This work is, despite the qualification of its title, essentially a sonata-form work. Thus it is one of the very first twelve-tone pieces in this long-established classical tonal form. It shares much of the lightness of tone and lyricism with the Serenade, op 24. However, it has aspects of the form of the Baroque dance suite. It is scored for three woodwind players who among themselves play flute, E-flat clarinet, clarinet, bass clarinet, and bassoon; three strings (violin, viola, and cello); and piano.
The whole work is based on a single twelve-tone row, which begins with the notes E flat and G. These stand for "Schoenberg" and "Gertrude," which was his wife's name. These two notes reappear in various prominent contexts throughout the piece.
The first movement has two themes, a development, a reprise of the themes, and a coda; in other words, all the elements of a classical sonata-allegro form. However, it also has additional episodes in the tempo and mood of the Austrian LŠndler, the country dance that was a precursor of the waltz; these make up over half of the playing time of the movement.
Schoenberg's sketches identified the "Dance Steps" movement as being a fox-trot. The theme is easy to follow, with syncopations in the accompaniment and intriguing coloristic effects.
The third movement is based on a popular song, "€nnchen von Tharau," which is solidly in E major, with pleasant harmonization emphasizing thirds and sixths. Even so, it is used in a method consistent with the twelve-tone row. The variations, however, are more atonal.
The final movement is a Gigue in fugal textures based on the twelve-tone row. However, it has startling appearances of C# Major chords. In general the Suite-Septet is one of Schoenberg's lightest-textured and most attractive pieces.