[Editor's note: Deathmatch pairs two artists who have something in common, and determines who is better. It's a concept we sort-of ripped off from MTV, except that instead of claymation it's the printed word!]
Towering classical music geniuses Igor Stravinsky and Arnold Schoenberg were pitted against each other as the two great rivals of the 20th century. But who was really better? The dour Austrian professor who emancipated dissonance (Schoenberg), or the tiny Russian conductor who lifted other composers' musical styles like a kleptomaniac (Stravinsky)? Let's compare them point by point.
Who was recorded more?
Whose music is better known?
Stravinsky's Firebird, meanwhile, can be heard at every goddamn Delta Air checkpoint line in the country. Igor's music was featured on Broadway, at the circus, and in Disney's Fantasia. The closest Arnie ever got to writing soundtracks was his Accompaniment Music, op. 34–for an imaginary film. Weak sauce.
Who was more original?
The Schoenster got rid of those wimpy major and minor chords in his harmonies, writing the first atonal music. He wrote pieces only nine bars long. He wrote music where the timbres of the instruments were more important than chords or melody, a device he called “sound color melody.”
Stravinsky smashed rhythm in a hadron collider and reassembled the smallest particles in ways never heard before. He also remixed composers like Tchaikovsky and Pergolesi, decades before Jamaican producers and disco DJs pushed their first faders.
Who was more gangsta?
Stravinsky was polite yet condescending towards his rivals. Schoenberg preferred to drink the haterade; he even wrote a chorus piece in 4-part harmony dissing Stravinsky. Schoenberg didn't call out his rival by name, but everyone knew the lyrics about “Little Modernsky,” “drumming away” and imitating “Papa Bach,” threw shade on Stravinsky. Sounds tame, but in 1925 that was major ownage.
Who was a bigger player?
Schoenberg was faithfully married to his wife, Mathilde, who left him for his good friend in 1908. Schoenberg begged her to return, and after Mathilde croaked, Arnie got hitched to wife no. two, Gertrud, for the rest of his life. BOH-ring!
In 1921, Stravinsky moved his wife and kids to Biarritz, and told them he going to hike the Appalachian Trail. He went back to Paris instead, where he freely got with his mistresses, including Coco Chanel.
Schoenberg's enforcer, the Frankfurt philosopher Theodor “the Terror” Adorno, scared American professors into paying tribute to Schoenberg, and for about 30 years after the composer's death in 1951, serialism was considered the only proper way for students to compose in the U.S.
But students began to drift to Stravinsky's side. In Europe, Louis Andriessen canonized Stravinsky's strong rhythms, bold instrumental colors, clear textures, and using another composer's music as a template for your own musical thoughts. Andriessen impressed a trio of Americans who went on to form the Bang on a Can new music dynasty.
All hail Stravinsky!