Skip to main content Skip to Search Box

Definition: Webern, Anton von from Philip's Encyclopedia

Austrian composer. His Passacaglia was written using late-Romantic tonality. Influenced by his teacher, Schoenberg, Webern adopted atonality, as in the Six Bagatelles (1913), and then twelve-tone music, notably in his symphony (1928).


Summary Article: Webern, Anton (Friedrich Wilhelm von)
from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Austrian composer. He wrote spare, enigmatic miniatures combining a pastoral poetic with severe structural rigour. A Renaissance musical scholar, he became a pupil of Arnold Schoenberg, whose 12-tone system he reinterpreted as abstract design in works such as the Concerto for Nine Instruments (1931–34) and the Second Cantata (1941–43). His constructivist aesthetic influenced the post-war generation of advanced composers.

Webern studied musicology with Guido Adler and took a doctorate at Vienna University in 1906. He studied compoition with Schoenberg. His first major work was the Passacaglia for orchestra, written with an awareness of the example of Brahms; it was followed by the Five Movements for string quartet, which exhibit some of Weber's later epigrammatic style. Song settings of Schoenberg's favourite poet, Stefan George, are Webern's first excursions into atonality. He conducted for a time at German provincial theatres and in Prague. After World War I he settled near Vienna and devoted himself to teaching and composition, though he still conducted, especially the modern performances of the Verein für Musikalische Privataufführungen and the workers' symphony concerts. He adopted Schoenberg's 12-note method of composition in the Three Traditional Rhymes of 1925. In succeeding works, such as the string trio, the symphony Op. 21, and the concerto Op. 24, Webern adopted ever more rigidly controlled methods; he was also influenced there by the Renaissance composer Heinrich Isaac.

His death was the result of a misunderstanding (he was shot by a US soldier). Although almost entirely unrecognized during his lifetime, Webern's music has proved very influential since his death: it introduced new concepts of sound, rhythm, and quasi-mathematical organization. It is almost as much through his work as through Schoenberg's that the 12-tone system came to find so wide an acceptance; Webern's serial technique was stricter than Schoenberg's and Berg's, and later composers have capitalized on its rigour in their development of integral serialism (in which rhythm, dynamics, and even timbre are serialized). Among composers who have been particularly influenced by Webern are Stravinsky (from the early 1950s), Stockhausen, and Boulez.

WorksOrchestral Six Pieces Op. 6 (1909, revised 1928), Five Pieces Op. 10 (1911–13, first performance 1926), Five Movements arranged for string orchestra from Five Movements for string quartet (1928–29), symphony Op. 21 (1928), Variations Op. 30 (1940).

VocalEntflieht auf leichten Kähnen for unaccompanied chorus Op. 2 (1908, first performance 1927), two songs for chorus and ensemble Op. 19 (texts by Goethe, 1926), Das Augenlicht for chorus and orchestra Op. 26 (1935), Cantata no. 1 for soprano, chorus, and orchestra (1938–9), Cantata no. 2 for soprano, bass, chorus, and orchestra (1941–3, first performance 1950); two sets of five songs for voice and piano opp. 3 and 4 (texts by George, 1909), two songs for voice and ensemble Op. 8 (texts by Rilke, 1910), four songs for voice and piano Op. 12 (1915–17), four songs for voice and orchestra Op. 13 (1914–18), six songs for voice and instruments (texts by Trakl, 1919–21), Five Sacred Songs for voice and instruments Op. 15 (1917–22), five canons on Latin texts for voice, clarinet, and bass clarinet Op. 16 (1923–24, first performance New York , 1951), Three Traditional Rhymes for voice and instruments Op. 17 (1925, first performance New York , 1952), three songs for voice, clarinet, and guitar Op. 18 (1925, first performance Los Angeles, 1954), three songs for voice and piano Op. 23 (1934), three songs for voice and piano Op. 25 (1934).

Instrumental Five Movements for string quartet Op. 5 (1909), six Bagatelles for string quartet Op. 9 (1911–13), Three Little Pieces for cello and piano Op. 11 (1914), string trio Op. 20 (1927), concerto for nine instruments Op. 24 (1934), string quartet Op. 28 (1938), variations for piano Op. 27 (1936).

© RM, 2018. All rights reserved.

Related Articles


Full text Article Webern, Anton (Friedrich Wilhelm von) (3 Dec. 1883, Vienna - 15 Sept. 1945, Mittersill, Austria)
The Harvard Biographical Dictionary of Music

Anton Webern spent his formative years (1883–1902) in Klagenfurt, near the family’s hereditary estate at...

Full text Article Webern, Anton (Friedrich Wilhelm von)
Britannica Concise Encyclopedia

(born Dec. 3, 1883, Vienna—died Sept. 15, 1945, Mittersill, near Salzburg, Austria) Austrian composer. He learned piano and cello as a child and ea

Full text Article serialism
The New Penguin Dictionary of Music

Compositional technique in which all 12 notes of the chromatic scale are used, arranged in a ROW or SET . This was the most important and...

See more from Credo