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Arnold Schoenberg

The most radical and divisive composer of the twentieth century, Arnold Schoenberg remains a hero to many, and a villain to many others. In this refreshingly balanced biography, Mark Berry tells the story of Schoenberg’s remarkable life and work, situating his tale within the wider symphony of nineteenth- and twentieth-century history.

Born in the Jewish quarter of his beloved Vienna, Schoenberg left Austria for his early career in Berlin as a leading light of Weimar culture, before being forced to flee in the dead of night from Hitler’s Third Reich. He found himself in the United States, settling in Los Angeles, where he would inspire composers from George Gershwin to John Cage. Introducing all of Schoenberg’s major musical works, from his very first compositions, such as the String Quartet in D Major, to his invention of the twelve-tone method, Berry explores how Schoenberg’s revolutionary approach to musical composition incorporated Wagnerian late Romanticism and the brave new worlds of atonality and serialism. Essential reading for anyone interested in the music and history of the twentieth century, this book makes clear Schoenberg changed the history of music forever.

224 pages | 35 halftones | 5 x 7 3/4

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"Berry’s perspective on the controversy (still) surrounding the composer is clear-eyed, empathetic, and pleasingly free of polemics of its own. . . . Berry's survey of the individual works is comprehensive and exemplary."

BBC Music Magazine

"It’s a book that needed to be written and, informed equally by knowledge and passion, it makes required reading for curious skeptics and devotees alike. . . . Berry wields the sword not with music examples or in-depth analysis but with a full understanding of Schoenberg. . . . The history told here of Schoenberg’s American years is full of vivid anecdote bearing witness to a monstrous ego, a bad sport, and a terrible grudge-holder."


"Arnold Schoenberg lived a 'critical life' by any standards, and his entry here into the Critical Lives series of compact volumes devoted to leading cultural figures of the modern period is very welcome. No composer has ever earned quite such a bogeyman reputation, one still widely held if concert and opera programming is any evidence, yet for those of us who actively crave the sound of his music there is also the fascination of the figure himself—and a deeply human side of the composer, to which those who knew him still testify."


"I do eagerly acknowledge Schoenberg's immense importance, he is one of the handful of indispensable figures in music. It is no criticism of Berry's fine book and clear, illuminating thinking that at its close I did not find Schoenberg any more pleasing. Rather, to his credit, Berry explained to me why I like so little of Schoenberg's music. . . . That was surely unintentional. Berry is a masterful advocate for the composer's quality and importance. His writing has the elegance, energy, warmth, and wit that come from a complete command of his subject matter and the confidence that his view and conclusions are right. . . . The book reinforces my feelings in a way that makes it that much more worthwhile to read, and it is certainly an ideal introduction to the composer. . . . Not every twelve-tone composer communicates to me. That Schoenberg does not says nothing about his stature and meaning, or Berry’s excellent book. I like what I like."

George Grella | Brooklyn Rail

"The thrust of this book is distinctly partisan. Berry is a Schoenberg champion. He describes him as not only the most controversial of all twentieth-century composers but also the most important—the true founding father of heroic modernism."

Catholic Herald

"Though Schoenberg's music maintains its reputation in his native Austria and to a lesser degree elsewhere in Europe, in North America his name has fallen out of the constellation of musical luminaries. Berry's succinct biography and critical overview will serve to remedy that in part. Berry seizes on both the technical features of Schoenberg's remarkable music and the remarkable cultural context in which it developed. And he does so in an eminently readable style (only minimal appeal is made to musical technicalities such as sonata-allegro form). Thus lay readers should be able to make their way through the book without difficulty. . . . The book includes an excellent select discography with brief annotations and a very select bibliography. Recommended."


"A superb piece of writing: informative, engaging, and compact. It wears its considerable research with a winning lightness of touch. The best introduction to the composer."

Thomas Hyde, composer and lecturer in music at Worcester College, University of Oxford

"Berry’s gentle and confident account is the best explanation yet of how the lush Wagner-inspired composer turned into a supposedly ornery modernist inventor. It is a convincing, concise tale of what was in fact brave integrity and powerful creativity in the face of cloth-eared prejudice and dangerous antisemitism that changed the conversation about the future of music."

John Deathridge, Emeritus King Edward Professor of Music, King’s College London

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