Interview | Schoenberg at UCLA: Reminiscences from Leonard Stein, with Maiko Kawabata

Los Angeles is the city of paradox. Where else could Shirley Temple, the Marx Brothers, and other Hollywood luminaries live in the vicinity of eminent Viennese composer Arnold Schoenberg? Indeed, many influential artists, musicians, and cultural critics of the European avant garde found themselves in the land of palm trees and Hollywood glitz during the massive upheavals that led up to the Second World War. Leonard Stein, who was born in Los Angeles, was an active participant in the intellectual émigré community, and his close association with Arnold Schoenberg in particular make him an invaluable asset to those interested in the city’s art music life.

Stein is a pianist who studied with Schoenberg at UCLA and assisted the composer in his musical and scholarly activities. He was one of the first performers in the Evenings on the Roof concert series, which continues to this day at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Maiko Kawabata performed Schoenberg’s last composition, the Violin Phantasy, Op. 47, with Stein in the spring of 1999 as part of this distinguished series. But it is his role as a keeper of Schoenberg’s legacy that makes Stein important to historians of the European avant garde. 

Watch Kawabata and Stein perform the Violin Phantasy

Arnold Schoenberg was one of the most important Western art music composers of the early twentieth century. Feeling that the expressive capacity of tonality as a musical language had been exhausted, Schoenberg overturned the basic tenets that had governed Western harmony since the early 17th century. In a move he called the “emancipation of dissonance,” Schoenberg dismantled the hierarchical relationships of tonality and invented a system in which all twelve tones of the chromatic scale are equal. Schoenberg strongly believed in an evolutionary model of music history and felt that, just as tonal language—increasingly chromatic throughout the 19th century—would run its course, equally he was the true heir of the Germanic musical tradition. He and his students Alban Berg and Anton Webern came to be known as the Second Viennese School, a name which connected them to the great trio of earlier Viennese composers Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. 

Schoenberg was not the only Jewish intellectual to flee Nazi persecution and settle in California in the 1930s. Hanns Eisler, Bertold Brecht, Thomas Mann, Theodor Adorno, and Max Horkheimer were amongst Schoenberg’s fellow émigrés who observed the American cultural industry at close hand in Hollywood. Although Schoenberg’s archives recently returned to Europe, his name is still a part of both the California institutions at which he taught composition, harmony, and counterpoint—the music building at UCLA bears his name, and the University of Southern California’s Schoenberg Institute is a feature of their campus. Many of Schoenberg’s important compositions and texts were produced in the last fifteen years of his life in Southern Californian homes in Pasadena and Los Angeles neighborhoods such as Hollywood, and Brentwood.

From 1935 to 1942 Leonard Stein was Schoenberg’s student at UCLA. Stein subsequently edited Schoenberg’s books on counterpoint, harmony, and composition, and compiled and edited over a hundred essays by Schoenberg in Style and Idea: Selected Writings of Arnold Schoenberg. As a performer, Stein champions the music of Schoenberg, performing all his piano works at universities and conservatories in this country, and in radio performances in Europe. He has played Schoenberg’s most well-known piece Pierrot Lunaire, as well as the Ode to Napoleon and the Phantasy for Violin, which he premiered in 1949. In addition, he has conducted Schoenberg’s Violin Concerto with Rose Mary Harbison as soloist, Serenade Op. 24, the Septet Suite, Op. 29, and Stein’s recordings include the Brettl-Lieder (Cabaret songs), Nine Early Songs with Marni Nixon, and the Two Piano Pieces, Op. 33, as well as all the piano music of Anton Webern.

Maiko KawabataWhen did Schoenberg first come to UCLA? 

Leonard SteinIt was in the fall of 1936. He had been in Los Angeles since October 1934, shortly after his sixtieth birthday on September 13. He had departed from the East Coast (Boston and New York) after suffering a freezing winter which affected his health (he was asthmatic), and although he warmed up at Lake Chautauqua during the summer of 1934, he was advised by friends that the salubrious climate of California was not only better for his health but that he might make a decent living teaching Hollywood film composers as well. So he took the train from Chautauqua, accompanied by his wife, Gertrud, and his baby daughter, Nuria, and disembarked a week later in Pasadena. Here is how he described his first days in California:

Today, the 25th of November, I am sitting by the open window, writing, and my room is full of sunshine! […] We have a very charming little house, not too large, furnished, with many amenities customary here but hardly known at all in Europe. (Style and Idea 29; original in German)

At first he taught privately. Soon after his arrival a notice appeared in the Los Angeles Times announcing his presence in Los Angeles: “The distinguished composer, Arnold Schoenberg, has moved with his family to Hollywood and is accepting students.” As Pauline Alderman, a professor of music at USC tells it, she soon got in touch with Schoenberg and organized a class with some of her colleagues at his home in the Hollywood Canyon. Later on, in the Spring, she signed up twenty-five students for a private class which began with an analysis of Bach’s Art of Fugue. However, the class soon prevailed upon Schoenberg to discuss one of his own works, his Third String Quartet, which he had composed in 1927. For this class Schoenberg wrote out an analysis of the Quartet in English. It was also performed for the class by the Abas Quartet, a local ensemble that played all three of the Schoenberg quartets written up until that time. 

I heard the Abas Quartet play the Third Quartet in the Spring of 1935. That was the first time I saw Schoenberg—a rather roly-poly individual already bronzed by the California sun. I had previously become acquainted with some of his piano music. The Little Piano Pieces, Op. 19 had been played by my piano teacher, Richard Buhlig in 1932, I believe, but I cannot recall hearing any other Schoenberg before that time. From Buhlig subsequently I learned the Three Pieces, Op. 11, pieces which he had premiered in Berlin in 1912, becoming acquainted with Schoenberg in the process. Buhlig had known Schoenberg in Berlin and they remained close friends as well in Los Angeles.


Pauline Alderman arranged an appointment for Schoenberg at USC in the summer of 1935—he was a recipient of the Alchin Chair, as it was called. He taught rather large classes in analysis and composition. As I recall, most of the students were music teachers, apparently with very little knowledge of the classics, which Schoenberg referred to in the classes. He continued to teach special classes at USC during the following school year and through the summer of 1936. I attended some of these classes in composition and analysis.

MK But how and when did he come to UCLA?

LSAs I said at the beginning of our interview, it was in the fall of 1936. There are various stories about his appointment to the music faculty at UCLA. One of them concerns Otto Klemperer, the distinguished conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra and Dr. Vern Knudsen, an eminent acoustician and Physics professor at UCLA. Dr. Knudsen was a member of a search committee seeking a distinguished musician for the Music Department, a department which had not yet outgrown its Normal School origins as part of the Education Department. The Music Department did not even offer a BA in music at that time, only offering a teaching degree. Dr. Knudsen heard about Schoenberg from his friend Maurice Zam:

How UCLA got Schoenberg: in the early Spring of 1936, I was in New York and other points East interviewing suitable candidates to fill a professorship in composition for the Department of Music at UCLA. My interviews with top ranking prospects were terminated immediately following receipt of a letter from my wife. Her letter was written immediately following her return from a party at which Maurice Zam and other admirers of Schoenberg were entertained by modern music. The letter relates that when Maurice asked Florence where I was, she replied that I was in New York, as Chairman of a Faculty Committee searching for a professor of composition. Maurice replied, ‘By G–, why is he searching in the East when the greatest of all living composers is right here in Los Angeles and is professor of music at the University of Southern California.’ I immediately called Ernest Carroll Moore, Provost of UCLA, and recommended that he initiate negotiations with Professor Schoenberg. He acted promptly, and with USC’s consent, Arnold Schoenberg accepted the professorship, much to the good fortune and glory of UCLA. (Zam 224)

  1. MKWere you involved with Schoenberg at that time?

LSYes. I had taken some of his classes at USC in 1935 and 1936, so by the time he came to UCLA I was well prepared with his methods of teaching and had also assisted him in various ways. In December 1935 he conducted the LA Philharmonic in a special concert at USC. The program included his orchestra version of the First Chamber Symphony—originally composed for fifteen solo instruments, and I was asked to proofread the orchestral parts. Best of all, however, was that I had the opportunity to attend all the rehearsals, thus becoming more intimately acquainted with some of Schoenberg’s music. After the summer of 1936, I followed Schoenberg over to UCLA.


[In his first year, he] taught two classes in counterpoint, one a beginning class, the other, more advanced, including some students who had studied counterpoint with him at USC. When I say, “beginning counterpoint,” I mean that he really started from scratch with the most elementary exercises in first species counterpoint. Some of these examples were prepared in advance and passed out to the students, but most of the work was done in class with first Schoenberg showing how one must proceed systematically (a favorite word of his), trying out every possible combination of intervals, and then having students do the work on the blackboard. These examples eventually found their way into Schoenberg’s text, Preliminary Exercises in Counterpoint, which I helped him put together.

The other two classes Schoenberg taught were “Form and Analysis” and “Beginning Composition.” The emphasis in the former class was on analysis—Schoenberg hated the use of the word “form” in this context, because there are so many different “forms.” The main text in this class was Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas. Beethoven was chosen over other composers because of the regularity of his phrases (at least in the early sonatas) and as a model for the kinds of structures a beginning student could understand and imitate. The emphasis was placed on the opening phrases of movements, usually eight-measure segments that could be explained as either sentences or periods. These structures can be found in abundance as the beginning themes in many of Beethoven’s works. Although there are many other types of themes that deviate from these models, sentences and periods served as the basic formulation for thematic construction in Schoenberg’s lexicon. Later, when I worked with Schoenberg on books on harmony or composition there were always numerous examples of sentences and periods culled either from the masters or made up by Schoenberg himself, in the beginning chapters. 

  1. Two Composition Examples by Schoenberg

The class in composition started then with imitations of the forms found in Beethoven and the other masters and gradually being enlarged into three-part forms (ABA), Menuets and Scherzos, and finally, into complete Rondo forms. All based, of course, on strict application of tonal harmony.

MKWere you assisting Schoenberg in his classes at this time?

LSNot entirely. I was essentially the “house” pianist, so to speak. I played all the Beethoven examples—an excellent training for me and a good way to learn the music. Schoenberg’s assistant at this time was Gerald Strang, a composer who had received his degree in Philosophy at Stanford, was active in the Henry Cowell New Music Society in San Francisco, had received a scholarship to study with Schoenberg at USC, and then followed him to UCLA, while teaching, at the same time, in Long Beach.

As a matter of fact there were too many students in his classes, a fact Schoenberg complained about in a letter to the president of the university, Robert Gordon Sproul. This letter was written one year after Schoenberg began to teach at UCLA. I quote from this letter, dated 2 October, 1937:

At the present time we have twenty-five students in composition, and forty-five in analysis, both of which classes are far too large. But in counterpoint, we have 60 students, which I find very embarrassing. We have figured that if we wish to correct the assignments not very carefully, but only superficially, twenty hours of work a week would be necessary, which is far too much, even without the papers from the other classes. Furthermore, we have no opportunity to work with these students at the blackboard, to help them and to find out what they know … Allow me to make this following proposal: If you should find it possible to offer Mr. Strang, my present assistant, a contract as instructor for next year, we should be able to make some such adjustment as this: the counterpoint class could be divided into two or three sections of reasonable size, to be taught by Mr. Strang, or possibly one group of more talented students could be taken by me [and the same for the other classes] […] I would be free to announce a second year of composition and a second year of analysis, for which there are now a considerable number of prepared students. (Letters 202)

But, apparently, although Schoenberg was able in succeeding years to add advanced classes, he was still confronted by ever-larger beginning classes, most of which he taught, although (I think) Strang may have taught some of these classes, at least until 1939, when I became Schoenberg’s assistant and handled one or two of these classes, as well as beginning harmony for the music department. I have evidence in hand that as late as 1939 or 1940 Schoenberg had as many as thirty-seven students in an analysis class. I recall, in any case, that I had to correct their exams and report back to Schoenberg for the determination of their grades.


The big event during his first year at UCLA was the performance of his four quartets, including the premiere of his Fourth Quartet, and the last four quartets of Beethoven, performed by the Kolisch String Quartet in Royce Hall on January 4, 6, 7 and 8, 1937. Rudolf Kolisch was the brother-in-law of Schoenberg. His quartet, organized in Vienna in the 1920s, had become internationally renowned for its playing of modern works (such as the quartets of Bartók and Alban Berg) as well as the classical masters. I believe that Schoenberg hoped the quartet would be appointed to positions at the university, but that never happened. At any rate, we got to hear top-notch performances of the great quartet literature by this ensemble which, on several occasions, also rehearsed their repertoire in front of the students. Incidentally, the four quartets of Schoenberg were recorded privately by the Kolisch Quartet at this time. Expenses for the recordings were paid by Alfred Newman, famous film composer and a private pupil of Schoenberg.


Schoenberg’s Fourth Quartet, like his Third, had been commissioned by Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, probably the greatest supporter of new music for string quartet—or, for that matter, of any other chamber music. I remember attending a cycle of Beethoven quartets played by the Pro Arte String Quartet from Belgium, which was given at Cal Tech as a gift from Mrs. Coolidge. In his report to Mrs. Coolidge about the four concerts at Royce Hall, Schoenberg lauded the playing of the Kolisch Quartet in the following terms: 

The Kolischs played marvelously. Everything seems so simple, so self-evident in their performance, that one would think it is easy […] I confess they are the best string quartet I have ever heard. (Letters 201)

But Schoenberg was very critical of the way the university treated these performances:

I have wanted for a long time to write to you about the way in which these University people behaved on the occasion of the four concerts. Firstly: no publicity at all. A few days before the concerts the letters were mailed. I insisted they mention that these concerts were given through your generosity. They did it on small postcards, which informed the receivers that one concert will be given at one o’clock in the afternoon because the Budapest quartet played the same evening […] (Letters 200-01)

I remember this particular concert well because the audience consisted almost entirely of school children who had been brought to the concert by their teachers. I am not sure that they made any sense out of the Schoenberg quartet they heard.

Schoenberg also complained that he had not been introduced before the concerts or congratulated afterwards by any university official, despite the fact that he was a professor in the music department.”I am very much disgusted by this behavior,” he writes (Letters 200-201). Besides the quartets, other works by Schoenberg were performed during these years, the most important ones by Otto Klemperer and the Los Angeles Philharmonic at their downtown auditorium. Schoenberg himself also conducted a concert at the Trinity Auditorium in Los Angeles with the WPA orchestra (Federal Music Project) which consisted of unemployed musicians (the depression was still on). The concert took place on April 14, 1937. Schoenberg conducted his own tone poem, Pelleas and Melisande, dating from 1903, while Gerald Strang conducted works of Anton Webern, Adolph Weiss, Oscar Levant and his own Suite for String Orchestra.


MKYou have mentioned Otto Klemperer. Can you tell us something about him and his relation to Schoenberg?

LSKlemperer was, and is recognized today, as one of the leading conductors of the twentieth century. He was one of the most prominent refugees to come to Los Angeles, having been chosen, almost accidentally, by a local search committee to lead the Philharmonic orchestra, which he did from 1933 to 1939. After the war he made a successful career for himself in Europe, particularly in London. Klemperer had known Schoenberg in Berlin where he had performed some of his works, including the music drama Die Glückliche Hand [The Lucky Hand] and Begleitmusik zu einer Lichtspielszene[roughly, Music for a Film]. However, in Los Angeles Klemperer conducted only transcriptions Schoenberg made of works by Bach, Brahms, and Handel as well as his Suite for String Orchestra, a strict tonal piece originally conceived for a student orchestra. Later on, Klemperer also conducted Schoenberg’s Second Chamber Symphony, also a tonal work; one of the performances of this work (as I recall) was performed in Royce Hall. The music students from UCLA would always attend the Philharmonic concerts in large numbers whenever Schoenberg’s works were performed in the downtown Philharmonic Auditorium. But Klemperer would occasionally bring his orchestra to Royce Hall (although I don’t recall that he played any of Schoenberg’s works there), and often presented pre-concert speeches about the music to be played. Klemperer was very interested in student life: at one time he formed a “Junior” Philharmonic and even attended some of Schoenberg’s classes as a guest. He also took a few private lessons from Schoenberg. I remember hearing Klemperer conduct one of his own compositions at the Hollywood Bowl; it was called “The Merry Waltz.” However, Schoenberg was not very complimentary about Klemperer as a composer, to say the least.

MKBesides the works you mention that Klemperer conducted, were there many new works Schoenberg composed in Los Angeles, and were they all twelve-tone compositions?


LSSchoenberg composed at least fifteen new works in Los Angeles as well as the transcriptions mentioned before. Not all of them were twelve-tone compositions, a new compositional system which he had created in the early 1920s which broke the fetters of tonality, so to speak. But some of the new works were strictly tonal, including the Suite for String Orchestra, the Second Chamber Symphony (a completion of a composition started in 1906), Kol Nidre (a commissioned work for performance on the Jewish High Holiday), and other works for organ, and for wind band. Although he made many sketches of these works while he was teaching classes, he did the main work on the scores during the summer time or on other vacations. Most of the twelve-tone works were given their premieres by symphony orchestras in New York, Philadelphia, Minneapolis, Boston and by the NBC Orchestra. Several premieres were also performed in Los Angeles, including the Prelude to the Genesis Suite in 1945 and the Violin Phantasy in 1949. I had a hand in some of these works such as reducing the score of Kol Nidre for use by the Chorus, enlarging the Prelude to the Genesis Suite from Schoenberg’s reduced score (particell) to full-sized score, proofreading the scores and parts of some of the works, and performing the piano parts of the Violin Phantasy and the two-piano version of the Second Chamber Symphony. In passing I might also mention Schoenberg’s recording of his Pierrot Lunaire made for Columbia Records in 1940. It was the only work Schoenberg recorded in America. The concert performance of Pierrot Lunaire in New York, shortly after the recording, proved to be one of his biggest successes in this country and gave him the greatest satisfaction.


MKWere any of Schoenberg’s works associated with UCLA?

LSWell, not directly. I have mentioned the large number of students who attended his concerts in downtown Los Angeles.

However, besides the Kolisch Quartet concerts in 1937 in Royce Hall, where his four quartets were played, an event I mentioned earlier, two other events connected with the UCLA campus stand out in my mind. They both took place in 1942. Shortly after Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Schoenberg was commissioned to write a composition directed against tyranny, with Hitler in mind, of course. So the following January we drove together from the campus to Campbell’s Bookstore in Westwood Village to look for an appropriate text for this work. For some reason Schoenberg chose a book of poems by Lord Byron. After perusing the texts, and somewhat against the advice of English Lit. professors, he chose the “Ode to Napoleon Buonaparte,” generally recognized as a minor poem of the author. However, Schoenberg was impressed by the form of the poem, as well as the key words which seemed like leitmotiven or musical references, and also, I suspect, because he found a resemblance of the poem to the orotund oratory of Winston Churchill, which he had heard on the radio. The “Ode” was written in the spring of 1942 for speaker, piano and string quartet. It was performed two years later by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, with a string orchestra in place of the string quartet. The other event was an All-American concert in Royce Hall on May 15, 1942, arranged as a patriotic gesture by the music fraternity. Schoenberg was represented in this program by the first performance of his two-piano version of his Second Chamber Symphony, which was played by Clara Silvers (later Steuermann), one of his students, and myself. Works by several pupils of Schoenberg were also performed, including a Violin Sonata by Adolph Weiss, Schoenberg’s first American pupil in Berlin, and my own Scherzo for trumpet quartet. On other occasions works by Schoenberg were performed in Royce Hall, including three programs honoring his seventieth birthday in 1944 (which he did not attend) and a performance by the young Juilliard Quartet of his Fourth Quartet in January, 1951, a few months before his death. The day after the concert the Juilliard Quartet came to Schoenberg’s house in Brentwood and performed the First Quartet, Op.7, for him.


MKTo get back to Schoenberg’s classes at UCLA: did he add to the classes he taught in the years after 1936?

LSYes. As the students from his more elementary classes in counterpoint, composition, and analysis continued into more advanced work he added more advanced classes in all these subjects, but also added other classes as well. One was called “Structural Functions of Harmony” which later became a text and which interpreted harmonic functions in a different light (not twelve-tone) than his early Harmonielehre [Theory of Harmony], dating from 1911. Around the fall of 1942, after I had left his classes for work in the airplane factory, he inaugurated a course in orchestration, also with an unusual approach. Unfortunately the gleanings from that class have never been published. However, books on counterpoint (Preliminary Exercises in Counterpoint), Composition (Fundamentals of Musical Composition) as well as Structural Functions were published after his death. Also, a book of his essays, Style and Idea, edited by his pupil Dika Newlin, was published in 1950 to be followed by an enlarged edition which I edited in 1975. All of these books are in constant demand today. 

MKFrom all you have said, Schoenberg sounds like a dedicated teacher.

LS  About that, there is no doubt. His preparation of numerous examples for class, his attention to each individual student, his attempt to always find new ways to explain the basic language of the great classical traditions in harmony, counterpoint and form were more than an obsession to him. At the same time, it was evident that he enjoyed all this work; he was certainly one of the great teachers of music, if not the greatest, for all these reasons. Here are a few illustrations to underline this capacity: 

Schoenberg teaching materials 


UCLA Students Honoring Schoenberg at his home
on his birthday, Sept. 13, 1939.

I must mention one other event which took place at Schoenberg’s home. It was at the end of the school year in either 1939 or 1940 and featured the students of his advanced composition class having their compositions performed (either Rondos or Sonatas which I played for them) before a gathering of Music Department faculty and other guests. Before each composition Schoenberg read a statement praising the student’s work. The compositions were hardly more than capable, as one would expect from students who had completed no more than two years of composition, but nevertheless Schoenberg expressed considerable pride in their achievements. In the following statement to Prof. Douglas More of Columbia University, written on April 16, 1938, Schoenberg expresses well what his aims are in teaching composition to university students:

In my three years’ contact with university students (I had to change many of my ideas which I developed within almost forty years of teaching) I have realized that the greatest difficulty for the students is to find out how they could compose without being inspired. The answer is: it is impossible. But as they have to do it, nevertheless, advice has to be given. And it seems to me the only way to help is if one shows that there are many possibilities of solving problems, not only one. This method of showing always a great number of methods of solving problems and explaining them systematically is carried out through the whole book on every point where it is necessary. (Fundamentals 215)

The book he mentions eventually became Fundamentals of Musical Composition and included numerous examples illustrating a “great number of methods of solving problems.”


MKDid Schoenberg ever give any public lectures at UCLA?

LSHis most important lecture at UCLA in Royce Hall was in March, 1941, when he delivered the prestigious Faculty Lecture on his twelve-tone music. But before that he had prepared lectures for the Music Teachers National Association (MTNA) in Kansas City in December, 1939, where he talked about “How a Music Student Can Earn a Living” and “Ear Training Through Composing.”


The Faculty Lecture in 1941 came about as a result of his friendship with Vern O. Knudsen, a Physics Professor and an acknowledged authority on acoustics. Schoenberg and Knudsen had already discussed what “soundmen” needed for an education long before it became part of a curriculum for sound engineers. In light of this interest Schoenberg drew up a list of subjects such as a curriculum would require and submitted it to the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences.

Knudsen’s interest in Schoenberg dates back to 1936 when, as a member of the search committee to find a professor for the music department, he had been led by Maurice Zam, a local pianist, to select Schoenberg. 

You may recall, Maurice, that midway during his seven-year tenure at UCLA he received the highest honor our faculty can confer upon one of its members by being named Faculty Research Lecturer. This was the first and the only instance in which a professor in any of the fine arts at UCLA has been so honored. His faculty lecture on the “Twelve Tone Row” thoroughly justified the opinion of the Faculty Research Committee that Arnold Schoenberg was indeed worthy of this high honor for his research and creativity in new horizons of music. (Zam 224)

The lecture on “Twelve-tone Music” had been given earlier by Schoenberg at Princeton University, and the University of Chicago, but it was considerably polished for its definitive presentation at UCLA on March 26, 1941 and can be found in that form in Style and Idea. It may be considered one of the most important art documents of the twentieth century. Another important lecture given by Schoenberg, after his retirement, took place in Royce Hall in 1949. It is called “My Evolution” (also published in Style and Idea) and is more or less an autobiographical account of Schoenberg’s growth as a composer with many music examples. 

He taught from 1936 until the end of 1943 school year, and then took a one-year sabbatical. In 1942 he already knew that retirement was imminent because the university had a retirement age limit of 70, which he was approaching in 1944.

On September 13, 1944, I will be seventy and it seems that under normal conditions I should then retire. Frankly, I do not feel this way. At first, it seems to me that as men below the age of 64 will probably be drafted for military service, only men over sixty-four will be available for teaching. But secondly, my career is not one which is ended by age. I was appointed on the basis of my merits as a composer and teacher and I do not feel I am an old man, because I am still improving my teaching methods; though, as the long list of excellent pupils of mine proves, my teaching has always been exceptionally good (excuse me for violating the laws of modesty). Thirdly, I know of teachers of about my reputation (for instance at Columbia University) who at eighty and over still teach. Anyhow, I want to ask you about the conditions of retirement and annuities as regards the normal regulations of the University of California. I hope you will be kind enough to tell me all that concerns me and my special case. (Letters 213)

Unfortunately Schoenberg did learn that the university was strict about the retirement age; but even more devastating to him was to find out that the pension he was to receive at his retirement was (reputedly) only $35 per month, hardly sufficient to provide for a family consisting of his wife and three growing children. In these circumstances he was forced to sell outright some of his compositions and even to apply to the Guggenheim Foundation for a fellowship, which many other lesser, and younger, composers had obtained. He did not receive the Guggenheim.

In addition, there was one other matter that affected his relations with the university adversely. This had to do with the preservation of his musical manuscripts. I believe it was some time during 1942, that is, before he was informed about his retirement pension, I journeyed with him to the office of the university librarian Lawrence Clark Powell, to discuss the contribution of his manuscripts for safekeeping at the library.

September 6, 1944

Dear Mr. Powell:

I am very pleased about your intention of preservation of my life’s materials. This means very much to me, because so many of my unfinished works might easily get lost, in spite of the great care Mrs. Schoenberg takes to keep everything in order…


No date (1944/45)

Dear Mr. Powell:

I have to inform you that because of recently happened circumstances I must renounce the privilege of having my manuscripts, etc., incorporated in the university library…

And finally: January 4, 1945

Dear Mr. Powell:

I think I have no reason not to tell you what forced me to renounce this opportunity: I feel that the Administration and the Authorities of the University treat me in a very unsatisfactory manner in the matter of my retirement. This is why I feel I cannot longer remain in friendly relations with this institution […] (Arnold Schönberg Lebensgeschichte in Begegnungen 391)

MKAn opportunity lost for the university, obviously. But whatever happened to the collection of Schoenberg’s works subsequently?


LSWell, as you probably know, it finally ended up at the University of Southern California in 1975, a gift from Schoenberg’s heirs. Recently, in 1998, the archives from USC were removed to a new location in Vienna, still another loss for the Los Angeles community. However, I might add, UCLA tried to make its amends for the difficulty over the retirement pension, first, by asking Schoenberg to give a lecture around the time of his seventy-fifth birthday in 1949—the aforementioned lecture on “My Evolution”—and then to honor him in a special ceremony as an outstanding professor.

However, the greatest honor bestowed by the university was the construction and naming of Schoenberg Hall, the music building on the UCLA campus. Unfortunately this recognition of Schoenberg’s importance to the university occurred five years after his death, that is, in 1956. It is commemorated by the sculpture of the composer by Anna Mahler, daughter of another famous composer who supported Schoenberg in the early days, which adorns the entrance to the Hall. The dedicatory ceremony took place on May 15, 1956. It included an acceptance speech by Schoenberg’s widow, Gertrud, and a musical program consisting of Schoenberg’s Band Variations, op. 43a, De Profundis for a cappella choir, Op. 50b, and the Orchestral Songs, Op. 8. Vern Knudsen also participated.

UCLA further recognized its indebtedness to Arnold Schoenberg when it named its new music building Schoenberg Hall. I had the honor of presenting the incomium to Arnold on the occasion of the Hall’s dedication, an honor I greatly prize, not only because a warm friendship had developed between him and me, but also because it was requested by his widow, Gertrud. (Zam 225)

With many, many thanks to Lawrence Schoenberg, Betty Freeman, Garby Leon, and Robert Winter for the generous permission to reproduce many of the materials in this article.


Alderman, Pauline. “Reminiscences: Arnold Schoenberg at USC.” Journal of the Arnold Schoenberg Institute V/2 (November 1998): 203-10.

Nono-Schoenberg, Nuria, Catherine Lorenz, and Anita Luginbuehl. Arnold Schönberg Lebensgeschichte in Begegnungen. Klagenfurt: Ritter Klagenfurt, 1992.

Schoenberg, Arnold. Arnold Schoenberg Letters. Ed. Erwin Stein. London: Faber, 1964.

—. Fundamentals of Musical Composition. Ed. Gerald Strng and Leonard Stein. London and Boston: Faber and Faber, 1967.

—. Preliminary Exercises in Counterpoint. 2nd ed. London: Faber and Faber, 1969.

—. Style and Idea: Selected Writings of Arnold Schoenberg. Ed. Leonard Stein. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1975.

Zam, Maurice. “How Schoenberg Came to UCLA.” Journal of the Arnold Schoenberg Institute III/2 (October 1979): 223-8.