Anton Webern

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Anton Webern (3 December 1883 – 15 September 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 exponents 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 serialism.

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.

The symmetry of Webern's tone row from Variations, Op. 30, is apparent from the equivalent, P1=IR1 and R12=I12, and thus reduced number of row forms, two, P and R, plus transpositions. Consisting of three related tetrachords: a and c consisting of two minor seconds and one minor third and b consisting of two minor thirds and one minor second. Notes 4–7 and 6–9 also consist of two minor seconds and one minor third.

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 quarter.

Webern's first piece after completing his studies with Schoenberg was the Passacaglia for orchestra (1908). Harmonically, 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 Volkstexte op. 17 (1925) he used Schoenberg's twelve tone technique for the first time, and all his subsequent works used this technique. The String Trio op. 20 (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 in a technique referred to as Klangfarbenmelodie.

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

Song Cycles, Symphonies, Collections etc.

Acht frühe Lieder

Die Freunde (The Friends), op. 25

Drei Avenarius Lieder

Drei Gedichte für Gesang und Klavier

Drei Orchesterlieder

Drei Volkstexte (Three Folk Texts), op. 17

Fünf Canons, op. 16

Fünf geistliche Lieder, op. 15

Fünf Lieder

Kantate Nr. 1, op. 29

Kantate Nr. 2, op. 31

Vier Lieder