"I believe what I do and do only what I believe; and woe to anybody who lays hands on my faith. Such a man I regard as an enemy, and no quarter given!"
-Schoenberg on his peculiar style of music.
Schoenberg redefined music in the early twentieth century.
Perhaps no name on a concert's ballot scares the average listener
more than that of Arnold Schoenberg. After fifty years of
accustoming ourselves to his modern style, many of he pieces are
still difficult to understand and evaluate. Even his early works,
which were reminiscent of Johannes Brahms
and Richard Strauss, are still disliked because they were written
by his infamous hand. His twelve-tone technique is the first
attempts at atonality during his era and would be never developed
and explored by later composers such as Anton
van Webern and Alban Berg. Schoenberg
would be known as the inventor of atonalism and the ravisher of the
Arnold Schoenberg was born in Vienna on September 13th,1874 as son of the merchant Samuel Schoenberg and his wife Pauline. With eight years he learned to play the violin and began to compose. After having been an apprentice with a bank clerk after his father's death when he turned sixteen, he joined the orchestra "Polyhymnia" in 1891. Since that time, he kept up a lifelong friendship with Alexander von Zemlinsky, the conductor of the orchestra. He was himself conductor of the metalworker-choir in Stockerau. At the age of twenty he came forward with his first original composition , a few piano pieces, and began to take lessons with his friend Zemlinsky.
In 1901 he married Zemlinksky's sister, Mathilde and they moved to Berlin. Soon, because of Strauss' recommendation, he was appointed to teach at Berlin's Stern Academy. Two years later he returned to Vienna to start a private teaching school. Berg and Webern, would carry forth his art of atonality, became his first pupils. His brother-in-law, Zemlinsky, introduced him to the then court opera director Gustav Mahler, who gave his support to Schoenberg. Around this time, Schoenberg first began to stretch the realm of tonality, and began to move more towards composing atonal pieces.
The year 1906 may be considered as one of the numerous births of modern music. Schoenberg's music caused a cultural shock. The legendary "scandal concert" of 1908, where his String Quartet #2, op.10 and the chamber symphony (op.9) were performed for the first time, was received with a lack of understanding by the press and with vociferous protests by the public. People hurled insults at the composer during the performance itself, and the reporters rushed back to the offices to declare Schoenberg "insane."
In 1912, Schoenberg returned to Berlin to conduct a few of his pieces. Now Schoenberg was experimenting in every possible way. In a piece Pierrot Lunaire, he mixes conventional speech and singing to form an altogether different form of vocalization. And here in Berlin, was where he first began his composition in the twelve-tone series, also known as dodecaphony. These type of compositions were considered part of a larger group, known as serialism, in which compositions were mathematical rather than original.
In 1923, his wife, Mathilde, died. Ten months later he remarried
and seemed to be quite happy with his new wife. He began work on
his new opera, Moses und Aron. At first the piece was called Moses
und Aaron, but due to his fear of the number thirteen, he quickly
cut the second 'a' from the title. But in 1933, his stay in Berlin
was cut short for the rise of the Nazi Party. He, being of the
Jewish religion, quickly left Germany for the US. He stayed in Los
Angeles the rest of his life, teaching at the University of
Southern California and at UCLA. His later works tried to blend the
traditional classical music with his twelve-tone series, but the
product was still the same: an undecipherable piece of pure genius.
During the last year of his life he composed more religious pieces
such as A Survivor from Warsaw. He died on July 13th, 1951. His
pieces added life to the aging romantic age. Yet the pieces were
beyond his time and still are today. His greatest contribution to
music was the development of the twelve-tone series. Along with
Stravinsky, they are the two greatest influences in the twentieth
century, and their marks shall last a lifetime.
His famous symphonic poem, Pelleas and Melisande, is noted for the first-time use of a trombone glissando. His opera, Moses und Aron, displays the twelve-tone series and atonality in the opera setting. This piece was not only revolutionary, but also hated during his time. And his most massive piece, Gurrelieder, combines vocals, orchestra and a narrator to produce a piece that is difficult to follow yet somewhat pleasing to the ears. It was so massive, that Schoenberg had to order special music paper to script all the parts. It took twelve years to write, and after that another two years to produce its first production.
His four string quartets are very likeable. The first still holds on to the
quickly-disappearing tonality and classicism. But his second quartet stretches
the boundaries and considered the beginning of his atonal
compositions. His third and fourth are very difficult
to listen to, yet if one listens carefully, there is a hint of
romanticism in the pieces. Nonetheless, his first quartet is the
most heard of the four conceptions.
His Famous Compositions
His notable pieces include his opera, Moses und Aron,
Transfigured Night, Gurrelieder, Pelleas and Melisande, his five
pieces for orchestra, and his first string quartet. He also wrote a
string trio in his
later years, but that has yet to become famous.
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