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Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951) was an Austrian-American composer who was associated with the invention and development of twelve-tone practices in musical composition. No composer had so direct and powerful an impact on the direction of the art as Schoenberg, and his musical output featured many techniques that were to be developed by many important compositional figures throughout the 20th Century.

Schoenberg took counterpoint lessons from Alexander Zemlinsky, and aside from this he was relatively self-taught. He was a skilled cellist, violinist, conductor, teacher, and writer of theory books such as “Harmonielehre” which dealt with the problems of harmony, and developed his thoughts about contemporary technique as a means to expand standard practice of musical theory.

In 1899, Schoenberg wrote his first important work “Verklarte Nacht” (Transfigured Night) for string quartet and set to the powerful poem by Richard Dehmel. It is Wagnerian in style, chromatic, and reveals a disconnection of musical phrases that seems overall poetic in nature.

After he started conducting more choral groups, his admiration for vocal music led to the creation of “Gurre-Lieder”. The techniques exhibited in this composition were similar to his next ground-breaking melodrama, a song cycle entitled “Pierrot Lunaire”, which introduces the listening audience to a new form of expression called “Sprechstimme”, which replaces regularly sung pitches with a gliding speech-song styled vocal technique.

1924 saw the evolution of a new thematic invention, referred to as the twelve-tone technique, that would base a musical theme around a group of 12 different notes in a pre-arranged order as to abandon tonality and rid the gravitation towards any sort of “home” key. This method of creating twelve-tone rows was the thematic principle Schoenberg would manipulate throughout his life, and lead him to be forever respected and recognized by the growing world of contemporary composers.


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Arnold Schoenberg (13 September 1874 – 13 July 1951) was an Austrian and later American composer, associated with the expressionist movement in German poetry and art, and leader of the Second Viennese School. He used the spelling Schönberg until after his move to the United States in 1934 (Steinberg 1995, 463), "in deference to American practice" (Foss 1951, 401), though one writer claims he made the change a year earlier (Ross 2007, 45). Schoenberg was known early in his career for successfully extending the traditionally opposed German Romantic traditions of both Brahms and Wagner, and later and more notably for his pioneering innovations in atonality.

During the rise of the Nazi party in Austria, his music was labeled, alongside swing and jazz, as degenerate art. In the 1920s, he developed the twelve-tone technique, a widely influential compositional method of manipulating an ordered series of all twelve notes in the chromatic scale. He also coined the term developing variation, and was the first modern composer to embrace ways of developing motifs without resorting to the dominance of a centralized melodic idea. Schoenberg's approach, both in terms of harmony and development, is among the major landmarks of 20th century musical thought; at least three generations of composers in the European and American traditions have consciously extended his thinking and, in some cases, passionately reacted against it.

Schoenberg was also a painter, an important music theorist, and an influential teacher of composition; his students included Alban Berg, Anton Webern, Hanns Eisler, and later John Cage, Lou Harrison, Earl Kim, and many other prominent musicians. Many of Schoenberg's practices, including the formalization of compositional method, and his habit of openly inviting audiences to think analytically, are echoed in avant-garde musical thought throughout the 20th century. His often polemical views of music history and aesthetics were crucial to many of the 20th century's significant musicologists and critics, including Theodor Adorno, Charles Rosen, and Carl Dahlhaus.

Schoenberg's archival legacy is collected at the Arnold Schönberg Center in Vienna.

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This biography was most recently edited by...
pzone2144 - 6 Nov 2019
steven - 11 Feb 2010
steven - 2 Feb 2010
steven - 2 Feb 2010
sbarnebey - 2 Feb 2010
maestro - 13 Sep 2009
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