Arnold Schoenberg essay

Arnold Schoenberg


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            It would be fair to say that Arnold Schoenberg is one of the few, whose music is rarely played but who have produced irreversible impacts on the development and progress of the world’s music - Arnold Schoenberg essay introduction. Schoenberg’s music is hardly known for its atonality; nor is it known for the unique combination of direction and fluency. These, however, are the distinctive features of Schoenberg’s creations. His music worked to shed the light onto the major creative controversies and paved the way for the subsequent development of musical culture. As a talented composer, Schoenberg’s figure is associated with the far-reaching influence his music had on other musicians, and relative indifference toward his works adds to the unique and complicated spiritual atmosphere, which his music tends to create.

            Arnold Schoenberg is one of the most controversial but nevertheless critical figures in the history of the world music. He was born in Vienna in 1874, and due to the fact that his family was not actively involved into any kind of musical activity, Schoenberg was self-taught (Rosen 12). Schoenberg’s mother was a piano teacher, but he did not have a chance to learn the major musical skills from his mother and had to devote himself to regular lessons with Alexander von Zemlinsky – a famous composer, who later became Schoenberg’s brother in law (Armitage 41). Objectively, and it is difficult to deny this fact, Schoenberg was one of those who demonstrated their aptitude and abilities to music at early age. He was good at musical composition and sought to express his most secret thoughts and desires by means of music. Oskar Adler was actively working to provide Schoenberg with the basic knowledge about counterpoint and harmony in music; and throughout his creative career, Schoenberg used this knowledge as the basis for his most talented achievements. At the very beginning of his career, Schoenberg was actively engaged in creating orchestrating operettas; his orchestrated sextets are included into the list of his most popular works. For example, Transfigured Night written in 1899 is always associated with Schoenberg’s musical talent (Armitage 70).

            Certainly, Schoenberg would not become popular and would not have a chance to obtain quality musical education if not for his getting acquainted to Strauss and Mahler. Although both Mahler and Strauss realized Schoenberg’s value as of composer, not Strauss but Mahler took Schoenberg as his musical apprentice. For some reason, Strauss did not see it necessary to teach Schoenberg the ways, in which he could use his talent. It was due to Mahler that Schoenberg grew to occupy special place in the history of music evolution, and it was also due to Mahler that Schoenberg gradually turned into one of the most significant representatives of the musical Olympus. In many aspects, “the figure of Schoenberg is surrounded by an atmosphere of salon scandal, provoked by genuine vexation; the existence of this figure alone exercises a singular influence on the musical development of the present era” (Armitage 79). In the course of his creative evolution, Schoenberg gradually came to produce music, which even Mahler could not understand, but the latter was not willing to dismiss Schoenberg due to his unlimited creative potential. Mahler sought to prove that Schoenberg was a complicated musical writer and not merely a monomaniac. For those who can grasp the meaning of Schoenberg’s creations this composer exemplifies a true genius, with impulsive talent as the source of the most controversial creative works.

            In 1904 Schoenberg started to teach harmony and counterpoint; Anton Webern, Paul Pisk, and Aalan Berg were among his students (Armitage 84). Between his lessons and temporary jobs, Schoenberg composed his music, the essence of which was understandable and available only to the limited circle of people. In 1908, Schoenberg’s wife left him for pleasures with an unknown Austrian painter. In the light of his emotional tortures Schoenberg created one of his true masterpieces – You Lean against a Silver-Willow (Rosen 76). Although Schoenberg’s wife came back to him in several months, their family was never restored and Schoenberg quickly remarried, choosing Gertrud Kolisch as his second wife.

That Schoenberg created a new kind of music none of the then musical professionals could doubt, and it was not surprising, as far as the contribution of each prominent composer to the history of mankind was inevitably associated with novelty. Yet, Schoenberg was well-known for the characteristic singularity of his works, and You Lean against a Silver-Willow is the bright example of the way this singularity worked to promote uniqueness of the composer’s works. Armitage writes that “while everything that has happened in music since about 1600 is based upon the system of one of the twelve major and minor keys, […] Schoenberg conceived a music whose organic law no longer derives its relation of elements from the center of a key” (81). This is where Schoenberg’s music comes to signify the emergence of the so-called “atonal” musical features. Schoenberg is well-recognized for this atonality, and throughout his creative career he actively sought to turn atonality into the source of the most unique musical ideas. After 1909, Schoenberg entered one of the most responsible and most critical stages of his career; his Five Orchestral Pieces (1909), Pierrot Lunaire (1912), and the String Quartet No. 2 (1908) are included into the list of his most influential works (Armitage 8). It should be noted, that Schoenberg’s creativity was not limited to music, and his book Theory of Harmony (1910) became the turning point in the development of musical theory. The book also led Schoenberg to become a member of intellectual and artistic circles in Vienna, to which Werfel, Walden, and Else Lasker-Schuler belonged (Rosen 88).

            When World War I began, the famous composer had to quit his musical ambitions and to turn to military service. Since that time, his career has been regularly interrupted, leaving Schoenberg no chance to complete many of his works. Later in life Schoenberg was able to develop a unique method of musical composition that comprised and required using twelve tones; the method was actively used by Schoenberg’s students (Armitage 84). Many of his books are still in print, and beginning composers use them as the sources of practical knowledge about music and composition. Despite these achievements, the figure of Schoenberg remains the source of the major musical controversies. Due to the complexity and confusion that were characteristic of his works, Schoenberg generated much dissent in cultural circles. In the light of international recognition, Schoenberg’s works were too revolutionary to prevent the development of the major cultural conflict. For many, Schoenberg’s works are associated with and are the sources of the cultural protest, which still does not deny the significance of Schoenberg’s contribution to the development of international music.

In the light of these dissenting moods, Schoenberg had to devote himself to isolation, and it was not before the middle of the 1940s that he finally realized the value of creative hostility. “In 1947, the National Institute of Arts and Letters gave him a grant of a thousand dollars: this was the award generally made to promising young composers, but the more prestigious one would have aroused an implacable opposition” (Rosen 2). For the most of his life, Schoenberg was denied honors and was compelled to exist in the boiling waters of the growing cultural opposition. As a Jew he had to leave Austria, and died on July 13, 1951 in Los Angeles. Schoenberg remains one of the brightest proofs to the fact that music is the result of creative impulse, which is not subject to criticism or judgment, but which bears a tint of self-reflexivity and uniqueness to those, who can grasp its true meaning.


Arnold Schoenberg was not happy in his personal life; nor was he honored for his musical achievements. Nevertheless, his undeniable genius and creative talent paved his long and troublesome way to musical Olympus. Schoenberg remains one of the critical figures in the development of the world’s music. The atonality and confusion characteristic of his works remain the two distinctive features of his musical creations. Schoenberg died in isolation and was never officially recognized, and only after his death international community has come to realize the value of the cultural dissent he sought to express through his music.

Works Cited

Armitage, M. Schoenberg. Ayer Publishing, 1971.

Rosen, C. Arnold Schoenberg. University of Chicago Press, 1996.

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