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Arnold Schoenberg

(1874—1951) Austrian-born American composer and music theorist


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(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.

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Subjects: Music.


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