Arnold Schoenberg

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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 Verklärte 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 a serious blow to Schoenberg, but in 1924 he met and married Gertrud Kolisch, the sister of an Austrian violinist. With the invitation in 1925 to teach composition at the Academy of Arts in Berlin, Schoenberg finally obtained a prestigious position, financial security, and a stable family life. In 1932, the year the couple's daughter was born, he completed the second act of his opera Moses und Aron (produced posthumously, 1957). Schoenberg and his family fled Nazi Germany to Paris in 1933. In 1934 they immigrated to the United States, and he accepted a teaching position in Boston.

The next year, because of his health, they moved to Los Angeles, where his two youngest sons were born.
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