Twentieth Century Music: How it Developed, How to Listen to It

By Marion Bauer | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XIV
SCHOENBERG AND HIS INNOVATIONS: ATONALITY

ARNOLD SCHOENBERG ( 1874) started his composing career as a postromanticist. His earliest work was written without benefit of pedagogy and the little instruction he had, he received later from Alexander Zemlinsky, who became his brother-in-law. Zemlinsky told a friend in 1902 that he could teach Schoenberg no more. "He knows more than I do now, and what he does not know, he feels. He has a brilliant intellect and an inquiring mind. And he has the greatest amount of sincerity." He also said that Schoenberg had had to paste together two sheets of manuscript paper in order to hold his elaborate orchestration. The composition was Pelleas and Melisande, a tone-poem on Maeterlinck's drama.

In addition to the characteristics enumerated by Zemlinsky, Schoenberg had a restless spirit, great physical vitality, intellectual curiosity, and a devotion to art which bordered on fanaticism.

Today the early works seem reactionary, pointing to extraordinary talent and strong influences of Wagner, Brahms, Mahler, and Strauss. Long before he had set out on a path of experimental invention, however, they were regarded as radical. " Schoenberg's youthful works appeared just at a time when artists lived in the comfortable possession of all the equipment at their disposal." says Egon Wellesz in a study of his teacher, Arnold Schoenberg. "They regarded as a disturbing factor all that was bold, austere, or unusual; and they sought with all the means in their power to stifle it. Nowadays, when it is considered good form to be revolutionary, and when Schoenberg has opened up a way for a new development in music, it is so easy to forget what had been accomplished between 1900 and 1910, and how much the present young generation owes to the pioneers."

Schoenberg was introduced to the public with a string quartet

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