Arnold Schoenberg is one of the most interesting and complex figures in music history. I suggest reading the whole Wikipedia article as it is quite good. Schoenberg was born into the late 19th century musically dominant city of Vienna in 1874. The style of music was harmonically rich, orchestrally powerful and lengthy. The leading composers were people like Richard Strauss and Gustav Mahler. Schoenberg's early music was in this style and well-received. The prelude to his Gurre-Lieder is an example:
But Schoenberg was not content to rest there. He sensed that a huge transition was coming in music and that it was his destiny to be part of it. The fundamental change was in the whole concept of harmony. Schoenberg felt that the old strictures of the resolution of dissonance and cadence had to be overthrown if music were to progress. What I mean is that previously you could use dissonances, but they had to be resolved in a certain way and ultimately, the music had to arrive at a cadence, even if, as in the music of Richard Wagner, this was delayed for a long time.
For a while Schoenberg simply threw the rules away and wrote free music according to his instincts. An example of this stage are his Six Little Pieces, op. 19 for piano:
They are so brief because, operating purely by instinct, it is hard to create larger structures. After Schoenberg had written music like this, he strove to understand intellectually what was going on and finally came up with a way of structuring music other than with tonality. This atonal music was to be given a structure according to all the 12 chromatic notes of the scale arranged in a certain order. This was not like a melody, but rather a kind of intervallic structure that could be worked with using some age-old contrapuntal methods to create longer pieces. His Violin Concerto is an example:
What my previous post was about was the ideology that has been connected with this whole movement. A phrase used by Schoenberg, the "emancipation of the dissonance" was connected with the process. I was pointing out how misleading it is. In the original post I referred to connecting harmonic usage with the harmonic series as a misunderstanding. Let me hasten to say that this was not Schoenberg's misunderstanding, but rather of those theorists quoted in the Wikipedia article on the emancipation of the dissonance. Schoenberg was a superlative theorist and teacher apart from being such an important composer.
Now go back and read yesterday's post if you like!