Arnold Schoenberg

Biography

Born: September 13, 1874; Austria   Died: July 13, 1951; USA   Period: 20th Century
Arnold Schoenberg remains one of the most controversial figures in the history of music. From the final years of the nineteenth century to the period following the World War II, Schoenberg produced music of great stylistic diversity, inspiring fanatical devotion from students, admiration from peers like Mahler, Strauss, and Busoni, riotous anger from conservative Viennese audiences, and unmitigated hatred from his many detractors.
Born in
Read more Vienna on 13 September 1874, into a family that was not particularly musical, Schoenberg was largely self-taught as a musician. An amateur cellist, he demonstrated from early age a particular aptitude for composition. He received rudimentary instruction in harmony and counterpoint from Oskar Adler and studied composition briefly with Alexander Zemlinsky, his eventual brother-in-law. Early in his career, Schoenberg took jobs orchestrating operettas, but most of his life was spent teaching, both privately and at various institutions, and composing. His moves between teaching jobs were as much a result of seeking respite from the bouts of ill health which hampered him as they were due to his being offered a position.
The composer's early works bear the unmistakable stamp of high German Romanticism, perhaps nowhere more evident than in his first important composition, Verklärte Nacht, Op. 4 (1899). With works like the Five Orchestral Pieces (1909) and the epochal Pierrot lunaire (1912), Schoenberg embarked upon one of the most influential phases of his career. Critics reviled this "atonal" (Schoenberg preferred "pantonal") music, whose structure does not include traditional tonality. Still, the high drama and novel expressive means of Schoenberg's music also inspired a faithful and active following. Most notable among Schoenberg's disciples were Alban Berg and Anton Webern, both of whom eventually attained stature equal to that of their famous mentor. These three composers -- the principal figures of the so-called Second Viennese School -- were the central force in the development of atonal and 12-tone music in the first half of the twentieth century and beyond.
Schoenberg's Suite for Piano (1921-1923) occupies a place of central importance in the composer's catalogue as his first completely 12-tone composition. Though the 12-tone technique represents only a single, and by no means predominant, aspect of the composer's style, it remains the single characteristic mostly closely associated with his music. Schoenberg made repeated, though varied, use of the technique across the spectrum of genres, from chamber works like the String Quartet No. 4 (1936) and the Fantasy for Violin and Piano (1949) to orchestral works like the Violin Concerto (1935-1936) and the Piano Concerto (1942), to choral works like A Survivor from Warsaw (1947).
Schoenberg fled the poisonous political atmosphere of Europe in 1933 and spent the remainder of his life primarily in the United States, becoming a naturalized citizen in 1941. During this phase of his career, he at times returned to frank tonality, as in the Theme and Variations for band (1943), reaffirming his connection to the great German musical heritage that extended back to Bach. For Schoenberg, the dissolution of tonality was a logical and inevitable step in the evolution of Western music. Despite a steady stream of critical brickbats throughout his entire career, the composer, whose life inspired one of twentieth century's great novels, Thomas Mann's Doctor Faustus, persisted in his aims, insisting that his music was the result of an overwhelming creative impulse. Though debate over the man and his music rages on, Schoenberg is today acknowledged as one of the most significant figures in music history. The composer, a well-known triskaidekaphobe, died in Los Angeles, CA, on July 13, 1951. Read less
Pierre Boulez Conducts Schoenberg
Release Date: 01/01/2014   Label: Sony  
Catalog: 42957   Number of Discs: 11
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Brahms, Schoenberg, Beethoven / Fujimura, Abbado, Lucerne Festival Orchestra
Release Date: 05/27/2014   Label: Accentus  
Catalog: 20282   Number of Discs: 1
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Schoenberg: Moses und Aron / Duesing, Conrad, Boder
Release Date: 09/28/2010   Label: Euroarts  
Catalog: 2058178   Number of Discs: 1
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Schoenberg: Piano Concerto, Etc;  Berg, Webern / Uchida
Release Date: 04/10/2001   Label: Philips  
Catalog: 468033   Number of Discs: 1
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Schoenberg: Moses Und Aron / Scherchen, Greindl, Et Al
Release Date: 10/09/2001   Label: Opera D'oro  
Catalog: 1321   Number of Discs: 2
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Work: Pierrot Lunaire, Op. 21

 

About This Work
After the wrenching revolution Schoenberg brought to his music during the final years of the twentieth century's first decade (crystallized in such works as the Three Pieces for piano, Op. 11 and the Five Orchestral Pieces, Op. 16) the composer Read more quickly drew back from the anguished Expressionism of these years to produce the much lighter Dreimal sieben Gedichte aus Albert Girauds Pierrot Lunaire (Three-times-seven Songs from Albert Giraud's Pierrot Lunaire, or, as it is known the world 'round, simply Pierrot Lunaire), Op. 21, of 1912 -- a cycle of 21 songs for voice and chamber group that, in the composer's own words, voices sentiments that are "Light, ironic, satirical."

Pierrot Lunaire takes the shape of a single large melodrama in which the female voice gives the text a treatment that is midway between speech and song (the technique, called Sprechstimme, goes all the way back to Humperdinck, though it found its best use at the pens of the Second Viennese School composers). Three sections, comprised of seven songs each, showcase the five instrumentalists in all sorts of wonderfully colorful combinations as the narrator tells of the wandering Pierrot's experiences -- indeed, the contrasts offered by just the piano, violin, cello, flute, and clarinet are not enough for Schoenberg, who makes the violinist, flutist, and clarinetist double on viola, piccolo, and bass clarinet, respectively. Each of the 13-line poems is a rondel, the opening lines being repeated during the middle of the poem as a kind of refrain.

Structural and motivic connections abound throughout the work, and we find such devices as the recurrence of the queasy solo flute melody of No. 7, "The Sick Moon," in the 13th song, "Decapitation" (part of Pierrot Lunaire's admittedly darker second section, in which the demons of Expressionism come out to play once more), and the use of a passacaglia form in "Night," the first song of Part 2. By the time of "The Moonspot" in Part 3, Schoenberg has worked up to the level of a full double-canon (for the pair of woodwinds and the pair of strings). No. 19, "Serenade," is almost a virtuoso piece for cello and piano, while the final song of the melodrama, "O Ancient Charm of Fairy Days," is of the tender, epilogue variety. Read less

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