Arnold Schoenberg


Born: September 13th, 1874 in Leopoldstadt, Austria
Died: July 13th, 1951 (at age 77) in Los Angeles, CA
Nationality: Austrian
Fields: Expressionist music
Famous For: Development and harmonic approach that advanced musical thought
Awards: Award of Merit for Distinguished Achievements from the National Instittute of Arts and Letters

Arnold Schoenberg was vastly influential in the early 1900’s and is largely perceived as one of the pioneers of musical Modernism. Born in Vienna on September 13th, 1874 to Samuel and Pauline Schoenberg, his life took on a musical twist from an early age. Through the years, he picked up different aptitudes in music composition most of which was self-taught with the advice of his friend and fellow composer Alexander von Zemlinksy.

Early Years

Schoenberg learned to play the violin when he was 8 and quickly began composing his own pieces. After his father’s death when he was 16, he joined orchestra “Polyhymnia” where he met his long-time friend Zemlinsky who was the conductor of the orchestra. As his composition talent surfaced, he began taking lessons and emerging with his own original symphonies.

In 1901, he married his friend’s sister Mathilde Zemlinsky and together they had two children Gertrud and Geog. After seven years of marriage, his wife Mathilde took interest in a young Austrian painter and left for a while with him. Although she returned, the marriage never quite recovered. It is during his wife’s absence that Schoenberg’s composition seemed to take a significant turn. Among other works, he completed the famous “String Quartet No.2,” which was performed at the renowned Scandal Concert of 1908.

Career Metamorphosis

The revolutionary piece of 1908 became the pivot of his musical fate. Although the composition had the traditional key signatures of the time, the overall essence diverged away from the conventional tonality. It was met with a lot of misunderstanding by the public and press alike, largely because of the significant change in composition and the current rules and exceptions of writing music at that time.

Schoenberg’s earliest pieces were pleasant and uncomplicated to understand. With the help of famous personalities like Richard Wagner and Richard Strauss, he brought out rich harmony in pieces that were a crowd favorite. However, he adopted a twelve-tone approach at atonality from the onset; a technique that was largely shunned until composers like Anton van Webern and Alban Berg developed it later.

After the death of his wife Mathilde in 1923, he remarried and continued with his career as a composer coining up interesting pieces that have remained famed to this day. He worked as a director and instructor of music composition during which he successful helped forge notable composers like Roberto Gerhard and Josef Rufer.

Later Life

When Adolf Hitler was elected in 1933, he was forced to run because of his Jewish background and he ended up in the United States. He later taught in the University of California and the University of Southern California where music buildings were named in his honor. In the period between 1934 and 1947, Schoenberg wrote numerous notable works, most of which changed the way people perceived music. His compositions insisted on the autonomy of each musical line and ultimately produced a beautiful dissonance unlike anything produced before. He was unable to finish his most distinguished piece “Moses und Aron” because he passed away July 13th, 1951.