Arnold Schoenberg was a music theorist, a composer, and a music teacher. In his teaching, as in his composing, he aimed at furthering what he saw as the superior tradition in music: the German tradition. Schoenberg's text, Harmonielehre, reflects his belief that a musician who wishes to create truly new and great music must first study classical music: the text deals with classical harmony and does not investigate more modern harmony, despite having been written in the modernist era of music. Schoenberg's aim as a teacher, to further the German tradition in music, was actually met by his Harmonielehre. The curriculum of this text raises, as we will see, interesting questions about Schoenberg's opinion of himself as a composer.
     Schoenberg believed that the German tradition (1) was the greatest tradition in Western music.(2)  For Schoenberg the great lineage of this tradition began with Bach and continued through Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner, and Brahms. Each composer took certain ideas from previous composers and used them to form his own style. Thus, there was a logical progression from one composer to the next. Beethoven had taken from Bach the use of counterpoint; Wagner had used the chorale movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony to motivate his own music dramas. Schoenberg took it as a law of musical history that, to become great, a composer must learn as much as possible from past masters. He set out to do just that, teaching himself a mastery of harmony and counterpoint and obsessively studying the German masters of music. As had Wagner in his time, Schoenberg saw himself as the next member of the German pantheon, and set out to create his own style. He later stated explicitly what he had learned from each of the composers he admired; for example, he developed atonality (the absence of keycenters) in response to the increasing chromaticism (the use of tones outside of the key center) from Beethoven to Wagner.
     Throughout his career as a composer, Schoenberg incorporated elements of past composers' music into his style. He was concerned that atonal music lacked rigour, so he developed serialism. This system, which employs an ordered set of the twelve chromatic tones as a repeating figure, was, according to Schoenberg, based both on Brahms' handling of motives in his music and on atonal composition. Later in his career, Schoenberg began incorporating classical structures such as fugue, variation, and cannon into his works. These were all borrowings from German music.
     Schoenberg valued the German tradition highly, and devoted his life to its continuance. This devotion included not only the nature of his musical compositions but also his goals as a teacher. Schoenberg began to teach in 1904, having at this time only a handful of students. They sought him out in order to learn composition, and he gave them what he considered to be the necessary background for the development of their creativity into greatness. Schoenberg used his experience as an autodidact to become a pedagogue and taught his students what he had taught himself. Alban Berg was a student with no formal training in music, and Schoenberg instructed him in harmony, counterpoint, and composition, all the while expanding Berg's knowledge of the German masters. Schoenberg once wrote:
     "Often, a young man who wants to study with me expects to be taught in musical modernism. But he experiences a disappointment. Because, in his compositions I usually at once recognize the absence of an adequate musical background. Superficially investigating I unveil the cause: the student's knowledge of the musical literature offers the aspects of Swiss cheese--almost more holes than cheese."(3)
This fault was one that Schoenberg believed he could remedy.
     The exercises completed by Berg under Schoenberg became the basis of the teaching methods Schoenberg employed throughout his long pedagogical career.(4)  Berg's lessons in harmony became the basis of
Harmonielehre. The title of this text translates to Treatise on Harmony, meaning "a repository of harmonic 'lore' or 'learning'--all the accumulated facts of harmonic practice."(5)  The curriculum presented by the text employs an arrangement similar to those of many harmony curricula.(6)  It is step-by-step, beginning with simpler lessons and gradually increasing in complexity. The major mode is dealt with before the minor and basic modulation comes before more complex modulation. What differentiates Harmonielehre from traditional texts is the manner in which the lessons are presented. As Schoenberg writes in his Foreword, "there have never been for me those stiff rules that so carefully entwine their tentacles about the student's brain."(7)  The text demonstrates the rules of harmony, but never casts them as "eternal laws for art."(8) Schoenberg wanted his students to know the Western system of harmony, but he also wanted them to see it as a set of tools that was and had been in use for musical expression.(9)  That is, as something that could be used or rejected.
     Schoenberg wrote early in
Harmonielehre that the so-called rules of music "are valid, like laws, but are changed whenever the goal is changed."(10)  This is indeed what Schoenberg himself had done with the "rules": early in his career as a composer he had moved away from the Romantic style of composition and had focused on creating something completely new; his goal changed, and so too did the rules. He believed his innovations to be a contribution to the German tradition in music, and hoped his students would make their own contributions.  By framing the lessons of Harmonielehre as he did, he gave his students a free hand to change the rules of harmony as they saw fit.
Aside from mere knowledge of the harmonic system, Schoenberg aimed to provide his students with what he called "the heart of the matter."(12)  This was nothing less than a "psychology of harmony"(13); Schoenberg believed he understood why the elements of harmony existed as they did and attempted to impart this knowledge to his pupils. Accordingly, in
Harmonielehre he describes "wandering chords" as
"Homeless apparitions roving about between the domains of tonality, incapable of standing alone,  but extraordinarily adaptable; spies seeking out weaknesses and using them to cause confusion;  deserters whose main object is the giving up of their own identity; troublemakers in every  situation; but, above all, highly amusing fellows."(14)
In many sections of
Harmonielehre, the explanations given for the elements of harmony are extensive, more so than one would find in a conventional text.(15)  In his first section on modulation, he makes sure to explain what modulation really means in a piece of music, employing a contrast with cadence (a series of chords that establish a key):
"The cadence we have seen as a means of strengthening the tonality; modulation aims at leaving it.   If it was necessary in the cadence to group together certain chords that define the key, then one  must do the opposite to accomplish a modulation: avoiding these chords, using instead a  succession of chords which do not define the key one is leaving, and then a group that define  some other key. If the fetters of tonality are loosened by the omission of those elements which  would express the old key, then the new key can be introduced by the same means with which the  old key was established, transposed of course to suit the new key."(16)
Only after elucidation and analysis does practical advice start. This sort of explanation is absent from a more traditional text on harmony, C. H. Kitson's
Elementary Harmony.  At the start of the chapter on modulation in this text, the student is given the Grove Dictionary definition of 'modulation' ("the process of passing out of one key into another"); immediately following this the instructions begin.(17)  Schoenberg believed, perhaps unlike Kitson, that the student would benefit from a knowledge of both the 'how's and the 'why's.
     A further deviation makes from the traditional text is its lack of student exercises. At the end of each chapter of
Elementary Harmony, there are tasks for the student to complete before passing on to the next chapter. These sorts of exercises were the "norm" for traditional texts. Harmonielehre, though it does contain numerous musical examples, contains no student exercises. The student is expected to create his or her own exercises, "creating his [sic.] harmony as he learns it."(18)  This is one of the ways in which Schoenberg forces his pupils to find their own directions in the creation of music.
     Schoenberg's main goal as a music teacher was to advance the tradition of German music, something that could be accomplished through the innovation of new composers.  It may seem strange, then, that his curricula, such as that of
Harmonielehre, deal only with traditional subjects.   Schoenberg used the same curricula through the peaks of atonality and serialism.  Harmonielehre was published in the U.S. in 1948, by which time Schoenberg's theories of composition had had a tremendous impact on that country's modern composers.  The translator of this edition writes in his preface:
"Some American readers may be surprised, perhaps a bit disappointed, to find here a treatise on  traditional harmony [...] when they may have expected a dissertation of the twelve-tone system  [serialism] or a survey of "ultra-modern" harmony."(19)
As Reich notes, "although [
Harmonielehre] offers a course that takes one to the uttermost limits attained by the method of tonal composition, the latter is never abandoned."(20)  Schoenberg the composer took tonality as his point of departure and hoped that his students would do the same.
     This hope may have been justifiable when Schoenberg began to teach, but later in his career it would have been incredibly idealistic.  As mentioned before, Schoenberg taught the same curricula throughout his teaching career.  When
Harmonielehre was first published in 1911, Schoenberg's own musical advances were almost unknown. By the time the third, revised edition was published in 1922, atonality was a dominant modern style of music. In the thirties, serialism became a dominant style in Europe and in America, but there was no corresponding change in Schoenberg's curricula.  The question is: could anyone, using Schoenberg's lessons as a starting point, actually create a new style of music?  When Schoenberg, and other musicians independently, developed atonality, there was no new and dominant style of music.  This may have allowed them to search for new ideas. In an environment of powerful and modern movements, however, even the most creative composer may not be able to, or even wish to, develop independently.  It is telling that the only composer that studied under Schoenberg and that created a revolutionary style of music, John Cage, based his innovations on Eastern philosophies, something much outside the realm of Schoenberg's curricula.(21)  Cage invented aleatory music, which is based on chance and randomness.  The remainder of Schoenberg's students that went on to be composers basically followed their teacher's style.
     We must also ask why Schoenberg's curricula did not include lessons on modern developments in composition as well as classical ones.  As we have seen, he believed that an understanding of the musical past was needed for a composer who wished to develop new styles. It would seem logical to present all past developments to pupils, including those of the recent past.  On the question of originality, Schoenberg wrote: "how can you know whether your ideas are original if you are not in the position to compare them to what the others wrote?"(22)  At the same time, he presented his students with only selected styles, even within the boundaries of 300 years of German music.  One possible reason for this was that Schoenberg wanted to counteract the dominance of atonality by simply not educating his students about it. This education, however, would have come from other sources.  It is more likely that Schoenberg did not consider the recent developments in music to be valid for the classroom.  Despite his devotion to modern composition, he may not have been convinced that this was a style of music that should be studied. Schoenberg often stated that, because his own style was rooted in tradition, it too was tradition.(23)  However, it was tradition he kept away from his students.
     Did Schoenberg advance the German tradition of music, as was his goal a teacher?  He had three great pupils who are considered today to be giants of modern music: Alban Berg, Anton Webern, and himself.  These three are referred to as the "Second Viennese School": 'Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven are the "First Viennese School."  Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern had a tremendous impact on the course of music; however, they do not necessarily make the German music of the 20th century the superior music of that time.  The composers Charles Ives (American), Igor Stravinsky (Russian-born), and Bela Bartok (Hungarian) all made tremendous innovations in music in the twentieth century.  They each developed atonality and were each highly influential.  It would be too much to ask for Schoenberg to have made German music the superior music of his century.  In fact, it would also be asking too much for Schoenberg to have driven the German tradition forward. Through his lessons and is
Harmonielehre, however, he did just that.


1 In fact, many of the composers in this tradition were Austrian. The musical center for these composers was Vienna, which, in any case, was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire; this empire, of course, included both Germany and Austria and was in existence throughout the first half of Schoenberg's life.
2 In his recommendations to a proposed Ministry of art, Schoenberg stressed that the superiority of German music had to be maintained. (Schoenberg (1975), 369) Bailey writes: "When  Schoenberg explained his new twelve-tone method to Josef Rufer, he declared that it would  guarantee the supremacy of German music for the next hundred years." (Bailey, 12)
3 Schoenberg (1975), 376-7.
4  Stein, 25 1.
5  Reich, 57.
6  See, for example, Kitson's text.
7  (Schoenberg (1967), vii.
8  Auner, Joseph in Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern.
9  Frisch, 232.
10  Schoenberg (1967), 7.
11  (Schoenberg (1975), 368-9.
12  Schoenberg (1967), vii.
13  Frisch, 232.
14  (Schoenberg (1967), 213.
15  Frisch, 232.
16  Schoenberg (1967). 100.
17  Kitson. 34.
IS  Schoenberg (1967). mi.
19  ibid.. xi.
20 Reich. 57.
21 Simms, 362.
22 Schoenberg (1975), 377.
23 ibid. 172-4.
Schoenberg's Harmonielehre:
Modernism through Tradition
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