S+ Stimulant: Schoenberg and the Twelve-tone Technique
Arnold Schoenberg (1874–1951) was an Austrian born composer and painter associated with the German expressionist movement. As a prodigal young musician, Schoenberg’s early work was hugely respected, drawing favourable attention from already established composers such as Richard Strauss and Gustav Mahler.
However, in 1908 Schoenberg would begin working on an orchestral style that would see him become one of the most revered, influential, and divisive composers of the 20th Century. Depressed by his wife leaving him, Schoenberg worked furiously worked on a brand of composing that moved drastically away from traditional tonality. The composition, Du lehnest wider eine Silberweide (You lean against a silver-willow) was the first orchestral piece without any reference at all to a key signature. It was the first of Schoenberg’s atonal pieces that would later develop into the famous twelve-tone technique.
The twelve-tone technique is a means of ensuring that all 12 notes of the chromatic scale are sounded as often as each other while preventing the emphasis of any one note. All 12 notes are given more or less equal importance, and the music avoids being in a set key. Schoenberg described the system as a ‘Method of composing with twelve notes which are related only with one another.’
The twelve-tone technique encouraged much criticism, particularly from more traditionally minded musicians; however, his work went on to inspire some of the most renowned composers of the 20th Century including Hanns Eisler, John Cage, and Leon Kirchner.
Schoenberg was a trail-blazer and an iconoclast who would not be confined to the traditions and rules of his artistic medium. By following his creative instincts and impulses he created a new genre of music that is inspirational, beautiful, and eerie.
Have a listen, HERE
Published: October 7th, 2014