Arnold Schönberg (1874-1951)

With his music he split the population

 Arnold Schönberg Portrait

Arnold Schönberg said of himself, “That I never wrote anything that I should be ashamed of, that is the basis of my moral existence”. It was this conviction that – in spite of all the hostility directed toward him – carried him through a musically successful life.

“I can sense air from another planet”. The Viennese composer Arnold Schönberg (1874-1951) upon completion of his 2nd String Quartet. It is now regarded as a key work of atonal music.

Arnold Schönberg was born in 1874, the son of a Jewish shoemaker, in the Vienna district of Leopoldstadt. Nothing in his childhood foreshadowed that he would one day become the father of New Music: certainly, he learnt the violin as a child, but would otherwise remain a musical autodidact. The open-air concerts of the military band in the Augarten served as inspiration for his early compositions.
A watershed in Schönberg’s life was provided by the conductor Alexander von Zemlinski: he recognised Schönberg’s talent and helped the bank employee gain access to the Viennese music world. The rest is musical history: Schönberg became a conductor and a teacher of harmonic theory and composition.

With his enthusiasm he regularly managed to generate scandal

in 1913 he conducted a concert of new music in the great hall of the Wiener Musikverein, and succeeded in polarising the audience. Excited applause mixed with appalled shouts in the hall, and supporters and critics fought a mass brawl.

 Augarten building

 The Musikverein in Vienna

 Sheet of music with notes

The incident went down in musical history as the “Watschen-Konzert” (“slap concert”), and the press spoke indignantly of “entartete Musik” (“degenerate music”). Schönberg, however, was not to be discouraged and continued his explorations into the atonal world beyond major and minor. In the early 1920s he developed his new compositional method, the twelve-tone technique, and thereby became the central figure of the Second Vienna School, gathering important figures such as the philosopher Theodor M. Adorno or his former pupil Alban Berg around him. Up until his death in 1951 the musical genius would compose more than 100 operas, songs and chamber pieces, as well as just as many written works.

Text: Christine Wurnig, Fotos: Christine Wurnig, Bild Musiker: 56. Kaffeesiederball/Christian Husar – 1381, Bild Goldener Saal: Wien Tourismus/Lois Lammerhuber