In his time, the Austrian American composer Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951) was an international icon. His twelve-tone system was considered the future of music itself. Today, however, leading orchestras rarely play his works, and his name is met with apathy, if not antipathy. With this interpretative account, the acclaimed biographer of Toscanini finally restores Schoenberg to his rightful place in the canon, revealing him as one of the twentieth century's most influential composers and teachers. Sachs shows how Schoenberg, a thorny character who composed thorny works, raged against the "Procrustean bed" of tradition. Defying his critics—among them the Nazis, who described his music as "degenerate"—he constantly battled the anti-Semitism that eventually precipitated his flight from Europe to Los Angeles.
A model of concision—a concentrated meditation instead of a panorama. It may be recommended for anybody with an interest in the work of the Viennese-American composer Arnold Schoenberg ... Mr. Sachs’s fine study should inspire a fresh understanding of his life and work.
[Sachs] is a sterling example of the good old-fashioned and sadly vanishing 'music appreciation' writer, albeit with a sophisticated command of the historical and political back story ... Sachs’ book, despite its urgently prescriptive title...is nonetheless an immensely valuable source for anyone desiring an accessible overview of this endlessly controversial and chronically misunderstood giant of 20th-century music. Too many books about Schoenberg are overly technical for the general reader, or else they assume a kind of hagiographic defensive crouch. Sachs can be refreshingly candid, sharing his feelings at times as if he were whispering confidentially in your ear during a concert intermission.
Lucid ... Neither an argued thesis nor a full biography drawn from fresh archival research, Sachs’s book is a succinct guide to Schoenberg’s life and work, one designed in part to make the composer’s music accessible to a wider audience. Much of the book’s appeal lies in that implicit promise to help find the beauty hidden in what can seem, to the uninitiated, a writhing mass of noise.