Personalities | Arnold Schoenberg | Modern Era | Opera
One of the most important and controversial figures of twentieth-century composition, Schoenberg was a true visionary who paved the way for serialism – a system that, while abandoning traditional western harmony and melody, gave direction to the chaos of atonality. In so doing, he attracted plaudits and outright vitriol, for although serialism has resulted in some undeniable masterworks, more often than not it has further divided the intellectual composer from the listening public.
Schoenberg’s monodrama, Erwartung (‘Expectation’, 1909), was one of his early atonal works and proved to be rather too forward-thinking for its time; the text and music were considered to be so disturbing by conductors and producers that the work was not premiered until 1924. Marie Pappenheim’s libretto, focussing on the disturbed thoughts of a lovelorn woman (a vocal tour de force for soprano), drew on real-life events – just before Schoenberg began work on Erwartung, painter Richard Gerstl, who taught the composer and his wife Mathilde, had committed suicide after Mathilde ended their affair.
Schoenberg’s other main opera, and his most expansive staged work that gave full expression to his serialist methods, was the biblical Moses und Aron. Partially composed between 1930 and 1932, Schoenberg had to abandon the work when his music was banned by the Nazis, and he never completed the third act. However, the work was finally performed in concert in 1954 and was then staged as an opera in 1957.
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