Arnold Schoenberg

Schoenberg, Arnold (ärˈnôlt shönˈbĕrkh) [key], 1874–1951, Austrian composer, b. Vienna. Before he became a U.S. citizen in 1941 he spelled his name Schönberg. He revolutionized modern music by abandoning tonality and developing a twelve-tone, "serial" technique of composition (see serial music). Except for periods in Berlin (1901–3; 1911–18), he lived in Vienna until 1925. In 1918 he founded his famous private seminar in composition and the Society for Private Musical Performances, at which neither critics nor applause were allowed. Though he himself had little formal instruction in music, teaching was a major activity throughout his life. Among his many students the most noted were Alban Berg and Anton von Webern. He taught at the Prussian Academy of Fine Arts in Berlin from 1925 to 1933, when he fled the Nazis, emigrated to the United States, and taught for a year at the Malkin Conservatory, Boston. He then went to Hollywood and was professor of music at the Univ. of Southern California (1935–36) and the Univ. of California at Los Angeles (1936–44).

In his early works— Verklärte Nacht (1899), a string sextet; Gurrelieder (1900–1), a cantata for chorus and orchestra; and Pelleas und Melisande (1902–3), a symphonic poem—Schoenberg expanded the chromatic style established by Wagner and Mahler. His later works are thinner in texture and highly contrapuntal. In 1908 in a set of piano pieces and the song cycle Das Buch der hängenden Gärten, to poems of Stefan George, he completely abandoned tonality (see atonality). His use of Sprechstimme, halfway between song and speech, caused a sensation at the first performance in 1912 of the song cycle Pierrot Lunaire. The twelve-tone technique he devised, used to some extent in five piano pieces and a Serenade in 1923, was first employed throughout a work in the Suite for Piano (1924). Though he did not invent serial technique, he established it as an important organizational device in music. His other works include two chamber symphonies (1906; 1906–40) and Variations for Orchestra (1928); string quartets, a woodwind quintet (1924), and Suite for 7 Instruments (1926); a violin concerto (1936) and a piano concerto (1942); the monodrama Erwartung (1909) and an unfinished opera, Moses und Aron (1932–51; produced 1957), considered his masterpiece; Ode to Napoleon (1942), to Byron's poem, for male speaker, piano and strings; A Survivor from Warsaw (1947), for narrator, chorus and orchestra; and Fantasia (1949), for violin and piano.

See his Style and Idea (tr. 1951) and Structural Functions of Harmony (tr. 1954); biographies by H. H. Stuckenschmidt (tr. 1959), A. Payne (1968), and W. Reich (tr. 1971); studies by G. Perle (rev. ed. 1968), B. Boretz (1968), C. Rosen (1981), and A. Shawn (2002); S. Feisst, Schoenberg's New World: The American Years (2011).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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