Composition with Twelve Tones. Schönberg’s Reorganization of Music
Exhibition | Arnold Schönberg Center | Wien | Österreich
Wednesday, 15 March 2023 until Friday, 22 December 2023
When he formulated his twelve-tone method around 1923, Arnold Schönberg was convinced that he had created a link between a contemporary musical language and a centuries-old musical tradition. At a time when music became open to sounds outside of traditional tonal harmony, the twelve-tone method provided a secure foundation upon which his compositional thinking could develop freely. Whether following in the tracks of the musical baroque or the Viennese Classicists, whether applied to string quartet or virtuoso concerto, strict canon or popular dance, the method proved to be a universal “compositional tool”.
Deeply beholden to musical tradition, Schönberg took up the search for compositional logic amidst a “freedom and diversity of expression”. His widely circulated comment, that he “found something that will ensure the supremacy of German music for the next hundred years”, reflected ideological positions of the early 20th century. The history of the twelve-tone method is intimately linked to the biography of this Jewish artist from Vienna who, faced with racist hostilities, asserted the hegemonic claims of his adversaries as his own.
The exhibition accompanies the composer on a journey of discovery of “the laws of nature and the laws of our thinking”. Music manuscripts that cover a period spanning from his early programmatic pieces to the psalms of his last works show how he explored uncharted musical paths. Photographs, paintings, texts, and historical documents guide us through his artistic development through to his American exile. The exhibition also provides a vivid rendering of musical procedures: informative video animations make the twelve-tone method comprehensible in sound and image.