Biography of Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951)

American nationalized Austrian composer. Born in Vienna on September 13, 1874 and died in Los Angeles on July 13, 1951.


At age eight, he began his violin studies, while he continued his musical education of self-taught until, already adult, he received lessons in counterpoint with the composer Alexander von Zemlinsky, whose sister he married in 1901. Before the beginning of the century, he composed works such as lieder and piano pieces related to the language of Brahms, Schumann , and Hugo Wolf. Between 1901 and 1903 he was conductor of the Buntes Theater, literary cabaret in Berlin, the city where he was awarded the Liszt Prize at the behest of Richard Strauss, who was impressed by his Gurrelieder. In addition he obtained a post as Professor of composition at the Stern Conservatory. It was in the German capital where he composed the symphonic poem Pelleas und Melisande, who is reminiscent of the work of Strauss.

In 1903, he returned to his native Vienna, where he was Professor at the Reformschule de el Dr. Eugenie Schwarzwald and gave private lessons to Alban Berg and Webern, whose names would be associated with the Schoenberg alluding to the second Vienna School. At that time Schoenberg met Mahler, then director of the Vienna Court Opera, who became their support. Performances of his works found no support in the criticism to move away from the prevailing tonal system. That is why the premieres in Vienna his first Symphony of camera (1907) and second (1908) String Quartet gave place to protest demonstrations. It was also during this period that Schoenberg made his paintings and made friends with Kandinsky.

In 1911 he finished his treatise on harmony (harmony) and settled in Berlin, where he found support of Busoni, Fried and some critics. At this time he taught again at the Stern Conservatory and debuted Pierrot Lunaire (1912), work which was presented in a tour of Germany and Austria under the direction of the own Schoenberg. His international triumphs occurred with five pieces for Orchestra (London, 1912) and Gurrelieder (Vienna, 1913).

He was called to serve in the Austrian army during the first world war, and on his return to Vienna, in 1917, opened a seminar of composition in the Schwarzwald Center and at his home in Mödling. Hans Eisler, Kolisch and Ratz is joined by his circle of disciples. In 1918 created a society of concerts called Verein für musikalische Privatauffuhrungen, whose purpose was brand new, in a favourable framework, new music created by him and his students. Few years later, in 1923, died his wife Mathilde, with whom had two children.

Twelve sounds

Between 1921 and 1924, wrote the first works with the new technique of composition of twelve sounds (see twelve-tone technique). In 1924 he remarried, this time with Gertrud Kolisch, sister of an Austrian violinist, and the following year returned to Berlin as Professor of the superior class of composition of the Preussische Akademie der Künste (Prussian Academy of the Arts). At this time, Schoenberg was already famous in musical circles Viennese and Berlin.

The first child of his second marriage was born in 1932 and that year finished writing the second act of his opera Moses und Aron. In 1933, the National Socialist Government turned his back due to his Jewish origins and had to go to Paris. There became a convert to Judaism, creed which had been abandoned in favor of Lutheranism. That same year he traveled to Barcelona, a city which remained for a few months until he decided to move to the United States of America. He obtained a post of Professor in Boston and later at the Malkin Conservatory in New York. In 1934 he settled in Los Angeles, where would be born two children last. He was hired by the University of Southern California and later, in 1936, he began to teach at the University of California (UCLA). In 1940, he acquired U.S. citizenship. During the seventeen years he spent in North America wrote theoretical works and numerous compositions, most of them with the twelve-tone technique, although in some of them, like the second Symphony of camera (which started in 1906), Kol Nidre or variations for organ in d minor, returned to the tonal system. After an attack on the heart occurred in 1945, Schoenberg decided to leave classes and focused on composition until his death in 1951.


Schoenberg contribution to the history of music is essential. Although he was educated in the tradition of late romanticism, it was he who defined the main lines of the stylistic evolution of the next fifty years. It was a pioneer in the transformation of the language, syntax, the technique of composition and Western musical style of the 20th century, and its footprint can be seen in the work of composers like Webern, Berg and the Spanish Roberto Gerhard , among many others.

During his training he wrote tonal works, mostly for piano or for voice with piano accompaniment, which owed much to the Op. 116-119 of Brahms. In his first Quartet of rope (1905) is interested in the "developed variation", which consists of a transformation of the material used, but always avoiding repetition. From 1897 he was gradually incorporating more chromaticism in his compositions, which approached the Wagnerian language. A good example of this is the string sextet Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night) Op. 4, written in 1899 and based on a poem by Richard Dehmel. In this work Schoenberg used ninth chord of unusual form, with the 9th on bass.

Other notable works of his tonal period were the Kammersymphonie No 1., in coming to the limits of chromatic tonality and the cantata Gurrelieder, whose writing held him from 1900 until 1911. She uses Orchestra, vocal soloists and choir, and employs a very wide range of shades, from pianissimo (ppp) to fortissimo (fff) (see dynamic music). Shortly before the end of the aforementioned cantata, Viennese composer already approached in his explorations to the limits of traditional tonal language, so he decided to almost completely eliminate this in compositions as three pieces for piano op.11, first work included within the expressionist period schonbergiano. From that moment his music began to move through a space where new organisational principles governed: the composer selected notes and chords taking into account their color and not their relationships with other chords. This abandonment of conventional tonal functions was revolutionary for Western music, which, since the Renaissance, regarded as relating harmonic basic triad chord.

In 1912 he wrote Pierrot Lunaire, a series of poems for soprano and Chamber Ensemble, based on texts by the French poet Albert Giraud. In them the composer uses for the first time the Sprechstimme or Sprechgesang, a way of using the voice halfway between recitation and singing. Around 1920 outlined the twelve-tone system, used in his opera Moses und Aron. During the Decade of the 1930s and 1940s wrote some tonal works which include the Trio for strings, as well as works of serial (see post-1950 music) and Violin Concerto No. 4 String Quartet.

Selected discography

Piano Concerto op. 42 performers: Glenn Gould (piano), CBC Symphony Orchestra. Director: Robert Craft. SONY 502353-2. String quartets No.1 y No. 2. performers: New Vienna String Quartet; PHILIPS 464 046-2 (2 Cds). String quartets No. 2 y n ° 4. performers: Leipzig (Leipziger Streichquartett) Quartet and Christiane Oelze (soprano); Dabringhaus und Grimm, DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 0935. Quartet No. 1 in d minor op. 7 interpreters: LaSalle Quartet. DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 419 994-2. Erwartung op. 17 performers: Anja Silja (soprano), Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. Director: C. Von Dohnanyi. DECCA 448 279-2 DF2. Gurrelieder. performers: Norman, Mc Cracken, Trojans, Arnold and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus; Director: Seiji Ozawa. PHILIPS Duo 464 040-2 (2 Cds). Kammersymphonien ° 1 and n ° 2. Performers: Orchestra Symphony of the Radio Frankfurt; Director: Eliahu Inbal. PHILIPS 464 040-2 (2 Cds). Moses und Aron. Performers: David Pittman-Jennings, Chris Merritt, choir of the Nederlandse Opera and Orchestra of the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. Director: Pierre Boulez. DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON. Pelleas und Melisande, op. 5. Performers: Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. Director: Karl Böhm. DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 435 321-2. 8 Lieder op. 6 performers: Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Aribert Reimann. EMI 763570 2. Pierrot Lunaire op. 21 performers: Yvonne Minton (high), Michel Debost (flute and piccolo), Antony Pay (clarinet), Pinchas Zukerman (violin and viola), Lynn Harrell (cello), Daniel Barenboim (piano). Director: Pierre Boulez. SONY SMK 484466. Suite, op. 25 cast: Glenn Gould, piano. SONY SM2K 52664. Variationen für Orchester op. 31 performers: Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. Director: Herbert von Karajan. DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 457 760-2. Verklärte Nacht op. 4 (Transfigured Night). Interpreters: Ensemble InterContemporain. Director: Pierre Boulez. SONY SMK 48465


Garcia LABORDA, José María. Musical expressionism of A. Schönberg (three studies). Murcia, University, 1989.

HAHL-KOCH, Jelena (ed.). Letters, pictures and documents of an extraordinary encounter: Arnold Schoenberg, Wassily Kandinsky. Madrid, Alianza Editorial, D.L. 1987.

LEIBOWITZ, Rene. Schoenberg and his school: the contemporary stage of the language of music. New York, Da Capo Press, 1979.

RINGER, Alexander L. Arnold Schoenberg: the composer as Jew. Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1990.

ROSEN, Charles. Schoenberg. Barcelona: A. Bosch, D.L. 1983.

ROVIRA, Teresa. Problems: Schoenberg and Le Corbusier. Barcelona, UPC, 1999.

SCHOENBERG, Arnold. Letters (selected and edited by Erwin Stein). Madrid, Turner, D.L. 1987

SCHOENBERG, Arnold. Fundamentals of Musical Composition. London, Faber and Faber, 1967.

SCHOENBERG, Arnold. Structural Functions of Harmony. London, Faber and Faber, 1983. (Structural functions of harmony. Barcelona: Idea Books, 1999).

SCHOENBERG, Arnold. Style and Idea. Selected Writings. Berkely, University of California Press, 1984.

Links on the Internet; website of the Arnold Schoenberg Center in Vienna. It contains information about the life and work of the composer, as well as links to the Center file. In English and German.; the inventory of the composer's private correspondence database. In English.; web page collecting the graphic and pictorial works of Schoenberg. In English.