Arnold Schoenberg (1874–1951) was an influential Austrian-American composer and music teacher. He led aspects of the expressionist art movement and the [Second Viennese School](https://www.masterclass.com/articles/second-viennese-school-explained) approach to classical music. He was heavily influenced by German techniques—particularly atonality, or music unrestrained by key. \n\nAs much as he was a composer, Arnold Schoenberg was also an inventor. Schoenberg was one of the first developers of the twelve-tone method (also known as serialism), a technique in which notes are grouped in sets of twelve and have no tonality, or relationship to each other. This revolutionary technique would garner Schoenberg his greatest acclaim.\nArnold Schoenberg’s career began at the turn of the twentieth century and spanned several decades.\n\n- __Early years__: Arnold Schoenberg—born Arnold Franz Walter Schönberg—was born in Vienna, Austria, on September 13, 1874. At a young age, Schoenberg learned how to play the violin, viola, and piano. Aside from the piano lessons he received from his future brother-in-law, Alexander von Zemlinsky, Schoenberg was mostly self-taught and began composing piano pieces and string trios by the age of 10. \n- __First compositions__: German composer and pianist Johannes Brahms inspired Schoenberg’s first composition, *String Quartet in D Major*, in 1897. Richard Dehmel, a German poet, inspired Schoenberg’s string sextet, *Transfigured Night*, which he debuted in 1899. By 1904, Schoenberg was teaching harmony, composition, and counterpoint to future composers Alban Berg and Anton Webern. \n- __Experiments in atonality__: Schoenberg married Zemlinsky's sister, Mathilde Zemlinsky, in 1901. Seven years later, in 1908, she left him for several months to pursue a relationship with an Austrian painter. This marked a period of musical discoveries for Schoenberg. During this time, he produced some of his greatest atonal works, including his *String Quartet No. 2, Op. 10, with soprano*. In 1912, Schoenberg wrote *Pierrot Lunaire, Op. 21*, a cycle of twenty-one expressionist songs set to a recitation of Albert Giraud’s poems. Other notable works from this time include, *Das Buch der Hängenden Gärten*, *Five Orchestral Pieces*, and *Erwartung*. \n- __World War I__: When World War I began in 1914, Schoenberg was enlisted in the army. This impeded his ability to compose music and he produced many unfinished pieces. By the close of the war in 1918, Schoenberg had become disillusioned by the music of Romantic composers. Recognizing that the public was increasingly critical of contemporary composers, he founded the Society for Private Musical Performances. The group wrote and performed modern music without the outside influence of broader society and commerce. \n- __Developing the twelve-tone method__: In 1923, Schoenberg developed what is commonly known as the twelve-tone method, or serialism. This technique involved all twelve notes of the [chromatic scale](https://www.masterclass.com/articles/how-to-play-the-chromatic-scale). Schoenberg arranged notes into tone rows, where each of the 12 notes in a chromatic scale must be played before a note can be reused. Works from this period include *Variations for Orchestra* and *Piano Pieces*. His innovative approach put him in league with other Germanic composers like Richard Wagner, Gustav Mahler, and Richard Strauss. Schonberg wrote about this technique in both *Harmonielehre* and *Fundamentals of Musical Composition*, textbooks that remain in print today.\n- __World War II__: When the Nazis rose to power in 1933, Schoenberg was teaching at the Prussian Academy of Arts in Berlin. At this time, it became clear that as a Jewish person, he could not safely return to Vienna. He moved to the US to teach music at Malkin Conservatory in Boston, the University of Southern California, and the University of California, Los Angeles. \n- __Final years__: During this phase of life, Schoenberg wrote many notable works including *Violin Concerto*, *Kol Nidre*, *Piano Concerto*, *A Survivor from Warsaw*, *String Trio (for Violin, Viola and Cello)*, and *Chamber Symphony No. 2*. He also worked on his famous yet unfinished opera, *Moses Und Aron*, during this time. He died on July 13, 1951.\nSchoenberg’s music made an indelible impression on classical music. \n\n1. __*Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night)*__: Inspired by the Richard Dehmel poem of the same name, this string sextet premiered in 1899. The string orchestra version he composed later became one of his most acclaimed pieces. \n2. __*Pelleas und Melisande*__: Schoenberg first debuted this symphonic poem in 1905 at the Musikverein in Vienna. This piece marked the beginning of his broad public appeal. \n3. __*Chamber Symphony No. 1*__: The first of the chamber symphonies from Schoenberg was performed by the Rosé Quartet and Vienna Philharmonic in 1907. It has since become one of Schoenberg’s most recorded pieces.\n4. __*Gurre-Lieder*__: This choral piece with instrumental accompaniment debuted in Vienna in 1913 and marked Schoenberg’s first big success as a composer.\nBecome a better musician with the [MasterClass Annual Membership](https://www.masterclass.com). Gain access to exclusive video lessons taught by the world’s best, including Itzhak Perlman, St. Vincent, Sheila E., Timbaland, Herbie Hancock, Tom Morello, and more.\n\nArnold Schoenberg was an Austrian-born composer who influenced twentieth-century classical music.