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Classical Composers A-Z: Arnold Schoenberg

Peter Wintersgill presents a portrait of Arnold Schoenberg, the composer of"new'' music.

Born
13th September, 1874, in Vienna.

Adult Life
Self taught in theory, violin and cello. Lessons in counterpoint from Viennese conductor and composer Zemlinsky at age 20. Father died in 1890. Worked in a bank for a short time, later scored other composers'
operettas.

Among early works were string sextet Verklarte Nacht and cantata Gurreleider for narrator, five soloists, choir and orchestra. This was a flop at first, but a success later on. These were both in the conventional romantic style.

Schoenberg was a great teacher, Berg and Webern were among his pupils. He taught at the Berlin Conservatoire and married Zemlinsky's sister. Among his friends were painters of the Expressionist school, and he painted in their style.

In the early years of the 20th century he started to experiment with different kinds of harmony, his works becoming more chromatic and less tonal. Among the works of this period were the Three Piano Pieces (1909), Five Orchestral Pieces, the symphonic poem Pelleas et Melisanade (1903), the 1st Chamber Symphony (1906), Periot Lunaire (1912) for speaker and chamber orchestra.

The principles of his new music were the whole tone or 12 note scale, the use of fourths instead of thirds and the introduction of speech - song. This kind of music aroused strong feelings, both for and against. His music was however encouraged by some conductors, notably Sir Henry Wood.

After a gap of ten years or more, including the period of the Great War; he returned to composition with even more "outrageous" works, e.g. The Five Piano Pieces (1923). After the Nazi putch in 1933, he moved to the USA where he settled in Los Angeles with his second wife.

Among the works of this later period were the unfinished opera Moses and Aaron (1932), the oratorio Die Jacobsleiter and the Survivor from Warsaw (1947) for speaker, male chorus and orchestra.

Schoenberg represents one of the greatest musical landmarks in this century, and influenced many other composers, notably his pupils, Berg and Webern.

He died on 13th July, 1951, in Los Angeles aged 77.

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