Edumacate me about Arnold Schoenberg's music, please.

I admit it. I’m not as up on my classical music as I should be.

My favorite teacher in high school was my math/computer programming teacher, Lawrence Schoenberg. It was well known that he is the youngest son of composer Arnold Schoenberg (or Schönberg). But in all that time I’ve heard exactly one AS composition, and I’m ashamed to tell you I’m not even sure which one.

What made AS such a groundbreaking composer? If I wanted to discover his music how should I embark on my journey?

Schoenberg remains a controversial figure in Classical music, to this day. Which is unfortunate; it’s long past time to evaluate his music on its own merits. It’s certainly been around long enough. Personally, I adore Schoenberg’s music, the entire range of it. People who respond to your question will give you a wide range of opinions. There is no doubt that his music and his ideas had a huge impact on the art music of the 20th century, and that his legacy extends to this day.

His most notable contribution is what he termed the “emancipation of the dissonance.” In traditional tonal music, every consonance and dissonance has its heirarchical place. Dissonances had certain kinds of expected resolutions, into consonance. In the 19th century, the increasing chromaticism of Romantic music (chromaticism meaning deviating from the prevailing key or scale) led to more and more ambiguity in terms of the heirarchy of consonance and dissonance. Wagner’s opera Tristan und Isolde, in particular its Prelude, is a textbook example: dissonances are left unresolved. There is so much chromaticism that tonal structures are left in a very ambiguous relationship with each other. By Schoenberg’s time, the degree of dissonance and the ambiguity of consonant relationships had reached an extreme; Schoenberg concluded (after some amazing pieces on the “cusp” of tonality) that dissonance should be emancipated from tonal heirarchy. Dissonances need not be resolved. All 12 chromatic tones in the equal-tempered scale could be treated equally. This led Schoenberg (among others) to compose what has been unfairly called “atonal” music. Schoenberg hated that term, but it has stuck.

Atonal music may seem like an anathema to many concert goers, but given a reasonable level of familiarity it is not hard to appreciate the beauty of Schoenberg’s music: the aching, lingering Romanticism, the heightened emotional states, the gorgeous orchestration, the edgy rhythms.

Schoenberg’s final contribution was his development of the 12-tone system. It’s theoretical aspects are not particularly important. What is important is that Schoenberg felt that “atonality” was too arbitrary in structure, too freely organized. He felt that greater discipline was necessary, which his 12-tone system provided; coincidentally, he began using very traditional, even what may be termed “neo-classical” forms.

Here’s my short list of great Schoenberg pieces:

More or less late Romantic-style tonality
Verklaerte Nacht, op. 4

On the cusp of the dissolution of tonality
Chamber Symphony No. 1, op. 9
String Quartet No. 2, op. 10

Early atonal works
Three Piano Pieces, op. 11
Five Pieces for Orchestra, op. 16
Pierrot Lunaire, op. 21
Serenade, op. 24

12-tone works
Suite for solo piano, op. 25
Variations for orchestra, op. 31
Piano Concerto, op. 42

Dramatic and stage works
Erwartung, op. 17
Moses und Aron

Well, he’s well-known for creating the Twelve-Tone technique. A 20-th century form that’s a type of atonal music. I remember having to listen to a bit of it back in music history classes in college.

That link above is a good place to start, at least for reading up on what it’s about. It appears to explain pretty well the 12-tone idea, including the idea of the “tone row”, as well as the reverse (or retrograde) and the inversions. The tone row and the described variations of it form the basis of a 12-tone composition.

Knorf’s list is a good place to start listening to his music. He was a genius (a mad genius–but aren’t they the most interesting).

He also made many excellent points regarding the state of chromaticism and the need of dissonance to be freed from a system that didn’t do it justice.

His Student Alban Berg also wrote some very interesting music as well – in case you’re interested.

Wkipedia actually has a good fundemental explanation of the dodecaphonic system (12-tone system) posted above by Monstre.

I don’t know how much that will help you though.

Interestingly Stravinsky decried both Schoenberg and his techniques, but after Schoenberg passed away, even experimented with it himself.

One of the percieved problems with this and other structurally interesting compositional methods is, listening to them, without understanding them isn’t usually as satisfying as “traditional” harmonic/melodic methods. In short, once you understand the trick it becomes easier to look for what’s happening (like those 3-D image posters so popular in the 90’s).

I personally think even without truly understanding the methods that repeated listening eventually pays off in a deeper emotional understanding of the work (instinctively rather than intellectually).

Rather than dismiss, find a piece that you feel less bothered by or perhaps has something in it that draws you and listen carefully to it several times. Eventually you will start to discover gems in it that will enrich the overall experience.

Sorry this is so disjointed–I don’t think I’m fully awake yet.
While it often isn’t immediately accessible, it is entirely possible to come to an understanding of it without having to immerse yourself in years of theory. Especially Shoenberg who wrote very passionate work.

I don’t really have anything to contribute personally, but I vaguely remember reading at least one Schoenberg thread here before. A search reveals
Arnold Schoenberg fans–unite! and
Arnold Schoenberg debate thread.
Also Explain atonality slowly, please

But since you (Rico) posted to at least one of those threads, maybe you want more.

I am looking for more. And there are great suggestions here. Thank you all who replied.

As a musician, I’m not sure I can handle the “atonal” compositions. I seem to remember the one I heard I was rather appalled at. Now I find that AS did write some beautiful “tonal” music when he was starting out.

Maybe I’d better stick with those to begin with, then move on to sample the atonal compositions again.

Very nice post, Knorf. And well-chosen pieces, too.

A screechy bravo to you!

Try moving through the periods as Knorf posted. That way you can actually hear how the music progresses, experiments and then refines.

Actually, Stravinsky did a lot more than merely experiment with a 12-tone system: he crafted his own idiosyncratic take on the idea, and wrote quite a number of stunning pieces at the end of his life, making use of his own personal version of 12-tone stuctures.

Also, I would argue that Schoenberg was a lot harder on Stravinsky than vice versa (“kleiner Modernsky”, etc.)

Talking about the legacy of Schoenberg’s music is a huge thread unto itself: even just starting with his most famous pupils, Anton Webern and Alban Berg (whom I also adore), not to mention people who adopted elements of the style such as Aaron Copland (his 12-tone works, such as Connotations, are worth hearing), or the numerous other composers who embraced various post-Schoenbergian 12-tone methods.

Elements of Schoenberg’s influence are even notable in such far-out places as the music of John Cage (another former Schoenberg pupil), minimalism (witness John Adams’s use of Schoenbergian titles and forms), and even popping up here and there in Jazz and popular music.

The most unexpected place I’ve ever found it is in the opening clarinet rift of Berstein’s “Trouble in Tahiti” which I’ve never seen a complete dissection of it, but would be really interested in what ways he made use of it in the work.

I don’t know what’s into the rest of those guys Rico but they clearly have no idea what they are talking about.

I mean, what the hell?

Take it from me. Start with this .

I particularly like “orgy,” “orphans of Doom/ the Awakening” and “theology/civilization.”

Once you’ve gotten your fill there I think you’ll be ready to appreciate this

“Firts Carnage” is the gem here.

Next, try this whimsical piece.
Finally, you will be ready for the piece de resistance:

I know you’re not supposed to insult people in Cafe Society, but Jesus Christ guys! If you don’t know what you’re talking about, just don’t make shit up.


Schoenberg =~ Schwartzneger?

Whoosh – oosh – oosh – oosh – oosh. . .