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Arnold Schoenberg essay


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Arnold Schoenberg

Arnold Schoenberg was an Austrian-American composer who was born in Vienna, Austria, in 1874. Arnold created new music compositions which involved atonality (‌ Rosen, 1996). The musical compositions were known as 12-tone row and serialism. In the 20th century, Arnold was among the most influential composers. In the latter half of the 20th century in Europe and America, the atonal composition was the most dominant music idiom used at music conservatories. At the age of 9, Schoenberg was already composing a few violins with his cousin or teacher. He later acquired a classmate with viola knowledge, thus prompting him to write string trios for two violins and viola. Alder, Schoenberg’s classmate, encouraged Schoenberg to know more about the cello, and from this, Arnold began composing quartets. Arnold Schoenberg’s father passed away in 1890, and therefore, the young composer had to work as a bank clerk to financially assist his family (Rosen, 1996). As a clerk, he befriended Alexander Von Zemlinsky, a composer and an orchestra Polyhymnia conductor in which Arnold played the cello. The two became close, which led to Schoenberg’s first public performance in 1897, the String Quartet in D Major. One of the main works of Arnold Schoenberg was done in 1899 when he composed Verklarte Nacht (transfigured night), which is a programmatic piece that is derived from a poem. However, the harmonies and the music’s programmatic nature led to outrage from the conservative program committees. The piece was performed in 1903, and it received an adverse reaction from the public. The piece has, however, become Arnold Schoenberg’s most celebrated compositions since 1903. Schoenberg married his friend’s sister, Matthilde Von Zemlinsky, after moving to Berlin to better his finances.

Matthilde Von Zemlinsky died in 1923 and he remarried in 1924. The composer married Gertrud Kolisch the sister of Rudolf Kolisch who was his pupil.

Schoenberg was appointed as the Pussian Academy of Arts head after Ferrucio Busoni’s death in berlin. During a vacation in France, he was told that going back to Germany would not be safe, and therefore, he did not resume his post. Instead, he sought to move to Britain, although this did not materialize, and went to the United States with his family. He lived in the United States and gained citizenship in 1941 (Stuckenschmidt, & Searle, 1977). Schoenberg composed notable works such as the Kol Nidre, Op. 39, for chorus and orchestra (1938), the Violin Concerto, Op. 36 (1934/36), the Ode to Napoleon Buonaparte, Op. 41 (1942), the haunting Piano Concerto, Op. 42 (1942), A Survivor from Warsaw, Op. 46 (1947), which was a Holocaust victims memorial. The composer died in 1951, and it is believed that his superstitious nature and triskaidekaphobia were the causes of his demise.

A Survivor from Warsaw

Schoenberg uses ‘A survivor from Warsaw’ as a fictional representation of the Warsaw ghetto uprising through textual and musical devices representing labors of a traumatic period. Schoenberg wrote the libretto and music for survivors using an experience from a Holocaust survivor who recalls Warsaw’s ghetto experience. A Survivor from Warsaw uses a twelve-tone row, and it lasts over an average of 6 minutes (Arnold Schönberg Center, 2007). Like the trumpets indicated as fortissimo (F#-G-C-A), the four notes at the beginning of the twelve-tone row are seen in the opening fanfare. In the violins, the first four notes are marked as dotted half notes. The text in the piece utilizes three varying perspectives featuring three languages, notably Hebrew, English, and German. The three perspectives include the survivor’s commentary, the perspective of the German soldier, and the prisoners’ perspective. This is experienced at the end when Shema Yisroel’s prayer is sung. The three perspectives contain three central ideas, which include; the presentation and introduction of the conflicts and psychological turmoil of the narrator, the punishment felt and turmoil felt from the shouting of the German soldier as well as the suffering and moaning of prisoners, and finally, the transcendence, resolution and the ultimate prayer of the prisoners. Expressing these sections musically, Schoenberg affirmed them by increasing the emotional intensity, narrator chaos, instrumental dissonance, and volume as the articulations of the prisoners’ descriptions were made.

Nonetheless, the composer also ensured that the orchestra’s dissonance was reduced for the third perspective (Wlodarski, 2006). The last part of the piece resolves the almost pointillistic textural quality and its pattern-lacking drum fills and the fast and short instrumental outbursts with the increased continuity of lines. Schoenberg manages to render ‘A survivor from Warsaw’ in a three-part detail, which is fully realized using different languages, orchestral choices, perspectives, and most importantly, he utilizes the twelve-tone technique which shapes his design. The work was a great success as Kurt Frederick, who conducted the Albuquerque Civic Symphony Orchestra, wrote to Arnold that the audience applauded the piece and demanded another performance.


Arnold Schönberg Center. (2007). Arnold Schoenberg: A Survivor from Warsaw [YouTube Video]. Retrieved 8th December 2020 from YouTube

‌ Rosen, C. (1996). Arnold Schoenberg. Chicago, Illinois, United States: University of Chicago Press.

Stuckenschmidt, H. H., & Searle, H. (1977). Schoenberg: His Life, World and Work. Richmond, London: Calder Publications.

Wlodarski, A. L. (2006). A Survivor From Warsaw. Music and the Holocaust. Dickson Scholar.

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