The Young Schönberg

An Exhibition of the Composer During his Early Vienna Years

On The Town | Matthias Wurz | November 2007

Arnold Schönberg as young man around the turn of the century (Photo: Arnold Schönberg Center)

Since its opening a decade ago, the Arnold Schönberg Center in Vienna hosts a special exhibition once a year, highlighting well-known or lesser-known aspects of the composer’s life. This year, Therese Muxeneder and Eike Fess, in charge of the extensive archive, the composer’s estate, have curated a fine exhibition about Schönberg’s early Viennese years. The two exhibition rooms usually hold a permanent exhibition about Schönberg’s life.

Arnold Schönberg (1874 - 1951) became the figurehead in revolutionizing 20th century music by developing the so-called 12-Tone-Technique. In the early stages, performances of his works caused scandals in 20th century Vienna, and the anti-Semitic policies of National Socialism branded his music "entartet" (degenerate), forcing him into exile in 1933.

But this exhibition, which was opened by Hartmut Krones, a leading Schönberg biographer, scholar and professor at the Musikuniversität Wien, deals with the time before Schönberg’s international fame. Who was the young man that would eventually have such an important impact on music history the following century?

"I am so happy, I have lost my job", exclaimed Arnold Schönberg in 1895, after his employment ended at the Bankhaus Werner & Co, a small private bank located in Vienna’s city center. "My boss went bankrupt, and no one else will get me into a bank ever."

The self-taught musician was, of course, more than happy that this unsatisfying employment had come to an end. And Dr. Christian Meyer, director of the Schönberg Center, added that Schönberg, who decided then to become a professional composer, "is said to have scribbled notes and music on the receipts rather than attaining to his duties as a bank clerk." A comment that is met with laughter by the small but receptive audience.

The exhibition itself is displayed on yellow panels with reproductions of photographs and documents, including extensive descriptions in German and English.

"As there is little documentary evidence of the early years of Schönberg," Meyer explained the concert, "we have aimed to portray also the period," pointing particularly at schoolbooks of the late 19th century, also on display. The center pieces are display cabinets with some original documents of the archive, including manuscripts of Schönberg’s first composition, a polka entitled Julikäfer (June Bug) from 1882.

The exhibition, which will be open to the public until January 2008, enlightens the connoisseur and the professional alike, as the aspects of Schönberg’s upbringing and living environment in Vienna has not received much attention in terms of research and publications. It is therefore a worthwhile visit, though The Young Schönberg exhibition is probably much less sensational in its display of the colourful life of the composer as some of the previous ones, like the one on Schönberg’s inventions (Schönberg’s Brilliant Moves, 2004), or the extensive retrospective of his paintings (The Painter Arnold Schönberg, 2005).


Details of the Exhibition:

Opened from Mon. to Fri., 

10.00 - 17.00 pm

losed on public holidays, Dec. 24 and 31.

Tickets, 6.00 for adults  

3.00 for concessions 

see  for full details.


The Arnold Schönberg Center

Palais Fanto

Schwarzenbergplatz 6, 

1030 Vienna


Other articles from this issue