Anton von Webern

Anton von Webern

[vey-bern; Ger. vey-buhrn]
Webern, Anton von, 1883-1945, Austrian composer and conductor; pupil of Arnold Schoenberg. He conducted theater orchestras in Prague and in various German cities until 1918, devoting himself thereafter to composition and teaching. His first composition, a passacaglia for orchestra (1908), which showed the postromantic influence of Mahler, gave no hint of the exclusive use of the twelve-tone technique (see atonality) of Schoenberg that was to characterize the rest of his output. In his relatively few works, mostly for small chamber combinations or for voice, he reduced music to its barest essentials, depriving it of traditional harmonic concepts. He concentrated many fragmented musical events, ordered by intricate contrapuntal, rhythmic, and dynamic patterns, into extremely contracted time spans. For example, the whole of Five Pieces for Orchestra (1911-13) contains only 76 measures. In later works, such as Variations (1940) for orchestra, he strove for total variation, the opposite of traditional developmental technique. His individual style was both poetic and intensely expressive, and his music has become increasingly influential, although it remains outside the popular taste. Webern was accidentally killed by a sentry during the American occupation of Germany.

See his letters, ed. by J. Polnauer (tr. 1967); his The Path to the New Music, ed. by W. Reich (tr. 1963); biography by F. Wildgans (tr. 1966); study by R. Leibowitz (tr. 1949, repr. 1970).

Anton Webern (December 3, 1883 – September 15, 1945) was an Austrian composer and conductor. He was a member of the Second Viennese School. As a student and significant follower of Arnold Schoenberg, he became one of the best-known proponents of the twelve-tone technique; in addition, his innovations regarding schematic organization of pitch, rhythm and dynamics were formative in the musical technique later known as total serialism.

Biography

Webern was born in Vienna, Austria, as Anton Friedrich Wilhelm von Webern. He never used his middle names and dropped the von in 1918 as directed by the Austrian government's reforms after World War I. After spending much of his youth in Graz and Klagenfurt, Webern attended Vienna University from 1902. There he studied musicology with Guido Adler, writing his thesis on the Choralis Constantinus of Heinrich Isaac. This interest in early music would greatly influence his compositional technique in later years by employing palindromic form on both the micro- and macro-scale and the economic use of musical materials.

He studied composition under Arnold Schoenberg, writing his Passacaglia, Op. 1 as his graduation piece in 1908. He met Alban Berg, who was also a pupil of Schoenberg's, and these two relationships would be the most important in his life in shaping his own musical direction. After graduating, he took a series of conducting posts at theatres in Ischl, Teplitz, Danzig, Stettin, and Prague before moving back to Vienna. There he helped run Schoenberg's Society for Private Musical Performances from 1918 through 1922 and conducted the "Vienna Workers Symphony Orchestra" from 1922 to 1934.

Webern's music was denounced as "cultural Bolshevism" and "degenerate art" by the Nazi Party in Germany, even before they seized power in Austria in 1938. Although Webern had sharply attacked Nazi cultural policies in private lectures given in 1933, their intended publication did not take place at that time, which proved fortunate since this later "would have exposed Webern to serious consequences. During the war, however, his patriotic fervor led him to endorse the regime in a series of letters to Joseph Hueber, where he described Hitler on May 2, 1940 as "this unique man" who created "the new state" of Germany. As a result of official disapproval, he found it harder (though at no stage impossible) to earn a living, and had to take on work as an editor and proofreader for his publishers, Universal Edition. He left Vienna near the end of the war, and moved to Mittersill in Salzburg, believing he would be safer there. On September 15, 1945, during the Allied occupation of Austria, he was accidentally shot dead by an American Army soldier following the arrest of his son-in-law for black market activities, when, despite the curfew in effect, he stepped outside the house to enjoy a cigar without disturbing his sleeping grandchildren. The soldier responsible, army cook Pfc. Raymond Norwood Bell, was overcome by remorse and died of alcoholism in 1955.

Webern's music

Doomed to a total failure in a deaf world of ignorance and indifference he inexorably kept on cutting out his diamonds, his dazzling diamonds, the mines of which he had such a perfect knowledge.

Webern was not a prolific composer; just thirty-one of his compositions were published in his lifetime, and when Pierre Boulez oversaw a project to record all of his compositions, including those without opus numbers, the results fit on just six CDs. However, his influence on later composers, and particularly on the post-war avant garde, was immense. His mature works, using Arnold Schoenberg's twelve tone technique, have a textural clarity and emotional coolness which greatly influenced composers such as Pierre Boulez, Luigi Nono, and Karlheinz Stockhausen.

Like almost every composer who had a career of any length, Webern's music changed over time. However, it is typified by very spartan textures, in which every note can be clearly heard; carefully chosen timbres, often resulting in very detailed instructions to the performers and use of extended instrumental techniques (flutter tonguing, col legno, and so on); wide-ranging melodic lines, often with leaps greater than an octave; and brevity: the Six Bagatelles for string quartet (1913), for instance, last about three minutes in total.

Webern's earliest works are in a late Romantic style. They were neither published nor performed in his lifetime, though they are sometimes performed today. They include the orchestral tone poem Im Sommerwind (1904) and the Langsamer Satz (1905) for string quartet.

Webern's first piece after completing his studies with Schoenberg was the Passacaglia for orchestra (1908). Harmonically speaking, it is a step forward into a more advanced language, and the orchestration is somewhat more distinctive than his earlier orchestral work. However, it bears little relation to the fully mature works he is best known for today. One element that is typical is the form itself: the passacaglia is a form which dates back to the 17th century, and a distinguishing feature of Webern's later work was to be the use of traditional compositional techniques (especially canons) and forms (the Symphony, the Concerto, the String Trio and String Quartet, and the piano and orchestral Variations) in a modern harmonic and melodic language.

For a number of years, Webern wrote pieces which were freely atonal, much in the style of Schoenberg's early atonal works. With the Drei Geistliche Volkslieder (1925) he used Schoenberg's twelve tone technique for the first time, and all his subsequent works used this technique. The String Trio (1927) was both the first purely instrumental work using the twelve tone technique (the other pieces were songs) and the first cast in a traditional musical form.

Webern's tone rows are often arranged to take advantage of internal symmetries; for example, a twelve-tone row may be divisible into four groups of three pitches which are variations, such as inversions and retrogrades, of each other, thus creating invariance. This gives Webern's work considerable motivic unity, although this is often obscured by the fragmentation of the melodic lines. This fragmentation occurs through octave displacement (using intervals greater than an octave) and by moving the line rapidly from instrument to instrument (sometimes, and somewhat erroneously, called Klangfarbenmelodie).

Webern's last pieces seem to indicate another development in style. The two late Cantatas, for example, use larger ensembles than earlier pieces, last longer (No. 1 around nine minutes; No. 2 around sixteen), and are texturally somewhat denser.

List of works

Works with opus numbers

The works with opus numbers are the ones that Webern saw fit to have published in his own lifetime, plus a few late works published after his death. They constitute the main body of his work, although several pieces of juvenilia and a few mature pieces that do not have opus numbers are occasionally performed today.

  • Passacaglia, for orchestra, opus 1 (1908)
  • Entflieht auf Leichten Kähnen, for a cappella choir on a text by Stefan George, opus 2 (1908)
  • Five Lieder on Der Siebente Ring, for voice and piano, opus 3 (1907-08)
  • Five Lieder after Stefan George, for voice and piano, opus 4 (1908-09)
  • Five Movements for string quartet, opus 5 (1909)
  • Six Pieces for large orchestra, opus 6 (1909-10, revised 1928)
  • Four Pieces for violin and piano, opus 7 (1910)
  • Two Lieder, on texts by Rainer Maria Rilke, for voice and piano, opus 8 (1910)
  • Six Bagatelles for string quartet, opus 9 (1913)
  • Five Pieces for orchestra, opus 10 (1911-13)
  • Three Little Pieces for cello and piano, opus 11, (1914)
  • Four Lieder, for voice and piano, opus 12 (1915-17)
  • Four Lieder, for voice and orchestra, opus 13 (1914-18)
  • Six Lieder for voice, clarinet, bass clarinet, violin and cello, opus 14 (1917-21)
  • Five Sacred Songs, for voice and small ensemble, opus 15 (1917-22)
  • Five Canons on Latin texts, for high soprano, clarinet and bass clarinet, opus 16 (1923-24)
  • Three Traditional Rhymes, for voice, violin (doubling viola), clarinet and bass clarinet, opus 17 (1924)
  • Three Lieder, for voice, E flat clarinet and guitar, opus 18 (1925)
  • Two Lieder, for mixed choir, celesta, guitar, violin, clarinet and bass clarinet, opus 19 (1926)
  • String Trio, opus 20 (1927)
  • Symphony, opus 21 (1928)
  • Quartet for violin, clarinet, tenor saxophone and piano, opus 22 (1930)
  • Three Songs on Hildegard Jone's Viae inviae, for voice and piano, opus 23 (1934)
  • Concerto for flute, oboe, clarinet, horn, trumpet, trombone, violin, viola, and piano, opus 24 (1934)
  • Three Lieder on texts by Hildegard Jone, for voice and piano, opus 25 (1934-35)
  • Das Augenlicht, for mixed choir and orchestra, on a text by Hildegard Jone, opus 26 (1935)
  • Variations, for solo piano, opus 27 (1936) - of the opening bars (ogg format, 19 seconds, 85 KB)
  • String Quartet, opus 28 (1937-38) - the tone row of this piece is based around the BACH motif
  • Cantata No. 1, for soprano, mixed choir and orchestra, opus 29 (1938-39)
  • Variations, for orchestra, opus 30 (1940)
  • Cantata No. 2, for soprano, bass, choir and orchestra, opus 31 (1941-43)

Works without opus numbers

  • Two Pieces for cello and piano (1899)
  • Three Poems, for voice and piano (1899–1902)
  • Eight Early Songs, for voice and piano (1901–1903)
  • Three Songs, after Ferdinand Avenarius (1903–1904)
  • Im Sommerwind, idyl for large orchestra after a poem by Bruno Wille (1904)
  • Langsamer Satz (Slow Movement) for string quartet (1905)
  • String Quartet (1905)
  • Piece for piano (1906)
  • Rondo for piano (1906)
  • Rondo for string quartet (1906)
  • Five Songs, after Richar Dehmel (1906–1908)
  • Piano Quintet (1907)
  • Four Songs, after Stefan George (1908-1909)
  • Five Pieces for orchestra (1913) [related to op. 10, first pub. 1971, edited by Friedrich Cerha.]
  • Three Songs, for voice and orchestra (1913–1914)
  • Cello Sonata (1914)
  • Piece for children, for piano (1924)
  • Piece for piano, in the tempo of a minuet (1925)
  • Piece for string trio (1925)
  • Deutsche Tänze (German Dances) by Schubert (1824), orchestrated by Webern (1932)

References

Bibliography

  • Bailey, Kathryn. 1991. The Twelve-Note Music of Anton Webern: Old Forms in a New Language. Music in the Twentieth Century 2. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521390885 (cloth) ISBN 0521547962 (pbk. ed., 2006)
  • Bailey, Kathryn (ed.). 1996. Webern Studies. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521475260
  • Bailey, Kathryn. 1998. The Life of Webern Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 052157336X (cloth) ISBN 0521575664 (pbk)
  • Ewen, David. 1971. "Anton Webern (1883-1945)," in Composers of Tomorrow's Music, 66-77. New York: Dodd, Mead & Co. ISBN 0-396-06286-5
  • Forte, Allen. 1998. The Atonal Music of Anton Webern New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 0300073526
  • Hayes, Malcolm. 1995. Anton von Webern. London: Phaidon Press. ISBN 0714831573
  • Mead, Andrew. 1993. "Webern, Tradition, and 'Composing with Twelve Tones'", Music Theory Spectrum 15:173–204.
  • Moldenhauer, Hans. 1961. The Death of Anton Webern: A Drama in Documents New York: Philosophical Library. OCLC 512111
  • Moldenhauer, Hans. 1966. Anton von Webern Perspectives. Edited by Demar Irvine, with an introductory interview with Igor Stravinsky. Seattle: University of Washington Press.
  • Moldenhauer, Hans, and Rosaleen Moldenhauer. 1978. Anton von Webern: A Chronicle of His Life and Work. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 0-394-47237-3 London: Gollancz. ISBN 0575024364
  • Noller, Joachim. 1990. "Bedeutungsstrukturen: zu Anton Weberns 'alpinen' Programmen." Neue Zeitschrift für Musik151, no. 9 (September): 12–18.
  • Perle, George. 1991. Serial Composition and Atonality: an Introduction to the Music of Schoenberg, Berg and Webern. Sixth ed. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.
  • Stravinsky, Igor. 1959. "[Foreword]". Die Reihe 2 (2nd revised English edition): vii.
  • Webern, Anton. 1963. The Path to the New Music. Edited by Willi Reich. [Translated by Leo Black.] Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania: Theodore Presser Co., in Association with Universal Edition. Reprinted London: Universal Edition, 1975. (Translation of Wege zur neuen Musik. Vienna: Universal Edition, 1960.)
  • Wildgans, Friedrich. 1966. Anton Webern. Translated by Edith Temple Roberts and Humphrey Searle. Introduction and notes by Humphrey Searle. New York: October House.

Further reading

  • Tsang, Lee (2002). "The Atonal Music of Anton Webern (1998) by Allen Forte". Music Analysis, 21/iii (October), 417-27.

Software

  • WebernUhrWerk - generative music generator by Karlheinz Essl, based on Anton Webern's last twelve-tone row, commemorating his sudden death on September 15, 1945. - Free download for Mac OS X and Windows XP.

See also

External links

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