Arnold Schoenberg (1874 – 1951) was one of the greatest musicians to grace the 20th century. He is credited with completely transforming classical music and compositions as a whole with his discovery of the methods of composition using twelve tones. The Austrian who later became American after moving for various teaching positions during the First World War was highly misunderstood particularly by other contemporary composers.
Schoenberg had an interesting and unique approach to musical development and harmony. So much so that his contribution during his time impacted at least three generations of composers that were to follow him.
His music was often labeled as degenerate art especially after the Nazi leadership rose to power. Some of the musicians that he helped to shape and influence include popular names such as Earl Kim, Egon Wellesz, Leon Kirchner, and Lour Harrison among others. This helped largely to extend the traditionally opposed German romantic styles of composing. To honor his memory, here are 10 interesting facts about the composer Arnold Schoenberg:
Facts About Arnold Schoenberg:
- His parents were not trained musicians. He was also a painter
Schoenberg was born to a middle-class Jewish family that lived in a Jewish ghetto in Vienna. His father worked as a shopkeeper in a bookstore and his mother was a stay at home mom. Because of his upbringing, he did not receive a prestigious musical education like some other earlier composers. He taught himself but received assistance from Alexander von Zemlinsky, who was later going to become his brother in law. Aside from music, Schoenberg was also an avid painter who specialized in self-portraits.
- Mahler influenced his first works heavily
Great composers during that time Richard Strauss and Gustav Mahler praised Schoenberg for his prowess in composing. Strauss first heard about Schoenberg when he came across the Gurre-Lieder, a cantata that was one of the last greatest compositions of the romantic musical ideal. On the other hand, Mahler came to learn of Schoenberg after hearing his early compositions and adopted Schoenberg as a protégé. Schoenberg considered Mahler a genius thanks to Mahler’s Third Symphony.
- He converted to Christianity
Schoenberg converted to Christianity as a Lutheran partly because he wanted to strengthen his attachment to West European ways of thinking and ideas. He also did it as a way to protect himself at a time when Europe was highly anti-Semitic. After a short stint, he opted to convert back to a Jew during a vacation in France upon the realization that he could not escape his heritage no matter how hard he tried to.
- He married Mathilde Zemlinsky and she cheated
Schoenberg married Mathilde Zemlinskyin 1901. Mathilde was Alexander von Zemlinsky’a sister who had taught Schoenberg during the earlier years of his musical studies. He and his wife bore two children a boy (George) and a girl (Gertrud). Seven years after they got married, Mathilde left Schoenberg for another man known as Richard Gerstl who was a young Austrian painter.
This period marked a remarkable change in the composer’s life whereby he composed great pieces such as ‘You lean against a silver-willow’ and the String Quartet No. 2. Mathilde passed away in October 1923 and by the next year, Schoenberg had remarried Gertrud Kolisch, a sister to one of his student violists.
- The most influential music-theory books were created
During the summer that his wife left him, Schoenberg created Harmonielehre or the Theory of Harmony, which remains one of the world’s most influential instructional books on music theory. Later on, he also wrote other publications such as the Fundamentals of Musical Composition, many of which are still on rotation today and are used by musicians and aspiring composers across the globe.
- He joined the army
The First World War made it very difficult for Schoenberg’s career to progress. Military service in the army interrupted his life at the age of 42 and he was not able to compose uninterrupted, which left many of his works unfinished.
- He got into a public feud with contemporary composers
In what has been referred to as an “act of war psychosis,” the composer denounced the music and works of other modern composers of the time such as Ravel, Bizet, and Stravinsky. His constant criticism of modern composers caused his relationship with the public to deteriorate which led him to create the Society of Private Musical Performances where modern music compositions could be prepared and rehearsed before being debuted.
- Development of the Twelve-Tone Method
The twelve-tone method, also commonly called the dodecaphonic was created by Schoenberg and it became the most influential version for modern composers to adopt. This style was created to serve as a solution to the structural issue found in non-tonal compositions. The Twelve-tone system led to the prelude of Schoenberg’s Piano Suite Opus 25, which was completed in 1921.
- Had triskaidekaphobia
Schoenberg suffered from triskaidekaphobia, which is an irrational condition that causes one to fear the number 13 and everything associated with it. Born on September 13, 1874, Schoenberg considered the day of his birth an evil omen. According to his well-known friends, Schoenberg feared that he would pass away during a year that was a multiple of the number. As a result, he was afraid of his death on his 65th birthday but was pleased to survive the incident. In 1950 after his 76th birthday, an astrologer predicted his death (7 + 6 = 13). On July 13, 1951, he stayed in bed all day anxious and depressed but sadly, he passed away 15 minutes before midnight.
- First piece of modern classical music
Schoenberg is credited with creating the first ever piece of classical music ever written thanks to his String Quartet No. 2 in F sharp minor, Op. 10 (1908). It was so different from what people had heard before that it was met with some resistance from the public. His new style of composing was known as serialism and many composers of his time praised it just about as much as they criticized and hated it.