Happy Birthday, Arnold Schoenberg

Arnold Schoenberg

Arnold Schoenberg changed Western music forever, and he paid the price throughout his life. There aren’t too many people who like to listen to his music; nor do those listeners particularly enjoy the works of his students, like Alban Berg or Anton Webern.

Here is a fact, though, for your consideration: There exists music today that you adore, and it wouldn’t exist if Arnold Schoenberg hadn’t stuck to his principles.

Interestingly enough, he hated having his music called “atonal,” and preferred the term “pantonal.” He’d been writing music for years before he completely abandoned tonality in 1908 (when he “emancipated the dissonance”), so his earlier works are a treasure trove of insight.

My plea is this: if you hate the music, please don’t hate the man. He endured a lifetime of struggle and criticism, but clung tightly to his vision. Gustav Mahler tirelessly supported Schoenberg, even if Mahler didn’t always understand what Schoenberg’s goals were artistically.

I urge you to read Milton Babbitt’s article, “Who Cares if You Listen?”, from 1958. I’ve mentioned it before, and I do consider it a must-read for classical music listeners. The writing might be thick, but provides valuable insight into what potentially went through the minds of “atonal” composers.