Ten experts decide who and what changed the course of music history.

Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951) is undoubtedly the great innovator in 20th-century music. Of course, if you simply follow the so-called rules he set out in his Harmonielehre of 1910 it’s pretty boring. Every part needs a rule, a system, law and order. It was left to Schoenberg’s genius to break out of these constraints and really use the 12-tone system to make great music. Of course later on, certain followers of Schoenberg became a little bit limited in their emotional and artistic approaches to this kind of music. In other words, some of his followers have led his methods into a dead end.

I’ve conducted a lot of Schoenberg: I do the Five Pieces, Op. 16, a lot. I’ve also conducted Moses and Aaron, one of the greatest operas of the 20th century. I conducted the Piano Concerto – a very important work – but I also did a lot of the early pieces: the Songs, Op. 8 and the Kammersymphonie. One of the greatest things about Schoenberg was that he never denied his 19th-century roots.

Of those who came after him, I love Webern as well, only it’s very hard to play his works in concert. Webern needs total silence. If people turn a page or cough, the slightest noise will disturb the music, fundamentally. Berg is more feasible. He is the most approachable of the Second Viennese school and he is a wonderful composer, especially in his two operas, Wozzeck and Lulu.


Christoph von Dohnányi conducts the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in Brahms, Bruckner and Berg from April 6-16.


The 10 Moments 

Hildegard & Pérotin (1150)
by Winsome Evans

The Ars Subtilior (1380)
by Genevieve Lacey

The Book of Common Prayer (1549)
by David Skinner

The Castrati (1680)
by Simone Kermes

The Piano (1700)
by Erin Helyard

The Steam Train (1804)
by Robert King

Wagner’s Ring (1876)
by Asher Fisch

Recording (1877)
by Stephen Hough

Schoenberg (1910)
by Christoph von Dohnányi

The Moon Landing (1969)
by David Robertson


1000 Years of Classical Music

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