Schönberg, Arnold
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Born: 13 September 1874, Vienna, Austria
Died: 13 July 1951, Los Angeles, USA

Schoenberg by Richard Gerstl  (1883-1908), Historisches Museum der Stadt, ViennaSchönberg, Arnold

The Jewish bank clerk who became the composer with the most influence in the 20th century, and the person who gave atonalityAtonal music - Schönberg its form. Schönberg started his musical career as a Romantic artist, and a known piece from that period is the "Transfigured Night" ("Verklärte Nacht"), in which Wagner's and Richard Strauss's impact is clear and evident. But the revolution that will alter the face of art music was yet to come: Schönberg decided to give up tonality and the keys that formed the basis for western music for hundreds of years. He created the twelve-tone technique, according to which the 12 tones of the chromatic scale are equally important and there are no stable and unstable notes. Thus, he undermined the entire foundation of harmony and melody. The 12 notes of the "sound series" are prefixed in order, and the entire work is based on repeating this series and its variations (manipulations upon the melody such as inversion and retrograde, combining the notes into chords etc.). Harmony and rhythm are completely free in this method. Schoenberg's 'Theory of Harmony' was dedicated to Gustav Mahler who supported him both artistically and financially.

The system caused great controversy between opponents, those who considered it too "intellectual", and started riots during the performance of Schönberg's works, and the young composers who liked it, like Berg and Webern, who gallantly defended it as a method that fits its era. With Schönberg, they are all known as the Second Viennese School.

Schönberg, also a talented expressionist painter, gradually became a highly influential figure, and the number of his students and followers who became central composers in the 20th century, such as Stockhausen, speaks of his ability as a teacher. He demanded from his students broad knowledge of traditional music, its rules and styles, and prohibited composing in his style during the learning. His pedagogic writings excel in precise, efficient explanations.

In his instrumental works, like the Suite for Seven Instruments, he demonstrated his fascinating methodology, and in his vocal works, like "Moonstruck Pierrot" ("Pierrot lunaire") for chamber ensemble and voice, he used Sprechgesang technique, words half spoken, half sung, he developed further in his operas, such as in "Moses und Aron".

He spent his early career in Berlin. In 1933, after the rise to power of the Nazis, he left Germany, and settled in the USA. There he influenced the music scoring for films. Alongside Stravinsky, Schönberg is considered one of the two most important composers in the 20th century.

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