convey the main thematic section, while segments of series 7 and 8 provide the accompaniment. The letter "e" represents phrases in which series 7 and 8 convey the main motivic lines, while 5 and 6 accompany.  As in section A, in developmental passages discrete segments from all four series are juxtaposed, combined and used simultaneously; these are represented as "f". In passages where the variations are so extensive that the motivic ideas related to particular series are unclear, the serial combinations are stated as "f1", and "f2". The six‑note and twelve‑note chords of the coda are shown as "x" and "y" respectively.



Furthermore, Skalkottas uses segmental association to provide coherent relationships and to organize the harmonic structure between successive and simultaneous series in the “Ouvertüre.”  All the series are closely connected through numerous common and transpositionally or inversionally related segments, while a closely‑knit web of relationships exists among them, and underpins the entire motivic and harmonic structure of the movement.  As shown in Example 4, in bars 34‑42 a reordering in the second hexachord of series 2, bringing the trichord B flat ‑eb1‑gb1 (order position 10 12 11) before d flat‑a flat –c flat 1 [b] (9 8 7), and superimposing this segment on G‑c‑f (4 5 6), creates harmonic conditions similar to those of bars 1‑2: the upper woodwind and upper strings play an E flat minor triad; the basses accompany with the trichords G‑c‑f and d flat –a flat –c flat, forming the hexachord set‑class 6‑Z43, the complement to the opening chord, set‑class 6‑Z17, while the E flat minor triad has the double function of being both the opening and cadential chord of the thematic gesture.




Example 3: “Ouvertüre,” Opening Gesture of the Second Theme and Series




Similarly, the tetrachords set‑class 4‑18 and 4‑5, included in the four series, provide a logical continuity in the harmonic‑melodic structure of the opening theme of the movement.  As shown in Example 4, as a segment of series 1, set‑class 4‑18 initiates the opening gesture of bar 1; in bars 3‑4 it is included in the cadential chords of the main thematic idea, based on pitch‑class material from series 2; it appears twice in the closing gesture of the antecedent (bar 6), now a segment of series 3; it also constitutes the opening arpeggiated figure of the consequent, played by the violin in bar 7.  Furthermore, in bar 1 the repetition of the note g1 within the exposition of the thematic idea (e1‑g1‑d1‑g1) generates the tetrachord g1‑c#1‑c2‑b1, set‑class 4‑5; in bars 5‑6 transpositionally equivalent forms of this tetrachord initiate and round off the varied repetition of the thematic motive in the basses, now based on series 4.  Thus, the initial phrase ends with the harmonic material equivalent to that with which it began. 


At the closing phrase of section B, the retransition, Skalkottas employs chords which result from segments that are included in the internal structure of both themes, thus functioning as modulatory elements leading to the recapitulation of the first theme. 


As shown in Example 5, in bar 103 the retransition starts with a gesture which is harmonically supported by the tetrachord D‑A‑e‑g (set‑class 4‑23), played by the basses and cellos, and the chromatic trichord B flat ‑g#1‑a1 (set‑class 3‑1), played by the horns, both segments of series 7. The 4‑23 tetrachord, however, is the same as the first tetrachord of series 2, while the 3‑1 trichord is also included in series 4 of the first theme. In bar 105 the segment F‑B‑a flat ‑c1 (set‑class 4‑18), resulting from the combination of segments from series 5, 7 and 8, is also a segment of series 3. In bars 1064‑1073 the trichord Db‑Gb‑B flat , included in the tetrachord 4‑20 of series 7, is a segment of series 2, while the tetrachord D flat‑G flat‑b flat‑g#[a flat] (set‑class 4‑22) at bar 1071, resulting from the combination of series 6 and 7, is also a segment of series 2. The trichord eb‑B flat ‑f#1(gb1) (set‑class 3‑11), included in the last tetrachord 4‑19 of series 8 is the same as the first trichord of series 1; the latter functions as a link with the recapitulation of section A which starts with the same trichord as part of the arpeggiated E flat‑B flat1‑E flat1‑G flat ‑A motive (set‑class 4‑18), played at a lower registral level by the tuba. 


The inclusion of tonal elements within the twelve‑note texture of the “Ouvertüre,” particularly the E flat minor triad, although inevitably creating tension and conflict within the movement, are not form‑generating events. As mentioned above, the opening chord consists of a superimposition of an E flat minor triad and the tonally ambiguous quartal trichord D‑A‑E. Tension is already established from the opening gesture. Taking into consideration Skalkottas's observation that the piece is in sonata form, it might be expected that one of the two harmonic areas would predominate and that there would be some reconciliation at the end. However, there is no harmonic relaxation or resolution; this is instead provided by the orchestration and the dynamics. As shown in Example 6, throughout the piece these two sonorities are superimposed, juxtaposed and define sectional boundaries within the subsection a of the first thematic area. In subsection b the quartal D‑A‑E chord predominates, while section A (the first subject area) ends with a sharp juxtaposition of the D‑A‑E and E flat‑B flat‑G flat chords. Section B, the second theme, with its contrapuntal texture, developmental character and harmonic disposition in a state of flux, does not have a strong tonal center. The recapitulation starts with the same tonal minor‑quartal sonority and clearly ends with an E flat minor chord at bar 134, the end of the recapitulation, thus asserting the latter's priority as the “tonic” of the piece. Typically, however, Skalkottas undermines this event in the coda which follows, since this is underlined by a sustained pedal of an Eflat minor triad in second inversion,over an E‑natural in the bass. The final six‑ and twelve‑note chord progression is based on a descending linear voice‑leading movement to the final D‑A. Thus the harmonic polarization is unresolved and the harmonic structure of the movement remains open‑ended.




Example 4: “Ouvertüre,” Section A ‑ Harmonic Structure and Pitch‑class Associations of the Opening Phrase




Example 5: “Ouvertüre,” Serial and Harmonic Structure of the Closing Phrase to Section B




Example 6: “Ouvertüre,” Schematic Harmonic Progression



Overall, the harmonic movement within the A sections is generally static, and it is framed by the E flat minor triad in the upper textural stratum and the quartal D‑A‑E trichord in the lower one. Although there is tension within the superimposition and sequential juxtaposition of these trichords, there is a significant lack of meaningful harmonic conflict and polarization, and the creation of large‑scale tension and resolution which is the quintessential structural requirement for the traditional sonata form. The mere juxtaposition of two twelve‑note harmonic regions and, particularly, the lack of recapitulation of the second theme, suggest that Skalkottas's description of this “Ouvertüre” as sonata form is inaccurate, and Andante form more appropriately represents the harmonic and formal procedures applied here.


However, the Tender Melody for cello and piano does produce harmonic conflict and a sense of resolution. Tonal elements  are  incorporated  in the twelve‑note texture, and there is some tonal movement despite the twelve‑note process. Here Skalkottas creates a structural form which not only combines two compositional styles, tonal and serial, but also exemplifies the principles of traditional sonata form. Furthermore, his fascination with the fusion of traditional forms to produce new formal structures is again demonstrated through the integration of three diverse formal prototypes to produce a formal design which amalgamates variation, sonata and cyclical forms. 



Tender Melody is built on the prime forms of two independent twelve‑note series, one continuously played by the cello and the other by the piano, as shown in Example 7. The Eflat minor context is inherent in the internal pitch‑class structure of the cello series (F# E D C# C B G G# A F E flat B flat).  Within the phrase structure, pitch‑classes E flat, B flat, and F#(G flat) are grouped together, frequently punctuating melodic cadences and thus providing a clear orientation towards an E flat minor tonality. The only exception is found in the last presentation of the series in the coda, a point to which I will return below. The piano series is presented as three tetrachords, two transpositionally equivalent (T6) major‑minor tetrachords, set‑class  4‑17 (D#‑F#‑G‑B flat, C#‑E‑A‑C) and a diminished seventh tetrachord, set class 4‑28 (D‑F‑G#‑B). It is worth mentioning that the modal major‑minor tetrachord, set‑class 4‑17, is an important element of Skalkottas's harmonic vocabulary, and is often used to frame harmonic progressions, either at the beginning of a passage or as its concluding destination. This harmonic presentation is unchanged throughout the piece and the minimalist, almost hypnotic repetition of the tetrachords not only articulates but reinforces the tonally imbued harmonic framework; it also leaves the piece open‑ended. When these three tetrachords are heard in succession they move in smooth stepwise voice‑leading and produce a kind of functional harmonic progression, from an E flat major/minor chord to its leading‑note diminished seventh chord; the latter needs resolution to the “tonic” E flat which immediately follows it (see Example 8).


                       However, although the A major‑minor tetrachord, in the context of an E flat tonality, can be perceived as a chromatically altered subdominant chord, it has a tritonal relationship with the E flat and creates tension within the smooth voice‑leading, which partially subverts the implied tonal movement. Furthermore, as shown in Example 8, the tetrachord set‑class 4‑28 can also be interpreted as a diminished seventh on G#, thus functioning both as the leading‑note chord of the A major‑minor chord and as an axis within the harmonic progression. Skalkottas exploits the ambiguity in the interpretation of this diminished seventh chord to distinguish harmonically the first and second subjects.


The piece consists of three simultaneous ostinati: melodic in the cello; harmonic in the piano; and rhythmic, in the form of continuous quaver rhythmic patterns, in the piano accompaniment.  These underpin the entire texture and constitute the principal structural elements for unfolding the form.  The harmonic ostinato consists of fourteen statements of the three tetrachords, which determine the thirteen‑phrase internal structure of the piece.  The opening phrase (bars 1‑3), which outlines the first “theme”, provides all the pitch‑class, harmonic, rhythmic and thematic material, and functions as the Grundgestalt. Each of the following twelve phrases presents either a variation of this opening material, or is a variation within a variation.  These “variations” are grouped together to determine the large‑scale form of the piece, which outlines six sections, and which can be seen as a combination of variation form and sonata movement, shown in Figure 3.


   Tender Melody                                Sonata Movement      Thematic Structure



I                                               Exposition:                   First subject area.  First theme (bars 1‑3) and its varied repetitions.

II                                                                                   Second subject area: Second theme (bars 11‑13).

III                                              Development:               Elaboration of material form the first and second subject areas.

IV                                             Recapitulation:              Recapitulation of the second theme.

V                                              Coda:                          Recapitulation of the first theme.

VI                                                                                 Establishment of E flat minor as the tonic of the piece; final D07 tetrachord.


                         Figure 3: Tender Melody Sections Sonata Movement Thematic Structure


At the opening three bars both melodic and accompanimental pitch‑class material coincide. Thereafter there is a misalignment in the melodic and accompanimental serial structure of the piece. This is resolved in the coda where the cello and piano series are realigned. The first subject area (bars 1‑10) starts with an E flat minor chord and ends on a diminished seventh on D; the latter functions as a dominant needing resolution to the “tonic” E flat. The second subject area (bars 11‑18) is introduced with a new lyrical theme, a new texture in the accompaniment, and a different harmonic distribution of the pitch‑class content of the chords, suggesting a new harmonic environment (see Example 9).       




Example 7:  Tender Melody for ‘Cello and Piano, Opening Gesture of the First Theme and Series





Example 8:  Tender Melody for ‘Cello and Piano, Harmonic Progression




Example 9: Tender Melody, Opening Gesture of Second Theme



The cello line starts with a prolonged C# which has a fifth, dominant/tonic‑like relationship with the opening F# of the first theme.The textual disposition of the accompaniment now presents the third tetrachord of the progression as a G# diminished seventh chord, thus shifting the tonal predominance from the E flat major‑minor chord to the A major‑minor chord. 


Bars 19‑36 outline the development section, with bars 31‑36 functioning as the retransition, which, not only initiates a new rhythmic, quasi modulatory pattern in the piano accompaniment, but also in traditional sonata-form fashion, starts and closes with the diminished seventh chord on D, thus functioning as a dominant preparation and resolving onto the E flat major‑minor tonic in the recapitulation (see Example 10). 


In traditional sonata form the function of the recapitulation is to resolve the underlying polarity and harmonic tension established in the exposition, and to create a sense of reconciliation and closure.  In the exposition of Tender Melody there is inherent tension in the modal structure of the “tonic” E flat major‑minor chord, and an expectation for its resolution. There is also harmonic/tonal opposition between the first and second subject areas, due to the harmonic shift of emphasis from an E flat major‑minor to an A major‑minor tonal center. As is typical of Skalkottas's sonata-form structures, the recapitulation (bars 37‑52) is introduced by the second theme ‑ a typical example of inverted recapitulation; but harmonic reconciliation is evaded at this point.  Although the melodic goal to E flat is reached at bar 40, with a melodic cadence that outlines an E flat minor arpeggio, this is supported harmonically by the A major/minor chord, reinforced throughout this passage by the presence of the G# diminished seventh tetrachord.  Furthermore, the serial misalignment between the melodic and accompanimental pitch‑class content continues throughout the recapitulation, thus carrying over and intensifying further the harmonic tension. 


As shown in Example 11, the first theme, based on a prolonged double pedal Eb‑B FLAT , is recapitulated at the beginning of the coda (bar 49).  At this point the modal ambiguity resolves with the unequivocal presentation, twice, of an E flat minor triad (the accented G‑naturals in the piano right hand on the strong beats of bars 50‑51 clearly function as appoggiaturas to F#[G flat], thus further reinforcing the predominance of the E flat minor color).  But the piece does not end at that point; it ends with the initial succession of the three tetrachords, and the leading‑note, diminished seventh on note D as the final chord of the piece.  Similarly the final gesture of the cello melody defies structural tonal expectations and outlines the melodic interval e flat1‑b flat1, heard as an open‑ended, tonic‑dominant (I‑V) half cadence. Thus, in the coda there is further tension and openness instead of unequivocal closure Skalkottas (as in Stravinsky's coda of the first movement of his Symphony in C, and Bartók's piano sonata) challenges the sonata form he employs.  The piece starts with a stable, albeit tonally ambiguous chord, moves to a point of rest and resolution at the beginning of the coda but returns to the unstable diminished seventh chord at its final gesture. Furthermore, the cyclical, reiterative nature of the harmonic progression throughout the piece, with the opening of each phrase resolving the previous one and ending itself unresolved, undermines the sonata principle and renders the form of Tender Melody circular; there is the impression that the piece could continue indefinitely. Skalkottas's particular approach to the harmonic structure, which inevitably affects the large‑scale form of the piece, is reminiscent of, and perhaps influenced by Romantic attitudes towards ambiguity and open‑endedness as legitimate formal principles.[11] Or perhaps the creation of this open‑ended circular form through the manipulation of the harmony was an attempt on Skalkottas's part to mirror the circular repeatability of the twelve‑note series and serial groups.






Example 10: Tender Melody, Retransition Recapitulation





Example 11: Tender Melody, Recapitulation of first theme and Coda



Paradox and ambiguity become a structural motive of Tender Melody. Skalkottas challenges and manipulates the closed unified structure of the sonata form and its traditional tendency towards unity, by both using cyclical reiterative harmonic progression and by deferring reconciliation until the coda, and then denying it at its final gesture. Paradoxically, however, the unstable diminished seventh chord can be perceived as the only possible close for this piece. Stylistically, although this is a serial work, it is an exemplar of tonal serialism, and the manifestation of tonal relationships enables us to experience harmonic conflict and resolution within a twelve‑note context, but not final closure. 


To conclude, although there is no record of Skalkottas's views on form, his few surviving analytical notes and the evidence of his own compositional practice show that he appropriates traditional concepts of musical construction and adapts classical formal prototypes to a dodecaphonic context by exploring the possibilities provided by the integration of different forms and compositional styles. Skalkottas's amalgamation of his idiomatic twelve‑note technique with his reinterpretation of traditional forms and stylistic corruption, and the merging of two styles (tonality and serialism) leads to new and interesting musical structures, while simultaneously revealing a compositional disjunction between these traditional forms and the new harmonic language he was creating.  And it is the idiomatic way that Skalkottas deals with these fundamental compositional issues, and his attempts to fuse tonal elements of construction with serialism, that ensure his own particular identity, and his unique contribution to serial composition. 




Table 1: “Ouvertüre” from the First Symphonic Suite for Large Orchestra:

Schematic Representation of the Large‑Scale Formal, Thematic and Serial Structure of the Piece









Bar Nos.


Phrase structure


Thematic structure


Serial combinations




a (1-43)




First phrase of the theme's ternary form.

(Antecedent [1-6]).


Motto-like thematic idea in the horns, based on series 1 (antecedent).












Varied repetition of the thematic idea in the basses, based on series 4 (consequent).










(Consequent [7-12]).


Varied repetition of the theme in the first violins, based on series 1.












Continuation.  Motivic idea based on series 4, similar to bars 43-6.












Closing passage; 'perfect' cadence to the first phrase of the theme's ternary form.










Second phrase of the theme's ternary form.


Motto-like thematic idea in the horns, based on series 1.












Continuation with predominant motivic idea based on series 3.












Developmental passage introducing new motivic ideas in two- part counterpoint.












Continuation of developmental passage.
























Closing passage to the second phrase of the theme's ternary form.












'Half' cadence to the phrase with liquidation of motivic and textural material.










Third phrase of the theme's ternary form.


Motto-like thematic ideas in the horns, based on series 1.












Continuation with liquidation of motivic and textural material.


a [b]










Introduction of the 'rhythmic episode'.












Rhythmic episode which functions as 'half' cadence to the theme's ternary form.












Last appearance of modified thematic idea in the basses, based on series 1.  Closing gesture to the theme’s ternary form.






b (44-53)




'Contrapuntal section of double counterpoint'.  Contrasting middle section.


Motivic idea, based on series 3,  played contrapuntally by flute-oboes and upper strings.












'Answer' to the previous motivic idea, based on series 4.












Developmental continuation, leading to the reappearance of the main thematic idea.






a' (54-61)




Modified reappearance of the main theme. Closing phrase of section A.


Motto-like thematic idea in the flutes, oboes, and violas.












Continuation with predominant motivic idea based on series 4, similar to bars 9-11.












Closing gesture to section A.






a (62-84)




First phrase of subsection a.


Thematic idea, in two-part counterpoint, based on series 5 and 6.  Series 7 and 8 accompany.


d [e]










Varied repetition of the thematic idea.


d [e]








Second, contrasting phrase of subsection a.


Introduction of new motives; predominant ones based on series 5 and 7.


e [d]








Third phrase of subsection a.


Modified appearance of the thematic ideas.


d [e]










Developmental continuation, introducing new motives.












Closing passage to subsection a, introducing textural changes.


d [e]




b (844-1001)




Contrasting, middle section.


Developmental passage, rhythmically active.


d [e]












e [d]














































Fugato cadence to subsection b.


d [e]




a' (100-108)




Modified repetition of the section's thematic material.


Thematic ideas in oboe-clarinet (series 6) and trumpets (series 5).


d [e]










Cadential passage to section B with motivic and textural liquidation, which also functions as transition to section A'.


d [e]




a (109-1293)




Modified and shortened recapitulation of the main thematic material.


Motto-like thematic idea in the tuba, based on series 1.












Slow formation of the hallmark harmony (set-class 6-Z17).












Chordal interlude.












Repetition of thematic idea based on series 4 (similar to bars 43-6).












Modified reappearance of thematic/motivic material of bars 7-9.












Repetition of material from bars 94-12.












Cadence similar to that of bars 374-38.












'Half' cadence similar to that of bars 39-41.






b (1293-134)




Contrasting middle section.


Motivic idea in the upper strings, based on series 3; more clearly articulated than in the equivalent passage of section A.












Motivic idea in the flutes, based on series 4.






a' (135-148)




Last repetition of the main thematic material.


Motto-like thematic idea played solo by the first violins.


a (series 1)










Continuation played by the first violins and violas.


b (series 3)










'Perfect' cadence to subsection a'.












Six-note chords.












Twelve-note chords.








































1  Norman Lebrecht, The Companion to 20th Century Music (London: Simon and Schuster Ltd, 1992), 327.

2 For more details on the composer’s life, see E. Mantzourani, ‘A Biographical Study’ in Nikos Skalkottas: A Biographical Study and an Investigation of his Twelve-Note Compositional Processes (PhD dissertation, King’s College, University of London, 1999).  See also, Mantzourani, ‘Nikos Skalkottas: Sets and Styles in the Octet’, Musical Times, vol.145/1888 (Autumn, 2004), 73-86.

3 A representative but by no means extensive sample of recent recordings of Skalkottas’s music would include the following: 1) Piano Works - BIS-CD-1133/1134; 2) 16 Melodies – Piano Music - BIS-CD1464; 3) String Quartets No.3 and No.4  (New Hellenic Quartet) - BIS-CD-1074; 4) Chamber Music  (New Hellenic Quartet) - BIS-CD-1124; 5) Music for Violin and Piano - BIS-CD-1024; 6) Duos with violin - BIS-CD-1204; 7) Cello Works and Piano Trios - BIS-CD-1224; 8) Concerto for Two Violins - Works for Wind Instruments and Piano - BIS-CD-1244; 9) Piano Concerto No.2 (BBC Symphony Orchestra, Christodoulou) - BIS-SACD-1484; 10) Piano Concerto No.3 - The Gnomes (Caput Ensemble, Christodoulou) - BIS-SACD-1484; 11) Orchestral works: The Maiden and Death (ballet suite), Piano Concerto No.1, Ouvertüre Concertante (Iceland Symphony Orchestra, Christodoulou) – BIS-CD-1014; 12) Orchestral works: Mayday SpellA Fairy Drama (Symphonic Suite), Double Bass Concerto, Three Greek Dances for strings (Iceland Symphony Orchestra, Christodoulou) - BIS-CD-954; 13) Orchestral works: Violin Concerto, Largo Sinfonico, 7 Greek Dances for strings (Malmö Symphony Orchestra, Christodoulou) - BIS-CD-904; 14) Orchestral Works: 36 Greek Dances (Series I, II, III), Overture for Orchestra ‘The Return of Ulysses,’ Alternative versions of Dances (II/8; II/9; III/6) (BBC Symphony Orchestra, Christodoulou) - BIS-CD-1333/1334.

            4 See Mantzourani, Ibid.; also, ‘The Disciple’s Tale: The Reception and Assimilation of  Schoenberg’s

 Teachings on Grundgestalt, Coherence and Comprehensibility by his pupil the composer Nikos Skalkottas’, Journal of the Arnold Schoenberg Center, vol.3 (2001), 227-238.

5   During his career Schoenberg’s various definitions of ‘developing variation’ (and its related terms, theme, motive and Grundgestalt) were subject to changes of emphasis and nuance.  His essential interpretation, however, as given in his unfinished theoretical treatise, Zusammenhang, Kontrapunkt, Instrumentation, Formenlehre, remained constant, and defined developing variation as ‘the method of varying a motive’, according to which ‘the changes proceed more or less directly toward the goal of allowing new ideas to arise’ (38-39).  For Schoenberg developing variation was predominantly a motivic process through which a theme was constructed by the continuous modification of intervallic and/or rhythmic components of an initial idea; later or contrasting events in a piece, what he calls in his 1950 essay on Bach in Style and Idea ‘thematic formulations’, could be understood to be generated from a ‘basic unit’ (397), that is, from changes that were made in the repetitions of earlier musical  thematic elements.  (There are several important studies dealing with Schoenberg’s ideas of developing variation.  These include Walter Frisch, Brahms and the Principle of Developing Variation; David Epstein, Beyond Orpheus (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987); Carl Dahlhaus, ‘What is “developing variation”?’, in Schoenberg and the New Music, (trans) Derrick Puffet and Alfred Clayton (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 128-133; and Ethan Haimo, ‘Developing Variation and Schoenberg’s Serial Music’, in Music Analysis, 16/iii (1997), 349-365.  Schoenberg’s own valuable thoughts on motive and developing variation can be found in Fundamentals of Musical Composition, (eds) Gerald Strang and Leonard Stein (London: Faber and Faber, 1990); in several essays in Style and Idea, (ed.) Leonard Stein, (trans.) Leo Black (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984); in the Gedanke manuscript (see Alexander Goehr, ‘Schoenberg’s Gedanke Manuscript’ in Journal of Arnold Schoenberg Institute, 2/1 (1977), pp.4-25); in Zusammenhang, Kontrapunkt, Instrumentation, Formenlehre (ZKIF), (ed.) Severine Neff, (trans) Charlotte M. Cross and Severine Neff (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1994); and in The Musical Idea and the Logic, Technique and the Art of its Presentation, (eds and trans) Patricia Carpenter and Severine Neff (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995)).  Although Schoenberg’s frequent references to developing variation are found in essays written after his time in Berlin, there seems little doubt that Skalkottas would have been aware of his teacher’s thoughts on motive, development, comprehensibility and coherence, and that developing variation was an essential technique for both the classical composers and Schoenberg himself.  His approach, however, is not identical to Schoenberg’s, since the latter regarded developing variation as a process evolving primarily within a given melodic line (although Frisch has shown that the accompaniment was occasionally involved in the process; see, Brahms and the Principle of Developing Variation, 17).  By contrast, Skalkottas does not deal exclusively with one melody, or one basic motive from which other motive-forms are derived and subsequently developed.  Instead, he derives all the elements for his development from both the linear and vertical dimensions of the thematic block.  Each of the melodic lines is developed individually during the course of a movement, acquiring thematic status at some point, and becoming a source of new motivic material.  His developmental motivic process, therefore, inevitably does not apply exclusively to a principal melodic line, but it does involve the interaction between lines.