Arnold Schoenberg

Austrian, naturalized American, composer (Vienna, 1874 – Los Angeles, 1951)

Autodidact composer, Arnold Schoenberg trained by arranging and orchestrating operettas and popular songs. From 1894, he could count on advice from Alexander Zemlinsky – his future brother-in-law – who taught him the art of counterpoint. Fascinated by the music of Richard Wagner and Johannes Brahms, Arnold Schoenberg composed his youth pieces in the romantic German tradition. He wrote during those years one of his major pieces, Transfigured Night. He was only 26 years old. Once he had crossed the decisive point of atonality, Arnold Schoenberg started an intense creative period during which he would lead the dissonance to its highest point. The melodramas Erwartung and Pierrot Lunaire were written during that period called “free atonalism”. At the beginning of the 1920’s, the composer put the final touch to the serial twelve-tone technique. He would use it in his own pieces and pushed the method until its most extreme virtuosity. 

Exiled in Paris and then in the United States, he devoted the rest of his life to teaching. Even though he thought of himself as a conservative who had been forced to become a revolutionary, Arnold Schoenberg knew that he had provoked a musical rupture with the past.

Six landmark dates in the life of Arnold Schoenberg

1882:  Arnold Schoenberg began to study violin and cello.

1901: Married Mathilde Zemlinsky, his old professor’s sister, and moved to Berlin.

1903:  Met Gustav Mahler in Vienna; began his career as a teacher.

1910:  Arnold Schoenberg started to teach at the Vienna Music Academy and turned to expressionist painting.

1911:  Finisheed his Theory of Harmony written in the memory of Gustav Mahler and moved for the second time to Berlin where he met Ferruccio Busoni.

1933:  converted to Judaism, he left for the USA where he taught, first in Boston, then in New York.

Six pieces by Arnold Schoenberg

1897: String Quartet in D Major

1899: Transfigured Night

1903: Pelléas et Mélisande opus 5

1911: Gurrelieder

1912: Pierrot Lunaire opus 21

1936: Concerto for violin and orchestra op. 36

Radio France Documentation biography