Webern, Anton (Friedrich Wilhelm) von

views updated

Webern, Anton (Friedrich Wilhelm) von

Webern, Anton (Friedrich Wilhelm) von, remarkable Austrian composer (he removed the nobiliary particle “von” in 1918 when such distinctions were outlawed in Austria); b. Vienna, Dec. 3, 1883; d. (accidentally shot and killed by an American soldier) Mittersill, Sept. 15,1945. He received his first instruction in music from his mother, an amateur pianist, then studied piano, cello, and theory with Edwin Komauer in Klagenfurt; he also played cello in the orch. there. In 1902 he entered the Univ. of Vienna, where he studied harmony with Graedener and counterpoint with Navratil; Webern also attended classes in musicology with Adler, receiving his Ph.D. in 1906 with a diss. on Heinrich Isaac’s Choralis Constantinus II. In 1904 he began private studies in composition with Schoenberg, whose ardent disciple he became; Berg also studied with Schoenberg. Together, Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern laid the foundations of what became known as the 2nd Viennese School of composition. The unifying element was the adoption of Schoenberg’s method of composition with 12 tones related only to one another. Malevolent opponents referred to Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern as a Vienna Trinity, with Schoenberg as God the Father, Berg as God the Son, and Webern as the Holy Ghost; the last appellation was supposed to describe the phantomlike substance of some of Webern’s works. From 1908 to 1914 Webern was active as a conductor in Vienna and in Germany. In 1915-16 he served in the army; in 1917-18, was conductor at the Deutsches Theater in Prague. In 1918 he settled in Mödling, near Vienna, where he taught composition privately; from 1918 to 1922 he supervised the programs of the Verein für Musikalische Privataufführungen (Society for Private Musical Performances), organized in Vienna by Schoenberg with the intention of promoting modern music without being exposed to reactionary opposition (music critics were not admitted to these performances). Webern was conductor of the Schubertbund (1921-22) and the Mödling Male Chorus (1921-26); he also led the Vienna Workers’ Sym. concerts (1922-34) and the Vienna Workers’ Chorus (1923-34), both sponsored by the Social Democratic Party. From 1927 to 1938 he was a conductor on the Austrian Radio; furthermore, he conducted guest engagements in Germany, Switzerland, and Spain; from 1929, he made several visits to England, where he was a guest conductor with the BBC Sym. Orch. For the most part, however, he devoted himself to composition, private teaching, and lecturing. After Hitler came to power in Germany in 1933, Webern’s music was banned as a manifestation of “cultural Bolshevism” and “degenerate art.” His position became more difficult after the Anschluss in 1938, for his works could no longer be publ.; he eked out an existence by teaching a few private pupils and making piano arrangements of musical scores by others for Universal Edition. After his son was killed in an air bombardment of a train in Feb. 1945, he and his wife fled from Vienna to Mittersill, near Salzburg, to stay with his married daughters and grandchildren. His life ended tragically on the evening of Sept. 15, 1945, when he was shot and killed by an American soldier after stepping outside his son-in-law’s residence (for a full account, see H. Moldenhauer, The Death of Anton Webern: A Drama in Documents, N.Y., 1961).

Webern left relatively few works, and most of them are of short duration (the 4th of his 5 Pieces for Orch., op. 10, scored for clarinet, trumpet, trombone, mandolin, celesta, harp, drum, violin, and viola, takes only 19 seconds to play), but in his music he achieves the utmost subtilization of expressive means. He adopted the 12-tone method of composition almost immediately after its definitive formulation by Schoenberg (1924), and extended the principle of nonrepetition of notes to tone colors, so that in some of his works (e.g., Sym., op.21) solo instruments are rarely allowed to play 2 successive thematic notes. Dynamic marks are similarly diversified. Typically, each 12-tone row is divided into symmetric sections of 2, 4, or 6 members, which enter mutually into intricate but invariably logical canonic imitations. Inversions and augmentations are inherent features; melodically and harmonically, the intervals of the major seventh and minor ninth are stressed. Single motifs are brief, and stand out as individual particles or lyric ejaculations. The impact of these works on the general public and on the critics was disconcerting, and upon occasion led to violent demonstrations; however, the extraordinary skill and novelty of technique made this music endure beyond the fashions of the times; performances of Webern’s works multiplied after his death, and began to influence increasingly larger groups of modern musicians. Stravinsky acknowledged the use of Webern’s methods in his latest works; jazz composers have professed to follow Webern’s ideas of tone color; analytical treatises have been publ. in several languages. The International Webern Festival celebrated the centennial of his birth in Dec. 1983 in Vienna.


orch: Im Sommerwind, idyll for Large Orch. (1904; Seattle, May 25, 1962, Ormandy conducting); Passacaglia, op.l (1908; Vienna, Nov. 4, 1908, composer conducting); 6 Orchestral Pieces, op.6 (1909; Vienna, March 31, 1913, Schoenberg conducting; rev. 1928; Berlin, Jan. 27, 1929); 5 Orchestral Pieces, op.10 (1911-13; Zürich, June 22,1926, composer conducting); 5 Orchestral Pieces, op.posthumous (1913; Cologne, Jan. 13, 1969); Sym. for Chamber Ensemble, op.21 (1928; N.Y., Dec. 18, 1929); 5 Movements for String Quartet, op.5, arr. for String Orch. (1928-29; Philadelphia, March 26,1930); Variations, op.30 (1940; Winterthur, March 3, 1943). CHAMBER: String Quartet, in one movement (1905; Seattle, May 26, 1962); Piano Quintet, in one movement (Vienna, Nov. 7, 1907); 5 Movements for String Quartet (1909; Vienna, Feb. 8, 1910); 4 pieces for Violin and Piano, op.7 (1910; rev. 1914); 6 bagatelles for String Quartet, op.9 (1911-13; Donaueschingen, July 19, 1924); 3 Little Pieces for Cello and Piano, op.ll (1914; Mainz, Dec. 2, 1924); String Trio, op.20 (1926-27; Vienna, Jan. 16, 1928); Quartet for Violin, Clarinet, Tenor Saxophone, and Piano, op.22 (1930; Vienna, April 13,1931); Concerto for 9 Instruments, op.24 (1934; Prague, Sept. 4, 1935); String Quartet, op.28 (1936-38; Pittsfield, Mass., Sept. 22, 1938). Piano: Variations (1936; Vienna, Oct. 26, 1937). VOCAL: Entflieht auf leichten Kähnen for Chorus, op.2 (1908; Furstenfeld, April 10, 1927); 2 songs for Chorus, Celesta, Guitar, Violin, Clarinet, and Bass Clarinet, after Goethe, op.19 (1926); Das Augenlicht for Chorus and Orch., op.26 (1935; London, June 17, 1938); 1st Cantata for Soprano, Chorus, and Orch. (1938-39; London, July 12,1946); 2nd Cantata for Soprano, Bass, Chorus, and Orch. (1941-43; Brussels, June 23,1950); 2 sets of 5 songs for Voice and Piano, after Stefan George, opp. 3 and 4 (1908-09); 2 songs for Voice and Instrumental Ensemble, after Rilke, op.8 (1910; rev. 1921 and 1925); 4 songs for Voice and Piano, op.12 (1915-17); 4 songs for Voice and Orch., op.13 (1914-18); 6 songs for Voice and Instruments, after Georg Trakl, op.l4 (1919-21; Donaueschingen, July 20, 1924); 5 Sacred Songs for Voice and Instruments, op. 15 (1917-22; Vienna, Oct. 9,1924, composer conducting); 5 Canons on Latin texts for Voice, Clarinet, and Bass Clarinet, op.16 (1923-24; N.Y., May 8, 1951); 3 Traditional Rhymes for Voice and Instruments, op.17 (1924-25; N.Y., March 16, 1952); 3 songs for Voice, Clarinet, and Guitar, op.18 (1925; Los Angeles, Feb. 8, 1954); 3 songs for Voice and Piano, op.23 (1933-34); 3 songs for Voice and Piano, op.25 (1934). OTHER: Arrangements for Chamber Orch. of Schoenberg’s Chamber Sym., op.9 (1923), Schubert’s Deutsche Tanze (1931), and Bach’s Ricercare a 6 from Das musikalische Opfer (London, April 25, 1935, composer conducting).


W. Reich ed. Der Weg zur neuen Musik (Vienna, 1933; new ed., 1960; Eng. tr., 1963) and Anton Webern: Weg und Gestalt: Selbstzeugnisse und Worte der Freunde (Zürich, 1961).


R. Leibowitz, Schoenberg et son école (Paris, 1947; Eng. tr., 1949); W. Kolneder, A. W.: Einführung in Werk und Stil (Rodenkirchen, 1961; Eng. tr., 1968); H. Moldenhauer, The Death of A. W.: A Drama in Documents (N.Y., 1961); G. Perle, Serial Composition and Atonality: An Introduction to the Music of Schoenberg, Berg and W.(Berkeley, 1962; 5th ed., rev., 1982); H. Moldenhauer and D. Irvine, eds., A. v. W.: Perspectives (Seattle, 1966); F. Wildgans, A. W.(London, 1966); A. v.W.: Sketches (1926-1945) (facsimile reproductions from W.’s sketchbooks, with commentary by E. Krenek and foreword by H. Moldenhauer; N.Y., 1968); R. Ringger, A. W.s Klavierlieder (Zürich, 1968); L. Somfai, A. W.(Budapest, 1968); C. Rostand, A. W.: L’Homme et son oeuvre (Paris, 1969); H. Deppert, Studien zur Kompositionstechnik im instrumentalen Spätwerk A. W.s (Darmstadt, 1972); W. Stroh, A. v.W.; Historische Legitimation (Göppingen, 1973); F. Döhl, W.s Beitrag zur Stilwende der neuen Musik (Munich, 1976); H. and R. Moldenhauer, A. v.W.: Chronicle of His Life and Work (N.Y., 1978); R. Schulz, Über das Verhältnis von Konstruktion und Ausdruck in den Werken A. W.s (Munich, 1982); E. Hilmar, ed., A. W. 1883-1983: Eine Festschrift zum hundertsten Geburtstag (Vienna, 1983); Z. Roman, A. v.W.: An Annotated Bibliography (Detroit, 1983); K. Bailey, The Twelve-Note Music of A. W.: Old Forms in a New Language (Cambridge, 1991); K. Essi, Das Synthses-Denken bei A. W.: Studien zur Musikauffassung des späten W. unter besonderer Berücksichtigung seiner eigenen Analysen zu op.28 und 30 (Tutzing, 1991); G. Cox, A. W.s Studienzeit: Seine Entwicklung im Lichte der Sätze und Fragmente für Klavier (Frankfurt am Main, 1992); M. Hayes, A. v.W.(London, 1995); A. Schreffler, W. and the Lyric Impulse: Songs and Fragments on Poems of Georg Trakl (Oxford, 1995); B. Zuber, Gesetz + Gestalt: Studien zum Spätwerk A. W.s (Munich, 1995); K. Bailey, ed., W. Studies (N.Y., 1996); H. Krones and M. Wagner, A. W. und die Musik des zwanzigsten Jahrhunderts (Vienna, 1997); G. Pongratz, A. W.s Variationen für Klavier opus 27: Musikwissenschaftlicher Diskurs mit Ableitung eines interdisziplinären Hörstudienansatzes (Hildesheim, 1997); K. Bailey, The Life of W.(Cambridge, 1998); B. Simms, ed., Schoenberg, Berg, and W.: A Companion to the Second Viennese School (Westport, Conn., 1999).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire

About this article

Webern, Anton (Friedrich Wilhelm) von

Updated About content Print Article