Personalities | Anton Webern | Modern Era | Classical
(An’-ton Va’-bern) 1883–1945
Webern was the most orthodox of Schoenberg’s pupils – more rigorous in his exclusive use of serialism than Schoenberg himself – and, after his sudden death (he was accidentally shot by an American soldier), the most influential upon the post-war avant-garde. Even before Schoenberg developed the 12-note system, his pieces tended towards crystalline formal perfection and extreme brevity (some are only a few seconds long, one consists of a mere 20 notes). His opus-numbered works take less than four hours to perform in total. Many of his serial works only achieve longer dimensions by using words or elaborate formal working, related to those of Renaissance composers that he had studied. Often described as austere or coldly cerebral, his music was in fact inspired by nature, an attempt to use the discipline of serialism to parallel the perfection of the ice crystals and alpine flowers that he saw on his expeditions into the mountains. In many of his works, his preoccupation with economy, rigour and symmetry extends to the basic note-row itself (the latter six notes may be a ‘mirror’ of the first six, or the row may be made up of four audibly related three-note cells) which make the serial processes of his music very clearly perceptible and their precision both exhilarating and beautiful.
Variations, op. 30, Vienna PO (cond) Claudio Abbado (Deutsche Grammophon)
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