234th Season

Arnold Schoenberg

Composer

Born: September 13, 1874, Vienna
Died: July 13, 1951, Los Angeles, California

Austrian composer. Schoenberg‘s development of the twelve-tone method of composition was a turning point in twentieth-century music.

Few composers have presented as radically new an idea as Schoenberg did with what he called his "Method of Composing with Twelve Tones Related Only to Each Other." In it, he broke with a system of tonal organization that had developed over hundreds of years and had become a hallmark of Western music.

Schoenberg began his musical studies on violin at age 8. Although he had no compositional training, he began composing his own music. In 1895, he began lessons with Alexander von Zemlinsky, only three years his elder. From 1901 to 1903 he held various conducting posts in Berlin. In 1904 he moved to Vienna, and there began teaching (Alban Berg and Anton Webern were early pupils). In 1919 he founded a society for performance of new music, and in 1925 returned to Berlin to teach. In 1933 he was forced, as a Jew, to leave Berlin. Ironically, he had converted to Lutheranism in 1898, but after fleeing to Paris he renounced the Christian faith and returned to Judaism. In 1934 he emigrated to the United States and in 1936 began teaching at UCLA. He remained in Los Angeles until his death in 1951.

Schoenberg‘s early music was clearly marked by the style of the late nineteenth century, and influences of Brahms, Mahler, and others can be seen in pieces such as his Verklдrte Nacht. But as his compositional style developed, it became more concise and contrapuntally intricate. At the same time, Schoenberg‘s chromaticism intensified to the point that any strong tonal focus disappeared. Such works as Pierrot lunaire (1913) are in a fully atonal style. The music of this period is also marked by a style that is referred to as expressionist, and Schoenberg had contact with, and a great deal of admiration for, the expressionist painters and writers (Schoenberg himself painted in an Expressionist style). These ideals can be seen in the dark and dreamlike atmosphere conveyed in Pierrot lunaire, based on the expressionist poetry of Albert Giraud. The kinds of internal conflicts we associate with Freud and his school of psychoanalysis are played out in exquisite musical detail.

From 1915 to 1923, Schoenberg produced relatively few works, in part due to wartime service. At the same time, he was working on his theoretical ideas of twelve-tone writing. Starting in 1923, with his Suite for Piano, he began writing in a fully twelve-tone musical language. Along with this came a return to more classical means of formal organization and larger works such as his Variations for Orchestra (1928). Although he never abandoned these principles, he never extended them to other elements as his student Webern had. And after his move to the United States, he more freely blended tonal elements within his twelve-tone writing.

Works:

Orchestral music, including Five Pieces for Orchestra (1909), Variations for Orchestra (1928), and concertos for violin (1936) and piano (1942)
Operas, including Die glьckliche Hand (The Blessed Hand, 1913) and Moses und Aron (incomplete, 1932)
Choral music, including Gurrelieder (1911), Jakobsleiter (Jacob‘s Ladder, 1922), and A Survivor from Warsaw (1947); smaller choral works, including Friede auf Erden (Peace on Earth, 1907)
Chamber music, including 4 string quartets, serenade, wind quintet, string trio, and string sextet Verklдrte Nacht (Transfigured Night, 1899)
Vocal music, including Pierrot lunaire (Moonstruck Peter, 1912)
Piano music, including Three Piano Pieces, Op. 11 (1909)

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