Audiences were hostile to the music of Vienna-born American composer Arnold Schoenberg (1874–1951) because he threw out traditional rules for composing music. Instead of relying on tonality (arrangement of notes to produce a harmonious effect), he developed a new twelve-tone serial technique.
In his youth Schoenberg was a fan of German composer Richard Wagner (1813-1883), and he saw each of Wagner's operas several times. Schoenberg's early work reflects Wagner's influence, but at the turn of the twentieth century he set out on his own path. Despite a lack of formal training, he composed Three Pieces for piano in 1909. Some music historians argue that this is the single most important composition of the twentieth century. Three Pieces displays Schoenberg's new atonal style because it lacks any reference to key. This work was met with such strong criticism that Schoenberg said he felt as if he "had fallen into an ocean of boiling water."
A skilled and influential teacher, Schoenberg had many followers during his lifetime. He taught at the Academy of Fine Arts in Berlin, Germany, from 1925 to 1933. He then moved to the United States where he taught at the Malkin Conservatory in Boston (1934), the University of Southern California (1935–1936), and the University of California at Los Angeles (1936–1944). In his teachings he brought order to the chaos of his own atonalism by developing the famous twelve-tone serialism, showing how entire compositions could be organized around a fixed sequence of twelve notes. Schoenberg left an impressive body of work and permanently altered the world of classical music.
Further Information: "Schoenberg, Arnold." Electric Library. [Online] Available http://www.encyclopedia.com/articles/11568.html, October 23, 2000; "Schoenberg, Arnold." MSN Encarta. [Online] Available http://encarta.msn.com/index/conciseindex/54/05485000.htm, October 23, 2000; Stuckenschmidt, Hans Heinz. Schoenberg: A Biography. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1979.