Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Schoenberg vs. Stravinsky

Continuing our look at jealousies through music history, today let’s travel to the early twentieth century and look at two famous composers who represented opposing camps in contemporary music. Arnold Schoenberg stands at one end of the debate, viewing himself as the “inheritor of the great tradition of European music,” as stated in Weiss and Taruskin’s Music in the Western World: A History in Documents. Known for using the twelve-tone system of composition, Schoenberg considered his ideas a continuation of nineteenth-century aesthetics. Twelve tone is a type of composition in which the composer takes the twelve notes of the chromatic scale, places them in an order of his choice, and then uses this series as the basis for his work.

The second camp of contemporary music sides with Igor Stravinsky, a neo-classicist who reacted to Romanticism by denying music’s expressive nature. Supporters of neoclassicism tended to revive forms and styles common in music of the Baroque and Classical eras (ca. 1600–1800). This movement was a type of reaction against the dramatic, emotional, and romantic music of the nineteenth century and tended to focus more on form and order.

Scholars say that Schoenberg and Stravinsky were once amiable acquaintances however sometime in the 1920s, the divide seemed to become apparent. Journalists certainly did not help with matters as they quoted both composers in opposition to each other. Schoenberg is noted as calling Stravinsky’s music “chic, attention-grabbing” while Stravinsky found his opponent’s “music of the future” ridiculous.

I find it interesting how two successful composers could have such an intense rivalry! Do you tend to side with one camp of contemporary music over the other or do you appreciate both types of twentieth-century styles? On Thursday we will look at a piece composed by each composer and then it’s up to you to decide!


  1. I appreciate both and find their rivalry to be a shame. In my opinion they both created some amazing music. Imagine what they might have done through collaboration.

  2. i appreciate both Stravinsky's and Schoenberg's contributions and use a melding both styles in my own compositions. if Schoenberg did indeed have the view that he somehow heir to his vision of future music, then he certainly overestimated its lasting value. in comparing the two composers' creativity, i'd have to give a nod to Stravinsky. his music was organically conceived for the most part, whereas Schoenberg's derives from a deterministic model or view of music.

    1. Well said! I couldn't agree with you more.

    2. thanks Jessica. i can't agree with me more either! ;)