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September 13: Schoenberg’s Twelve Tones

September 12, 2015

arnold-schoenberg_1_jpg_240x240_crop_upscale_q95Composer Arnold Schoenberg, whose use of atonality and the 12-tone manipulation of the chromatic scale became major influences in modern music, was born in Vienna on this date in 1874. He was largely self-taught. Schoenberg converted to Lutheran Christianity in 1898 (his mentor Gustav Mahler had become a Catholic the year before), but returned to Judaism and emigrated to the U.S. in 1933, once the rise of the Nazis in Germany had made him realize his Jewish identity was inescapable. Schoenberg was also a painter and an influential teacher of composition, primarily in California, where he became friends and tennis partners with George Gershwin. According to AllMusic, 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...”

“If it is art, it is not for all, and if it is for all, it is not art.” —Arnold Schoenberg