Arnold Schoenberg

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Arnold Schoenberg

Arnold Schoenberg was born on September 13, 1874, to a Jewish family in Vienna. He taught
himself composition, with help in counterpoint from the Austrian composer Alexander
Zemlinsky, and in 1899 produced his first major work, the tone poem Verklarte Nacht
(Transfigured Night) for string sextet. In 1901 he married Zemlinsky's sister Mathilde,
with whom he had two children. The couple moved to Berlin, where for two years Schoenberg
earned a living by orchestrating operettas and directing a cabaret orchestra. In 1903
Schoenberg returned to Vienna to teach. There he met his most successful students, the
Austrian composers Anton Webern and Alban Berg, who became his close friends. In his
compositions, Schoenberg employed far-reaching harmonies, a trait that later developed
into atonality. Because of this, riots erupted at both premieres of his first two string
quartets in 1905 and 1908. Such experiences led him often to feel persecuted by a public
that could not understand his music. Schoenberg also began painting during these years and
exhibited his work with a group of artists in the circle of the Russian painter Wassily
Kandinsky. This period was marked by tragedy when Mathilde had an affair with his painting
teacher, who committed suicide after she returned to Schoenberg. In 1911, the year in
which Schoenberg published his book Theory of Harmony, he accepted a teaching position in
Berlin. There he composed one of his most influential works, Pierrot Lunaire (1912). He
returned to Vienna in 1915. The interruptions occasioned by World War I, combined with
Schoenberg's search for a way to ensure logic and unity in atonal music, prevented him
from producing many works between 1914 and 1923. By 1923, however, he had completed the
formulation of his twelve-tone method of composition. Mathilde's death that same year was
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