By Fionnuala McHugh
The year 2024 is the 150th anniversary of Arnold Schoenberg’s birth in a Jewish part of Vienna.
The son of a shoemaker and a piano teacher, Schoenberg grew up to become a composer and, like his near-contemporary James Joyce, is what might be called a Marmite creative: people either worship him as the father of 20th-century composition or revile him as the man who developed atonal music.
His very name can incite nervousness; in 1924, Alban Berg, one of his students who would also become a famous composer – his oeuvre includes the operas Wozzeck and Lulu – wrote an essay titled “Why is Schoenberg’s Music So Difficult to Understand?”
Events in honour of this maestro of complications officially begin in January but, earlier this month, the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), Shenzhen kicked off celebrations with an international Schoenberg conference.
The highlight of the weekend event was a performance of Schoenberg in Hollywood by American composer Tod Machover.
The opera had its 2018 premiere in Boston where Machover, who is academic head of the MIT Media Lab, lives. In 2022 it was performed in Vienna, where the Arnold Schoenberg Centre is based. Shenzhen was the location for its third outing.