Arnold Schönberg | LCIT | SIU

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Arnold Schönberg

Born: September 13, 1874, Vienna

Died: July 13, 1951, Los Angeles, California

In his own words....

"Whether one calls oneself conservative or revolutionary, whether one composers in a conventional or progressive manner, whether one tries to imitate old styles or is destined to express new ideas—one must be convinced of the infallibility of one's own fantasy and one must believe in one's own inspiration. The desire for a conscious control of the new means and forms will arise in every artist's mind; and he will wish to follow consciously the laws and rules that govern the forms he has conceived "as in a dream."

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 Verklärte 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.