Schoenberg, Arnold

views updated

Schoenberg, Arnold [ Arnold Schönberg] (b Vienna, 1874; d Los Angeles, 1951). Austrian-born composer, conductor, and teacher (Amer. cit. 1941). One of most influential figures in history of mus. Learned vn. and vc. as boy. Mainly self-taught in theory, but had lessons in counterpoint from Zemlinsky, 1894. Began composing when youth; str. qt. and songs perf. 1897. Earned living scoring other composers' operettas and in 1901 became cond. of Wolzogen's Überbrettl (satirical cabaret; Wolzogen was librettist of R. Strauss's Feuersnot). In 1899 comp. Verklärte Nacht and in 1900 began work on Gurrelieder, both being in romantic post-Wagnerian style. On strength of Part I of Gurrelieder, obtained teaching post and scholarship at Stern Cons., Berlin, on recommendation of Strauss. While there comp. tone-poem Pelleas und Melisande. Returned to Vienna in 1903. At rehearsal of his chamber mus. by Rosé Qt., met Mahler. Among his students at this time were men who became lifelong disciples— Webern, Berg, Wellesz, Erwin Stein. In Schoenberg's comps. of 1903–7, chromatic harmony was explored to its limits and tonal structures became ever more elusive until, in 1909, he arrived at atonality with the 3 Pieces for pf., Op.11, and the song-cycle Das Buch der hängenden Gärten. Perfs. of these works met with vehement hostility, and with equally vehement acclaim from his supporters. In 1911 he pubd. his masterly book Harmonielehre. At this time, also painted in striking ‘expressionist’ style. In 1912 comp. Pierrot Lunaire for actress Albertine Zehme, a work for reciter (in Sprechstimme) and chamber ens. Its Vienna perf. was the occasion of further hostility, but the f.p. there of the early-style Gurrelieder was a success. The 5 Orchestral Pieces were first played complete in London, 1912. In 1918 founded in Vienna a Soc. for Private Mus. Perfs. from which critics were excluded, no programme was announced in advance, and applause was forbidden. Wrote little between 1913 and 1921, and when next completed works appeared in 1923—the 5 Piano Pieces, Op.23 and the Serenade, Op.24—they introduced to the world the ‘method of comp. with 12 notes’, which was Schoenberg's technique for organizing atonal mus. Suite for pf., Op.25, was first work wholly in 12-note method. Side-by-side with this revolutionary procedure, Schoenberg also returned to a strict use of traditional forms. In 1925 was invited to Berlin to teach comp. at the Prussian Acad. of Arts, remaining until 1933 when dismissed by Nazis and left Ger. Reconverted to Judaism in Paris in 1933, and emigrated to USA. Settled in Los Angeles and taught at Univ. of Calif. 1936–44. At this time announced his preference for spelling of his name Schoenberg instead of Schönberg. In the next 18 years comp. inconsistently in 12-note or tonal styles, dismaying his followers but not himself, for he said that all composers had varied their styles to suit their creative needs and purposes. Also rev. earlier works, wrote several religious pieces, and returned to two major undertakings he had abandoned in Europe, the oratorio Die Jakobsleiter, which remained unfinished, and the opera Moses und Aron, of which only two of the 3 acts were completed and which, when prod. after his death, was revealed as a deeply moving experience, although he wrote only a few bars for Act 3 in 1951.

Schoenberg's mus., full of melodic and lyrical interest, is also extremely complex, taking every element (rhythm, texture, form) to its furthest limit and making heavy demands on the listener. But more and more listeners find the effort worth making. His greatness lies not only in his own mus. but in his artistic courage and in his powerful and continuing influence on 20th-cent. mus. He is likely to remain always a controversial, revered, and revolutionary musician. He was also a talented painter. Prin. works:STAGE: Erwartung, Op.17, monodrama (1909); Die glückliche Hand, Op.18, drama with mus. (1910–13); Von Heute auf Morgen, Op.32, opera (1928–9); Moses und Aron (1930–2, 1951).ORCH.: Frühlingstod, incomplete sym.-poem (1899, f.p. Berlin 1983); Verklärte Nacht, Op.4 (orig. str. sextet 1899, arr. for str. orch. 1917, rev. 1943); Pelleas und Melisande, Op.5 (1902–3); Kammersymphonie (Chamber Symphony) No.1, Op.9, 15 solo instr. (1906, arr. for orch. 1922; new version Op.9b, 1935; arr. by Webern for 5 instr. 1922); 5 Orchestral Pieces (fünf Orchesterstücke), Op.16 (1909, rev. 1922 and 1949; arr. for 2 pf. by Webern); 3 Little Pieces, chamber orch. (1910); Variations, Op.31 (1926–8); Accompaniment to a Film Scene (Begleitungsmusik zu einer Lichtspielszene) Op.34 (1929–30); vc. conc. (after conc. for clavicembalo by Monn) (1932–3); conc. for str. qt. and orch. (after Handel's Concerto Grosso Op.6 No.7) (1933); Suite, str. (1934); vn. conc., Op.36 (1934–6); Second Chamber Symphony, Op.38a (1906–16, 1939); pf. conc., Op.42 (1942); Theme and Variations, Op.43a, band (1943), Op.43b for orch. (1943).VOICE(S) & INSTR(S).: Gurrelieder, 5 soloists, narrator, ch., orch. (1900–3, 1910–11); Lied der Waldtaube (Song of the Wood Dove) from Gurrelieder, mez., chamber orch. (1922); 6 Songs with Orchestra, Op.8 (1903–4, also with pf.); Herzgewächse, Op.20, high sop., cel., harmonium, hp. 1911); Pierrot Lunaire, Op.21, spkr., chamber ens. (1912); 4 Songs, Op.22, v., orch. (1913–16); Die Jakobsleiter, oratorio (unfinished), 6 soloists, speaking ch., ch., orch. (1917–22, scoring completed by W. Zillig); Kol Nidre, Op.39, rabbi, ch., orch. (1938); Ode to Napoleon Buonaparte, Op.41, str. qt., pf., reciter (1942), Op.41b for str. orch., pf., reciter (1944); Genesis Prelude, Op.44, ch., orch. (1945); A Survivor from Warsaw, Op.46, narr., male ch., orch. (1947); Moderne Psalmen, Op.50c, mixed ch., spkr., orch. (1950).UNACC. CHORUS: Friede auf Erden (Peace on Earth), Op.13 (1907); 4 Pieces, Op.27 (No.4 with acc. of mandoline, cl., vn., vc.) (1925); 3 Satires, Op.28 (No.3, Der neue Klassizismus (The new classicism) with va., vc., pf.) (1925); 3 German Folk-Songs (1928); 6 Pieces, Op.35, male ch. (1929–30); Birthday Canons, 3 vv. (1943); 3 Folk-Songs, Op.49 (1948); Dreimal tausend Jahre, Op.50a (1949); De Profundis, Op.50b (1950). Also many other canons, 1905–49.CHAMBER MUSIC: str. qt. in D (1897); str. qt. No.1 in D minor, Op.7 (1905), No.2 in F♯ minor, with sop. v. in 3rd and 4th movts., text by S. George (1907–8), No.3, Op.30 (1927), No.4, Op.37 (1936); Verklärte Nacht, Op.4, str. sextet (1899; str. orch. version 1917); Serenade, Op.24, cl., bass cl., mandoline, guitar, vn., va., vc., and bar. in 4th of 7 movts. (1920–3); Weihnachtsmusik (Christmas Music), 2 vn., vc., harmonium, pf. (1921); wind quintet, Op.26 (1923–4); Suite (septet), Op.29, pf., picc., cl. (or fl.), bass cl. (or bn.), vn., va., vc. (1924–6); str. trio, Op.45 (1946); Phantasy, Op.47, vn.,pf. (1949).PIANO: 3 Pieces, Op.11 (1909, rev. 1924; No.2 orch. Busoni 1909); 6 Little Pieces, Op.19 (1911); 5 Pieces, Op.23 (1920–3); Suite, Op.25 (1921); 2 Piano Pieces, Op.33a (1928), Op.33b (1931).ORGAN: Variations on a Recitative, Op.40 (1941).SONGS WITH PIANO: 2 Songs, Op.1 (1897); 4 Songs, Op.2 (1899); 6 Songs, Op.3 (1899–1903); Cabaret Songs (1901); 8 Songs, Op.6 (1903–5); 2 Ballads, Op.12 (1907); 2 Songs, Op.14 (1907–8); 2 Songs (1909, pubd. 1966); Das Buch der hängenden Gärten, Op.15, 15 songs for sop. (1908–9); German Folk-Songs (1930); 3 Songs, Op.48 (1933).ARRS. OF OTHER COMPOSERS: Bach: 2 Chorale-Preludes arr. for large orch. (1922) (1. Komm, Gott, Schöpfer, Heiliger Geist; 2. Schmücke dich, O liebe Seele); Prelude and Fugue in E♭ (org.) arr. for large orch. (1928). Brahms: Pf. Qt. No.1 in G minor, Op.25, arr. for orch. (1937). Loewe: Der Nöck, ballad, arr. for orch. (?1910). J. Strauss II: Kaiserwalzer (Emperor Waltz), arr. for fl., cl., str. qt., pf. (1925).BOOKS: Harmonielehre (Treatise on harmony) (Vienna 1911, 2nd edn. 1922, abridged Eng. trans. by D. Adams, NY 1948; complete Eng. trans. by R. E. Carter 1978); Style and Idea (NY 1950, enlarged edn. London 1972); Structural Functions of Harmony (NY 1954).

See also atonal; serialism; Klangfarbenmelodie.

Arnold Schoenberg

views updated

Arnold Schoenberg

Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951) was an Austrian composer whose discovery of the "method of composition with twelve tones" radically transformed 20th-century music.

The early music of Arnold Schoenberg represents the culmination of romantic musical ideals. His gigantic cantata Gurre-Lieder is, together with Gustav Mahler's Eighth Symphony, one of the last great works in the monumental style. It seemed impossible for music to develop any further in this direction. Thus, Schoenberg became one of the first 20th-century composers to write for small, specialized chamber ensembles. He transcended traditional tonal limitations and began to write "atonal" or "pantonal" music without a key center. This new style offered much freedom, but there was need of a system to control the new harmonic material thus made available.

After a period of experimentation, Schoenberg developed such a system: the method of composition with twelve tones. So far-reaching were the results of this discovery that Schoenberg's theories became, for a time, more famous than his compositions. However, since his death, his music has received more of the recognition that it deserves. Most important musical developments of the second half of the 20th century owe their impetus directly or indirectly to him.

Schoenberg was born in Vienna on Sept. 13, 1874. His interest in music began early. When he was eight years old, he started to learn the violin, and he soon began composing violin duets. His parents were not musicians—his father, Samuel, owned a shoe store—but they enjoyed music and were sympathetic to his musical development.

Early Works

In the amateur orchestra Polyhymnia, Schoenberg met Alexander von Zemlinsky. They became close friends, and Zemlinsky began to give Schoenberg instruction in composition, the only formal teaching of this sort that he ever had. The String Quartet in D Major (1897, published 1966) is a good example of the immediate results. This was Schoenberg's first work to be played publicly in Vienna. As its Brahmsian style was quite accessible to the conservative taste of the audience, it was well received.

Quite different is Schoenberg's Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night), a string sextet inspired by Richard Dehmel's poem of the same name. While the orchestral tone poem, or symphonic poem (a composition telling a story in music), was common in the 19th century, Schoenberg's work represents the first attempt to transfer this form to chamber music. It was written in the summer of 1899. Zemlinsky tried to have it performed that fall, but its Wagnerian style was rejected by the conservative program committee of the Tonkünstlerverein. It was finally premiered in 1903. At that time it was still considered controversial, and audience reaction was hostile. Since then it has become one of Schoenberg's most popular works, especially in its versions for string orchestra.

From 1901 to 1903 Schoenberg lived in Berlin, where he conducted at the Ü berbrettl cabaret and later taught composition at the Stern Conservatory. He became friendly with Richard Strauss, who suggested Maurice Maeterlinck's Pelléaset Mélisande to him as a good subject for an opera. Without knowing of Claude Debussy's opera based on this play, Schoenberg began to write a symphonic poem on the same subject; he completed it in 1902. It is his only orchestral tone poem in the tradition of Franz Liszt and Richard Strauss.

Development of Atonality

Back in Vienna, Schoenberg began to teach privately. He attracted talented pupils: Alban Berg and Anton Webern came to him at this time. A stylistic change was beginning to occur in Schoenberg's work. Tonality, which had been more and more freely treated in such pieces as his Second String Quartet, was finally abandoned. The date of completion of the piano piece Opus 11, no. 1 (Feb. 19, 1909), is an important one in the history of music, for this is the first composition to dispense completely with traditional tonality. In this new style any chord combination can be freely used, and there is no differentiation in the treatment of consonances and dissonances.

Writing about his new music in connection with a concert on Jan. 14, 1910, at which the piano pieces Opus 11 were premiered, Schoenberg said: "I have succeeded for the first time in approaching an ideal of expression and form that had hovered before me for some years. Hitherto I had not sufficient strength and sureness to realize that ideal. Now, however, that I have definitely started on my journey, I may confess to having broken the bonds of a bygone esthetic; and if I am striving toward a goal that seems to me to be certain, nevertheless I already feel the opposition that I shall have to overcome. I feel also with what heat even those of the feeblest temperament will reject my works, and I suspect that even those who have hitherto believed in me will not be willing to perceive the necessity of this new development."

Twelve-tone System

Schoenberg was right in his fears that he would be misunderstood. Even more misunderstood was his next stylistic change, which was gradually being prepared between 1916 and 1920. During those years he completed no major compositions; instead, he worked toward a solution of the structural problems of nontonal music. One day in July 1921 Schoenberg told his pupil Josef Rufer, "Today I have discovered something which will assure the supremacy of German music for the next hundred years." It was the method of composition with twelve tones. The Prelude of Schoenberg's Piano Suite, Opus 25 (completed July 29, 1921), is probably the first twelve-tone composition.

In the twelve-tone method each composition is based on a row, or series, using all twelve notes of the chromatic scale in an order chosen by the composer. Besides being presented in its original form, the row may be inverted, played backward, played backward in inversion, or transposed to any scale step. All harmonies and melodies in a composition are derived from its special row; thus, unity is assured. While some critics feared that music written in this way might become mechanical and inexpressive, Schoenberg continued to write highly personal and expressive compositions, using the expanded resources made available by the new method. From time to time he would return to traditional tonality in one or more works. However, it really made no difference to him whether his compositions were tonal, atonal, or twelve-tonal. As he said once, "I like them all, because I liked them when I wrote them."

In the 1920s Schoenberg seemed to have reached a peak in his career. His appointment as director of a composition class at the Prussian Academy of Arts, Berlin, took effect in 1926. Four years later he began his great biblical opera, Moses und Aron. (He never finished this work, but in its incomplete, two-act form it became, after his death, one of his greatest popular successes.) Under normal circumstances he might well have spent the rest of his life in Berlin. However, when the Nazis assumed power in Germany, Schoenberg's Jewish heritage made him unwelcome. In September 1933 he was dismissed from the academy. The next month he sailed for America.

American Works

Schoenberg's first American teaching post was at the Malkin Conservatory in Boston (1933-1934). His health suffered from the climate, and he decided to move to Los Angeles. There, he taught first at the University of Southern California and then at the University of California, until age forced his retirement in 1944. He wrote some of his finest instrumental music in California: the Fourth String Quartet (1936), the Violin Concerto (1934-1936), the Piano Concerto (1942), and the String Trio (1946).

After his retirement, Schoenberg had hoped to find time to complete Moses und Aron and the oratorio Die Jakobsleiter (Jacob's Ladder), which he had begun in 1917. However, his poor health and the necessity of earning a living by private teaching made this impossible. During the last year of his life, he wrote a series of texts called Modern Psalms, which he described as "conversations with and about God." He was still able to compose part of the first psalm; the last words he set to music are "und trotzdem bete ich" (and yet I pray). On July 13, 1951, he died in Los Angeles.

Further Reading

A representative collection of Schoenberg's correspondence is in Letters, edited by Erwin Stein (trans. 1964). Of Schoenberg's other writings, the collection of essays Style and Idea, edited by Dika Newlin (trans. 1950), has the greatest general interest. A useful preliminary biography, though not a definitive study, is H. H. Stuckenschmidt, Arnold Schoenberg (trans. 1959). Harold C. Schonberg, The Lives of the Great Composers (1968), briefly discusses Schoenberg. Dika Newlin, Bruckner-Mahler-Schoenberg (1947; rev. ed. in preparation), presents Schoenberg's work as the culmination of a historical development that can be traced back to the 18th-century classical Viennese School. René Leibowitz, Schoenberg and His School (trans. 1949), takes a similar viewpoint but carries the line of development to Berg and Webern. A helpful general discussion of twelve-tone music is George Perle, Serial Composition and Atonality: An Introduction to the Music of Schoenberg, Berg and Webern (1962; 2d rev. ed. 1968). K. H. Wörner, Schoenberg's Moses and Aaron (trans. 1963), offers a detailed musical and textual analysis of what is probably Schoenberg's most important work.

Additional Sources

MacDonald, Malcolm, Schoenberg, London: Dent, 1976.

Neighbour, O. W. (Oliver Wray), The New Grove Second Viennese School: Schoenberg, Webern, Berg, New York: Norton, 1983.

Newlin, Dika, Schoenberg remembered: diaries and recollections, (1938-76), New York: Pendragon Press, 1980.

Reich, Willi, Schoenberg: a critical biography, New York: DaCapo Press, 1981.

Rosen, Charles, Arnold Schoenberg, Chicago, Ill: University of Chicago Press, 1996.

Schoenberg, Arnold, Arnold Schoenberg, Wassily Kandinsky: letters, pictures, and documents, London; Boston: Faber & Faber, 1984.

Small, Christopher, Schoenberg, Borough Green, Kent: Novello, 1977.

Stuckenschmidt, Hans Heinz, Arnold Schoenberg, Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1979, 1959. □

Schoenberg, Arnold

views updated


SCHOENBERG, ARNOLD (1874–1951), Austrian composer.

Arnold Schoenberg was one of the greatest composers, theorists, and teachers of the twentieth century. Even had he not survived World War I—and thus without regard for his major innovation of the twelve-tone method, which he unveiled in 1923—his musical achievements up to 1914 alone would have caused him to be numbered among the most significant composers. But he is also one of the most controversial, and from very early in his career to the early twenty-first century, performances of his works have been met with incomprehension and even riot. The so-called Skandalkonzert of 1913 ended in brawls that involved the police and subsequent legal proceedings. Such opposition was frequently highlighted by Schoenberg as well as by his later champions, such as the philosopher Theodor Adorno (1903–1969), who made Schoenberg's isolation and difficulty an article of faith. But there is an increasing awareness that Schoenberg had a much more complex and ambivalent stance toward the public and popularity, evident in the considerable number of successful performances he had, as well as in the continuing attraction of his music to those willing to listen through, and to, its difficulties.

Born in 1874 into a Viennese Jewish family of modest means, Schoenberg's formal education ended at age sixteen when he began working in a bank following his father's death. He started composing when he was eight and taught himself violin and cello. His musical education was limited to informal studies with Alexander von Zemlinsky (1872–1942), who also introduced Schoenberg to the circle around Gustav Mahler (1860–1911). In 1895 Schoenberg left the bank and survived by orchestrating operettas and by composing and conducting for several workers' choruses.

An early String Quartet in D Major (1897), which showed the influence of Johannes Brahms (1833–1897) and Antonin Dvorak (1841–1904), marked his first major public performance. The following year, as with many Viennese Jews who sought a musical career, he converted, though atypically becoming a Lutheran. He did not reconvert to Judaism until 1933. In a number of songs as well as with the programmatic string sextet Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured night, composed 1899), he was inspired by the naturalistic poetry of Richard Dehmel (1863–1925), to whom he wrote, "from you we learned the ability to listen to our inner selves." He began work on the massive Wagnerian choral cantata Gurrelieder in 1900, though it was not completed until 1911. Zemlinsky's sister Mathilde became Schoenberg's first wife in 1901 (they had two children by 1906). The same year saw his first move to Berlin, where he taught theory and conducted at Ernst Ludwig von Wolzogen's "Buntes Theater," for which he wrote his Brettl-Lieder cabaret songs. He returned to Vienna in 1903.

Although Schoenberg had hundreds of students, his two most important were Anton von Webern (1883–1945) and Alban Berg (1885–1935), who both started lessons in 1904. The three composers were later known as the Second Viennese School, in reference to the earlier Viennese School of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791), Franz Joseph Haydn (1732–1809), and Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827), and thus emphasizing their claim to represent the musical mainstream. Also in 1904 Schoenberg undertook with Zemlinsky the first of many initiatives to further the performance of modern music with his Society of Creative Musicians. The major compositions of these years were extended single-movement forms modeled on the tone poems of Franz Liszt (1811–1886) and Richard Strauss (1864–1949), including Pelleas und Melisande, op. 5 (1903) based on drama by Maurice Maeterlinck (1862–1949); the First String Quartet, op. 7 (1905); and the Chamber Symphony no. 1 (1906), which he later described as marking the end of his first period. These works are still tonal, but use extremely chromatic harmony, intricate counterpoint, and exemplify Schoenberg's idea of developing variation through which the melody evolves continually with little repetition.

In 1907 and 1908 he composed the Second String Quartet, op. 10; Schoenberg wrote of its two vocal movements, based on poems by Stefan George (1868–1933): "the overwhelming multitude of dissonances cannot be counterbalanced any longer by occasional returns to such tonal triads as represent a key." This was followed by a remarkable series of atonal works, including the song-cycle The Book of the Hanging Gardens, op. 15 (1908–1909), also based on Stefan George; The Three Pieces for Piano, op. 11 (1909); the programmatic Five Pieces for Orchestra, op. 16 (1909); and the monodrama Erwartung (Expectation, 1909), libretto by Marie Pappenheim, in which he pursued an ideal of composition as the direct representation of the constantly changing and irrational unconscious. Writing to the painter Wassily Kandinsky (1866–1944) in 1911, he proclaimed the "elimination of the conscious will in art" to preserve what was "inborn and instinctive." Accordingly, Schoenberg composed very rapidly and with an avoidance of traditional structural devices. The brevity of many of the atonal works reflects his remark in a letter to musician Ferruccio Benvenuto Busoni (1866–1924), "My music must be brief. Concise! In two notes: not built, but 'expressed!!'" Scholars have linked these works to the artistic movement of expressionism, a range of contemporary psychological theories by Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) and others, and the emotional aftermath of a traumatic affair in 1908 between Schoenberg's wife and the painter Richard Gerstl (1883–1908). Coming to terms with the atonal compositions has been a major project of music theory, and while there have been significant insights from "pitch class set theory," there are still disagreements about how best to understand and hear these works.

Despite his achievements, the feelings of liberation soon gave way to anxiety and doubt as the difficulty of living up to his creative ideal emerged, coinciding with a sharp reduction in his compositional output. In 1910 he started work on the opera Die glückliche Hand (The lucky [or fateful] hand), op. 18, which features elaborate staging with colored lights coordinated to the action; he did not complete it until 1913. Along with another move back to Berlin, 1911 saw the completion of only two small works, the Six Little Piano Pieces, op. 19, and Herzgewächse (Foliage of the heart), op. 20. Together with his compositional difficulties, Schoenberg experienced a profound crisis of faith in himself and his music. One manifestation of this was the Harmonielehre (Theory of harmony; 1910–1911), which served both to demonstrate his competence to the critics and to try to make things clear to himself; another was his interest in painting, which in the years 1910 and 1911 served as a major creative outlet.

The cycle of twenty-one short pieces for chamber ensemble and the half-sung, half spoken "Sprechstimme" in Pierrot Lunaire, op. 21 (1912), pointed to a new direction in his development marked by a return to more conscious control and traditional compositional techniques, evident as well in Die glückliche Hand. In May 1914, while working on a never-completed choral symphony, he sketched a theme using all twelve-notes, an idea he had already experimented with Die glückliche Hand. He later identified this as the "first step" in the path to twelve-tone composition, a development that would occupy much of his energy until his death in 1951.

See alsoMahler, Gustav; Modernism; Music; Vienna.


Primary Sources

Schoenberg, Arnold. Theory of Harmony. Translated by Roy E. Carter. Berkeley, Calif., 1978.

——.Style and Idea: Selected Writings of Arnold Schoenberg. Edited by Leonard Stein, translated by Leo Black. Berkeley, Calif., 1984.

Secondary Sources

Arnold Schönberg Center. Archive and library. Available at A huge range of archival materials housed at the in Vienna center are available online.

Auner, Joseph. A Schoenberg Reader: Documents of a Life. New Haven, Conn., 2003.

Frisch, Walter. The Early Works of Arnold Schoenberg, 1893–1908. Berkeley, Calif., 1993.

Shawn, Allen. Arnold Schoenberg's Journey. New York, 2002.

Simms, Bryan R. The Atonal Music of Arnold Schoenberg, 1908–1923. Oxford, U.K., 2000.

Joseph Auner

Schoenberg, Arnold

views updated


A pivotal figure in the development of 20th-century music; b. Vienna, Sept. 13, 1874; d. Los Angeles, Calif., July 13, 1951. A long process of evolution (rather than revolution, as is sometimes claimed) led him from the intensely chromatic tonal language of postromanticism, through so-called atonality (a term of which he disapproved), to dodecaphony, or serialism. First fully formulated by him in 1923, this last system remained the structural basis for his most significant succeeding works, although he returned to tonality occasionally toward the end of his life. His profound influence on succeeding generations was immediately felt through his pupils Berg and webern. Even Stravinsky, long antipodal to him in outlook and technique, eventually embraced his 12-tone procedures. It is often said, incorrectly, that Schoenberg was a convert to Catholicism. As an exile from impending Nazism he had, it is true, publicly reaffirmed his adherence to Judaism (in Paris 1933); but according to his widow, Gertrud Schoenberg, "he was never a Catholic by Baptism" (letter to the author, Feb. 24, 1964). In any case, as he was quoted in the New York Times, composing was for him primarily "a sharing of spiritual goods, resembling the religious experience," rather than a means of merely diverting an audience or expressing "himself and his own feelings,"

Bibliography: j. rufer, The Works of Arnold Schoenberg: A Catalogue of His Compositions, Writings and Paintings, tr. d. newlin (Glencoe, Ill. 1963). k. h. wÖrner, Schoenberg's 'Moses and Aaron', tr. p. hamburger (New York 1963), complete libretto in Germ. and Eng. h. h. stuckenschmidt, Arnold Schoenberg, tr. e. t. roberts and h. searle (New York 1960); Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart, ed. f. blume (Kassel-Basel 1949) 12:1826. p. yates, "Arnold Schoenberg: Apostle of Atonality," New York Times Magazine (Sept. 11, 1949) 19:7477. Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, ed. n. slonimsky (5th, rev. ed. New York 1958) 145457. a. schoenberg, Letters, ed. e. stein, tr. e. wilkins and e. kaiser (New York 1965). m. benson, "Schoenberg's Private Program for the String Quartet in D Minor, Op. 7," The Journal of Musicology 11 (1993) 374395. s. feisst, "Arnold Schoenberg and the Cinematic Art," The Musical Quarterly 83 (1999) 93113. p. gradenwitz, Arnold Schönberg und seine Meisterschüler: Berlin 19251933 (Munich 1998). e. haimo, "Developing Variation and Schoenberg's Twelve-Note Music," Music Analysis 15 (1997) 34965. t. l. jackson, "Your Songs Proclaim God's Return: Arnold Schoenberg, the Composer and His Jewish Faith," International Journal of Musicology 6 (1997) 281317. r. s. parks, "A Viennese Arrangement of Debussy's Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune: Orchestration and Musical Structure," Music and Letters 80 (1999) 5053. m. c. strasser, "A Survivor from Warsaw as Personal Parable," Music and Letters 76 (1995) 5263.

[f. j. burkley]

Schoenberg, Arnold

views updated


SCHOENBERG, ARNOLD (1874–1951), composer, teacher, and theorist; discoverer of the "method of composition with twelve tones related to one another" as he himself described it. Born to an Orthodox family in Vienna, Schoenberg became converted to Christianity in 1898 under the influence of Gustav *Mahler. He returned to Judaism, however, on July 24, 1933, at a formal religious ceremony in Paris, at which one of the witnesses was Marc *Chagall. Schoenberg was extremely active on behalf of German refugees during the Nazi period. He was a devoted Zionist and in 1951 accepted an invitation to head the Rubin Academy for Music established in Jerusalem, but his state of health prevented him from taking up the appointment.

In music he was self-taught, except for several months of instruction from his friend, the composer Alexander Zemlinsky (1872–1942), who eventually became his brother-in-law. The deepest creative influences in his early years were Brahms and Wagner, as can be seen in his early string quartet in D major (1897), his string sextet Verklaerte Nacht (1899), and his gigantic cantata Gurrelieder (1900–11).

Schoenberg became increasingly free in his treatment of dissonance until his work transcended tonality. His piano piece Opus 11, no. 1 (1909) is the first composition to dispense completely with "tonal" means of organization. There followed a series of compositions in which extreme emotionality was counterbalanced by extreme brevity. Sometimes, as in Erwartung (1909) and Pierrot Lunaire (1912), a text helps to provide that unity which "classical" tonal means could no longer furnish. Schoenberg was continually seeking new means of tonal organization. After much experimentation he told Josef Ruler in July 1921: "Today I have discovered something which will assure the supremacy of German music for the next hundred years." It was the method of composition with twelve tones ("dodecaphony"). In this method, a basic row containing the twelve notes of the chromatic scale, in an order predetermined by the composer, serves as the foundation for an entire composition. Schoenberg found this method invaluable for securing unity. He used it for the rest of his life, with occasional returns to tonality, as in the suite for strings in g major (1934).

It was many years before Schoenberg won full acceptance as a composer, but in 1925 he was appointed director of a master school for musical composition at the Prussian Academy of Arts in Berlin. This position was taken from him on "racial" grounds in September 1933, and he responded with a formal return to the Jewish faith, which he had abandoned in his youth. A month later he emigrated to America. After a year in Boston and New York, he taught for many years, first at the University of Southern California, then at the University of California in Los Angeles. In America Schoenberg completed some of his best works. These include his fourth string quartet (1936); Kol Nidre (1939); piano concerto (1942); and A Survivor from Warsaw (1947). During this period he also wrote four of his theoretical books: Models for Beginners in Composition (1943), Structural Functions of Harmony (1954), Preliminary Exercises in Counterpoint (1963), and Fundamentals of Musical Composition (1967). His Style and Idea appeared in 1950 and his Letters, edited by E. Stein, in 1964. His Jewish loyalties, the Holocaust, and the establishment of the State of Israel are strongly reflected in his musical works, in works such as Der Biblische Weg, and the cantatas Dreimal Tausend Jahre and Israel Lives Again. The texts of these works were written by Schoenberg himself, with the exception of that of Dreimal Tausend Jahre, which was written by Rabbi Dagobert Runes. Three of his great works with religious themes, the cantata Die Jakobsleiter, the opera Moses and Aaron, and the cycle of Modern Psalms, were unfinished at his death on July 13, 1951. Moses and Aaron, however, has been highly successful in its two-act form, and this dramatic confrontation of priest and prophet may well stand as Schoenberg's strongest work.

Schoenberg's influence on the music of the 20th century was immense. After World War ii his technique of composition was studied intensively both in Europe and United States, after the ban on it during Nazi rule. At the same time, some of the postwar avant-garde composers who considered Schoenberg not consistent enough when using his own technique preferred to lean on the work of his famous pupil Webern, who was more strict in following the rules of dodecaphony. However, despite all the debates about Schoenberg's method, he is now considered a brilliant innovative mind and one of the classics of 20th century music.


R. Leibowitz, Schoenberg and His School (1949); D. Newlin, BrucknerMahlerSchoenberg (Eng., 1947), 209–77; R. Leibowitz, Schoenberg and His School (1949); H.H. Stuckenschmidt, Arnold Schoenberg (Ger., 1951, Eng., 1959); J. Rufer, The Works of Arnold Schoenberg (1962); K.H. Woerner, Schoenberg's Moses and Aaron (1963); W. Reich, Schoenberg; A Critical Biography (1971); MGG; Riemann-Gurlitt; Grove Dict.: Baker, Biog Dict. add. bibliography: ng2; C. Rosen, Arnold Schoenberg (1975); E. Hilmar (ed.), Arnold Schoenberg: Gedenkausstellung 1974 (1974); C. Dahlhaus, Schoenberg and the New Music (1987); A.L. Ringer, Arnold Schoenberg: The Composer as Jew (1990); J. Brand and C. Hailey (eds.), Constructive Dissonance: Arnold Schoenberg and the Transformations of 20th-Century Culture (1997); A.L. Ringer, Arnold Schoenberg: Das Leben im Werk (2002).

[Yulia Kreinin (2nd ed.)]

Schoenberg, Arnold Franz Walter

views updated

Schoenberg, Arnold Franz Walter (1874–1951) Austrian composer. In early works, such as Verklärte Nacht (1899), Schoenberg extended the chromaticism of Romanticism. The song cycle Das Buch der hängenden Gärten (1908) and the expressionist opera Erwartung (1909) revolutionized modern music by abandoning tonality. Schoenberg's form of serial music, known as twelve-tone music, was first employed in Suite for Piano (1923). His operatic masterpiece, Moses und Aron, remained unfinished at his death.

Arnold Schoenberg Choir

views updated

Arnold Schoenberg Choir. Austrian mixed voice choir founded in Vienna 1972 by Erwin Ortner. Comprises students and former students of Vienna Acad. of Mus.

About this article

Arnold Schoenberg

All Sources -
Updated About content Print Topic