[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?

Arkivmusic.com shows that Schoenberg has 445 recordings for sale, and Stravinsky 1,130.

Point: Stravinsky

Whose music is better known?

Schoenberg and his pupils believed his 12-tone music would become commonplace, even among children, but last time I checked my nieces weren't humming selections from Moses und Aron.

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.

Point: Stravinsky

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.

Point: Schoenberg



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.

Point: Schoenberg

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.

Point: Stravinsky

"Permit me to introduce myself, Professor Spies. I am Theodor Adorno. Is that your boy? He is very fit and handsome. It would be a shame if anything were to happen to him!"

“Permit me to introduce myself, Professor Spies. I am Theodor Adorno. Is that your boy? He is very fit and handsome. It would be a shame if anything were to happen to him!”


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.

Point: Stravinsky

Judges' Totals:

All hail Stravinsky!

LA Weekly