Today’s Obscure Music selection is from controversial Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg.
Arnold Schoenberg (September 13, 1874 – July 13, 1951) was an Austrian composer and painter, associated with the expressionist movement in German poetry and art, and leader of the Second Viennese School. Schoenberg’s approach, both in terms of harmony and development, is among the major landmarks of 20th-century musical thought; at least three generations of composers in the European and American traditions have consciously extended his thinking or, in some cases, passionately reacted against it.
Schoenberg was widely known early in his career for his success in simultaneously extending the traditionally opposed German Romantic styles of Brahms and Wagner. Later, his name would come to personify pioneering innovations in atonality (although Schoenberg himself detested the term “atonality” as inaccurate in describing his intentions) that would become the most polemical feature of 20th-century art music. In the 1920s, Schoenberg developed the twelve-tone technique, a widely influential compositional method of manipulating an ordered series of all twelve notes in the chromatic scale. He also coined the term developing variation, and was the first modern composer to embrace ways of developing motifs without resorting to the dominance of a centralized melodic idea.
Schoenberg’s music from 1908 onward experiments in a variety of ways with the absence of traditional keys or tonal centers. His first explicitly atonal piece was the second string quartet, Op. 10, with soprano. The last movement of this piece has no key signature, marking Schoenberg’s formal divorce from diatonic harmonies.
Let’s look at Schoenberg’s Second String Quartet, Op. 10. Below are the videos of the piece with the score (produced by bartje11). Reading the score while listening will help us visualize the complex structures inherent in this piece. Highly atonal and hauntingly dissonant, this piece explores uncharted musical territory. Enjoy!
2nd String Quartet, Op. 10 by Arnold Schoenberg (part 1)