(1883 - 1945)
Although his entire corpus of works would require little more than three hours of performance time, Anton Webern nevertheless stands as a pivotal figure among the twentieth century's most signficant composers. While completing only 75 published works, some less than two minutes in length, Webern's music has had a profound effect on the modern musical world.
Born on 3 December 1883 in Vienna, Anton was the son of an aristocratic Austrian family. As a youngster he showed little promise. He was a poor speller, had difficulty with mathematics, and was generally disliked by his fellow students in school. Nevertheless, Anton demonstrated some proficiency in his studies on the cello, and through his music lessons he became familiar with the standard classical works of the masters.
While Anton's father approved of his son's music as an ennobling hobby, he had hoped that Anton would become an agriculturalist and take over the administration of the family estate. After persistently pressing his case with the elder Webern, Anton was finally allowed to study music at the University of Vienna. Here he flourished, and in 1906 at the young age of 23 he received a Ph.D. in musicology.
Two years earlier Webern had met and become the pupil of Arnold Schönberg, the chief proponent of the serial method of composition. This technique differed radically from the more familiar rules of harmony in that it was dodecaphonic (treating each of the twelve musical tones on an equal basis); this method of harmony is also called atonal. Along with fellow student Alban Berg, Webern formed a deep and lasting relationship with Schönberg, and both young composers adapted and refined this new technique to their own musical creations.
During the early part of his career, Webern was most active as a conductor of various theater orchestras throughout Europe. Letters written during this period often betray a young genius who was depressed and discouraged by his position because he very much disliked the kind of music he was forced to conduct. He preferred to be free to spend his time composing, but the demands required in order to provide for his family prevented him from doing so. A devoted family man, he continued in the more secure position as a conductor so that his wife and children would not suffer unduly during the difficult decades of the early twentieth century.
His conducting was judged of high caliber, however, and he was considered demanding but patient. But, rehearsals were inordinately exhausting to him, and he often complained of the constant assault to his eardrums.
During his own lifetime, Webern's compositions were never much appreciated. Being so different from the music that was popular in Europe at the time, audiences found his style confusing and incomprehensible. Even today many people have trouble understanding his music, which actually can have moments of sheer beauty. Because of the demands his music put on performers, many musicians refused even to attempt it; and during the Second World War the Nazis banned his works entirely. He was ultimately reduced to making a living as a proofreader for his own former publisher.
The War was a tremendous tragedy for all of Europe, and Anton Webern was not exempted. His only son, to whom he was greatly devoted, was drafted by the German army and was killed in a troop train on the Eastern Front. Webern's nerves were so badly shaken by this tragedy that he was unable to compose. Not until the war had finally come to an end did he begin at last to feel some renewal of hope for himself and for mankind. He actually began thinking about composing again and had made sketches for later works.
But those works were never to come to fruition. Only a few weeks after the war was over, Webern was shot by mistake by an American soldier in Mittersill, Austria.
After his death, Webern's influence began to spread rapidly among the new musicians of the free world. His use of serialism and his emphasis on a single note or single melodic line gained interest with many composers who subsequently expanded his techniques to fit their own styles. It is perhaps regrettable, however, that many of Webern's disciples have not had sufficient regard for some of his deeper musical philosophies that were founded on his profound religious convictions. Webern's great reverence for God and religion — which even the war and the death of his only son could not shake — can be seen most acutely in the texts of his sacred works.
Passacaglia for Orchestra, op. 1
"Entflieht auf leichten Kähnen," op. 2
Five Songs from Der siebente Ring, op. 3
Five Songs on Poems of Stefan George, op. 4
- "Dies ist ein Lied"
- "Im Windesweben"
- "An Bachesranft"
- "Im Morgentaun"
- "Kahl reckt der Baum"
Five Movements for String Quarter, op. 5
- Eingang ("Welt der Gestalten")
- "Noch zwingt much Treue"
- "Ja Heil und Dank dir"
- "So ich traurig bin"
- Ihr tratet zu dem Herde"
Six Pieces for Large Orchestra, op. 6
Four Pieces for Violin and Piano, op. 7
Two Songs on Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke, op. 8
Six Bagatelles for String Quartet, op. 9
- "Du, der ichs nicht sage"
- "Du machst mich allein"
Five Pieces for Orchestra, op. 10
Three Little Pieces for Violoncelle and Piano, op. 11
Four Songs for Voice and Piano, op. 12
Four Songs for Voice and Orchestra, op. 13
- "Der Tag ist vergangen"
- Die geheimnisvolle Flöte ("An einem Abend")
- "Schien mir's, als ich sah die Sonne"
- Gleich und Gleich ("Ein Blumenglöckchen")
Six Songs on Poems of Georg Trakl, op. 14
- Wiese im Park ("Wie wird mir zeitlos")
- Die Einsame ("An dunkelblauem Himmel")
- In der Fremde ("In fremdem Lande")
- Ein Winterabend ("Wenn der Schnee")
Five Sacred Songs, op. 15
- Die Sonne ("Täglich kommt die gelbe Sonne")
- Abendland I ("Mond, als träte ein Totes")
- Abendland II ("So leise sind die grünen Wälder")
- Abendland III ("Ihr grossen Städte")
- Nachts ("Die Bläue neiner Augen")
- Gesang einer gefangenen Amsel ("Dunkler Odem im grünen Gerzweig")
Five Canons on Latin Texts, op. 16
- "Das Kreuz, das musst' er tragen"
- Morgenlied ("Steht auf, ihr lieben Kinderlein")
- "In Gottes Namen aufstehn"
- "Mein Weg geht jetzt vorüber"
- "Fahr hin, o Seel'"
Three Traditional Rhymes, op. 17
- "Christus factus est"
- "Dormi Jesu"
- Crux fidelis"
- Asperges me"
- "Crucem tuam adoramus"
Three Songs, op. 18
- "Armer Sünder, du"
- "Liebste Jungfrau"
- "Heiland, unsre Missetaten"
Two Songs, op. 19
- "Schatzerl klein"
- Erlösung ("Mein Kind, sieh an")
- "Ave, Regina coelorum"
String Trio, op. 20
- "Weiss wie Lilien"
- "Ziehn die Schafe"
Symphony, op. 21
Quartet (violin, clarinet, tenor saxophone & piano), op. 22
Three Songs from Viae inviae, op. 23
Concerto (chamber ensemble), op. 24
- "Das dunkle Herz"
- "Es stürtzt aus Höhen Frische"
- "Herr Jesus mein"
Three Songs on Poems of Hildegard Jone, op. 25
Das Augenlicht, op. 25
- "Wie bin ich froh!"
- "Des Herzens Purpurvogel"
- "Sterne, Ihr silbernen Bienen"
Variations for Piano, op. 27
String Quartet, op. 28
First Cantata, op. 29
Variations for Orchestra, op. 30
- "Zündender Lichtblitz"
- "Kleiner Flügel"
- "Tönen die seligen Saiten Apolls"
Second Cantata, op. 31
- "Schweigt auch die Welt"
- "Sehr tiefverhalten"
- "Schöpfen aus Brunnen"
- "Leichteste Bürden"
- "Freundselig ist das Wort"
- "Gelockert aus dem Schosse"
Sans numéro | Unnumbered
Two Pieces for Violin & Piano (1899)
Three Poems for Voice & Piano (1899-1903)
Eight Early Songs (1901-1904)
- Vurfrühling ("Leise tritt auf")
- Nachtgebet der Braut ("O Welt, wann darf ich")
- Fromm ("Der Mond scheint")
Three Songs after Poems by Ferdinand Avenarius (1903-1905)
- Tief von fern ("Aus des Abends")
- Aufblick ("Über unsere Liebe")
- Blumengruss ("Der Strauss, den ich")
- Bild der Liebe ("Vom Wald umgeben")
- Sommerabend ("Du Sommerabend")
- Heiter ("Mein Herz ist wie ein See")
- Der Tod ("Ach, es ist so dunkel")
Im Sommerwind for Orchestra (1904)
- Gefunden ("Nun wir uns lieben")
- Gebet ("Ertrage du's")
- Freunde ("Schmerzen und Freuden")
Langsamer Satz for String Quartet (1905)
String Quartet (1905)
Satz für Klavier (1906)
Sonatensatz (Rondo) für Klarier (1906)
Rondo ("Bewegt") for String Quartet (1906)
Five Songs after Poems by Richard Dehmel
Quintet ("Mässig") (1907)
- Ideale Landschaft ("Du hattest einen Glanz")
- Am Ufer ("Die Welt verstummt")
- Himmelfahrt ("Schwebst du nieder")
- Nächtliche Scheu ("Zaghaft vom Gewölk")
- Helle Nacht ("Weich küsst die Zweige")
Four Stefan George Songs (1908-1909)
Five Orchestra Pieces (1913)
- "Erwachen aus dem tiefsten Traumesschosse"
- Kunfttag I ("Dem bist du Kind")
- Trauer I ("So wart, bis ich dies")
- "Das lockere Saatgefilde"
Three Orchestral Songs (1913-1914)
Cello Sonata (1914)
- "Leise Düfte, Blüten so zart"
- Kunfttag III ("Nun wird es wieder Lenz")
- "O sanftes Glühn der Berge"
Kinderstück "Lieblich" (1924)
Klavierstück "Im Tempo eines Menuetts" (1925)
Satz für Streichtrio "Ruhig fliessend" (1925)
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French translation by Sandrine Delrieu.
Copyright © 1999-2019 by John Craton