Schonberg’s “Seraphita”

November 9, 1913: Arnold Schönberg “completes the orchestral song “Seraphita”, op. 22, No. 1.

Arnold Schoenberg was born into a lower middle-class Jewish family in the Leopoldstadt district (in earlier times a Jewish ghetto) of Vienna, at “Obere Donaustraße 5”. His father Samuel, a native of Bratislava, was a shopkeeper, and his mother Pauline was native of Prague. Arnold was largely self-taught. He took only counterpoint lessons with the composer Alexander Zemlinsky, who was to become his first brother-in-law.

In his twenties, Schoenberg earned a living by orchestrating operettas, while composing his own works, such as the string sextet Verklärte Nacht (“Transfigured Night”) (1899). He later made an orchestral version of this, which became one of his most popular pieces. Both Richard Strauss and Gustav Mahler recognized Schoenberg’s significance as a composer; Strauss when he encountered Schoenberg’s Gurre-Lieder, and Mahler after hearing several of Schoenberg’s early works.

In 1898 Schoenberg converted to Christianity in the Lutheran church. According to MacDonald (2008, 93) this was partly to strengthen his attachment to Western European cultural traditions, and partly as a means of self-defence “in a time of resurgent anti-Semitism”. In 1933, after long meditation, he returned to Judaism, because he realised that “his racial and religious heritage was inescapable”, and to take up an unmistakable position on the side opposing Nazism. He would self-identify as a member of the Jewish religion later in life.

Our stamp of the day was issued by Österreichische Post on September 13, 1974 to honor the 100th anniversary of Schönberg’s birth.

arnold schonberg - austria

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