From the final years of the nineteenth century to the period following the World War II Arnold Schoenberg Schoenberg produced music of great stylistic diversity, inspiring fanatical devotion from students, admiration from peers like Mahler, Strauss, and Busoni, riotous anger from conservative Viennese audiences, and unmitigated hatred from his many detractors.
Born in Vienna on 13 September 1874, into a family that was not particularly musical, Schoenberg was largely self-taught as a musician. An amateur cellist, he demonstrated from early age a particular aptitude for composition. He received rudimentary instruction in harmony and counterpoint from Oskar Adler and studied composition briefly with Alexander Zemlinsky, his eventual brother-in-law. Early in his career, Schoenberg took jobs orchestrating operettas, but most of his life was spent teaching, both privately and at various institutions, and composing.
The composer's early works bear the unmistakable stamp of high German Romanticism, perhaps nowhere more evident than in his first important composition, Verklärte Nacht, Op. 4 (1899). With works like the Five Orchestral Pieces (1909) and the epochal Pierrot lunaire (1912), Schoenberg embarked upon one of the most influential phases of his career. Critics reviled this "atonal" (Schoenberg preferred "pantonal") music, whose structure does not include traditional tonality. Still, the high drama and novel expressive means of Schoenberg's music also inspired a faithful and active following.
Schoenberg's Suite for Piano (1921-1923) occupies a place of central importance in the composer's catalogue as his first completely 12-tone composition. Though the 12-tone technique represents only a single, and by no means predominant, aspect of the composer's style, it remains the single characteristic mostly closely associated with his music. Schoenberg made repeated, though varied, use of the technique across the spectrum of genres, from chamber works like the String Quartet No. 4 (1936) and the Fantasy for Violin and Piano (1949) to orchestral works like the Violin Concerto (1935-1936) and the Piano Concerto (1942), to choral works like A Survivor from Warsaw (1947). Schoenberg fled the poisonous political atmosphere of Europe in 1933 and spent the remainder of his life primarily in the United States, becoming a naturalized citizen in 1941. During this phase of his career, he at times returned to frank tonality, as in the Theme and Variations for band (1943), reaffirming his connection to the great German musical heritage that extended back to Bach. For Schoenberg, the dissolution of tonality was a logical and inevitable step in the evolution of Western music. Despite a steady stream of critical brickbats throughout his entire career, the composer, whose life inspired one of twentieth century's great novels, Thomas Mann's Doctor Faustus, persisted in his aims, insisting that his music was the result of an overwhelming creative impulse. Though debate over the man and his music rages on, Schoenberg is today acknowledged as one of the most significant figures in music history. The composer died in Los Angeles, CA, on July 13, 1951.