Sunday, November 21, 2004

Arnold Schoenberg

“Whether one calls oneself conservative or revolutionary, whether one composes in a conventional or progressive manner, whether one tries to imitate old styles or is destined to express new ideas -- one must be convinced of the infallibility of one's own fantasy and one must believe in one's own inspiration.”
-Arnold Schoenberg

It is not usually the lyrical melodies that we remember in Arnold Schoenberg’s music, but rather his contribution to the development of 20th century music through his work. It would almost seem as if his life were mirrored in his music; they were quite unconventional and often rubbed societal in slightly the wrong direction, often producing trial after trial for the musician that just wanted to live as he desired.

His Childhood
Arnold Franz Walter Schoenberg was born to Samuel Schoenberg and Pauline Nachod on September 13th, 1874 in Vienna, Austria. His mother was an orthodox Jew while his father, an anarchist at heart, did not have a strong religious preference. His lower- to middle-class family had difficulties at times providing a quality education for their children. Although both of his parents that were avid musicians, it was really his mother Pauline who encouraged music within their household and ensured they were taught music as well as their small budget would allow. At the age of eight, Schoenberg began taking violin lessons regularly. From this base and his extraordinary music application abilities, he taught himself how to play cello and yearned to play with the youth chamber ensembles. His brother, although his name is not as household today, was a fairly well-known bass singer with the German Opera in Prague.

His First Challenge
Schoenberg’s first real challenge came when he was just fifteen years old. His father suddenly died and he was forced pick up a job as an apprentice at a local bank to support his family. It was at this time that all activities even slightly resembling a formal education came to an end. The more meager their income became, the worse his chances looked for getting an opportunity to focus on his music.

Then, in 1895, Schoenberg, to his delight, looses his banking job after the bank was forced to declare bankruptcy. This opened the door for the first time to truly give him the opportunity to pursue his musical career seriously. By the next year, he composed six pieces for piano. Alexander von Zemlinsky, who acted as his only formal composition teacher, encouraged Schoenberg to become more educated about the field of music. Although Zemlinsky was only three years older than Schoenberg, he was far more advanced musically than Schoenberg. Six years after Zemlinsky and Schoenberg become very close friends, Schoenberg married Zemlinsky’s sister, Mathilde von Zemlinsky. The next year, they brought their first child, Trudi, in to the world. Little did he know how hard a world it would be for her to grow up at this time in Europe…

Anti-Semitism in Europe and His Music
When it rains, it pours…Within a span of two years, two major events happened that would change Schoenberg’s life forever. One was his father’s death in 1891 that changed his family economic situation and forced him to put his music aside for half a decade. The other was the birth of Adolf Hitler in Austria. Although he did not know at the age of thirteen what Hitler would do in the following years, Hitler’s birth would greatly affect everything and everybody around him from his country to his family to his music.

Despite the fact that he had converted to Lutheranism in 1898, he was still labeled as a Jew throughout Hitler’s reign. In disgust, he reconverted back to Judaism in seeing the atrocities committed for “Christian ideals.”

It was not until 1920 that Hitler directly affected Schoenberg’ life. In 1921, Schoenberg was forced to leave his home in Mattsee where Jews were no longer welcome. This was also the same year that Hitler revealed his plan to send all Jewish people to concentration camps. In 1923, his wife died and he remarried a year later to Gertrud Kolisch. In this same year that was marked by so many changes for Schoenberg, Hitler was writing Mein Kampf while incarcerated.

His Life in America
The same year that the United States entered the war and the first gassings and mass executions of Jews occurred in Europe, Schoenberg received his United States citizenship. In 1936, he had joined the faculty at the University of Southern California (USC). Most of his teaching in America was at UCLA starting that same year. There he turned out many exceptional musicians, not the least of which was John Cage. It was in Los Angeles, California – his home away from home – that he died on the thirteenth of July in 1951 from a heart attack.


Political and Religious Ideas in the Works of Arnold Schoenberg

Arnold Schoenberg by H.H. Stuckenschmidt

Arnold Schoenberg’s Journey

A Schoenberg Reader

Arnold Schoenberg The Composer as Jew

On Classical

Biography of Arnold Schoenberg

The Arnold Schoenberg Center

Arnold Schoenberg