Schnebel was born in Lahr/Baden. He began general private music studies with Wilhelm Siebler from 1942 until 1945, when he started piano lessons with Wilhelm Resch, and continued study with him until 1949 at the age of 19 (Herman 2017).
He continued with music history through 1952, under Eric Doflein (Attinello 2001). Simultaneously he began to study composition, from 1950, with Ernst Krenek, Theodor W. Adorno and Pierre Boulez, among others. He entered formal studies at the University of Tübingen, where he took musicology with Walter Gerstenberg, as well as theology, philosophy and further piano studies (Zimmerlin 2018). In 1955, he left with a degree in theology (Herman 2017), but with a dissertation about Arnold Schoenberg (Anon. 2018b). Soon after, he married Camilla Riegger in 1956, and the couple had a son and daughter. Schnebel became a minister, and taught theology and religion until 1963, when he began teaching philosophy and psychology (Anon. 2018b) After his first wife died he underwent a period of psychoanalysis. In 1970 he married Iris von Kaschnitz (Anon. 2018b), and began teaching religious studies and music in Munich, which he continued until 1976 (Attinello 2001). In 1976, he began teaching in Berlin as a professor of experimental music and music research, a chair created for him. He held it until his retirement in 1995 (Anon. 2018b; Anon. & n.d.(b)).
Schnebel composed several cycles of works, sometimes over a long time (Anon. 2018b). One of them was called Versuche (Essays), consisting of four works written 1953 to 1956. They concern serial techniques, exploring space by placing performers at separate positions. His religious music includes a cycle Für Stimmen (...missa est) (For voices ...), consisting of four works written 1956 to 1969). They use the human voice and organ in experimental settings of prayers and biblical texts. A cycle Produktionsprozesse is a group of compositions related to "language and body" which concerns the physical sound production, with the performers utilizing speech and breathing organs in unusual ways (Göbel 2018; Zimmerlin 2018).
Schnebel made arrangements of works by Bach, Beethoven, Webern and Wagner, called Re-Visions, sometimes using their traditional concepts to reflect new techniques and different ways of looking at them (Zimmerlin 2018).
Gligo, Nikša. "Schrift ist Musik? Ein Beitrag zur Aktualisierung eines nur anscheinend veralteten Widerspruchs". International Review of the Aesthetics and Sociology of Music 18 (1987), 1, pp. 145–162 (part 1); 19 (1988), 1, pp. 75–115 (part 2) (includes an analysis of Schnebel's project MO-NO: Musik zum Lesen)
Stolba, K. Marie. The Development of Western Music: A History. Boston: McGraw Hill, 1998.
Warnaby, John. "Dieter Schnebel and His Sinfonie X". Tempo, New Ser., No. 186 (September 1993), pp. 26–31.