Anton Webern

Vienna, Austria, 1883 — Mittersill, Austria, 1945

  • Composer

Composer and conductor Anton Webern first studied piano, cello, and theory with Edwin Ko-mauer, and later philosophy and musicology at the University of Vienna, where he completed his doctoral dissertation in 1906. He then began composing, doubtless under the influence of Wagner. His meeting with Arnlod Schoenberg was decisive—he and Alban Berg became the first circle of Schoenberg’s students, and he would follow his master’s stylistic evolution into atonality and later dodecaphony, becoming even more radical than Schoenberg. In 1909 Webern composed his Six Pieces for Orchestra, op. 6, his only work for large ensemble, before dedicating himself to brief compositions in 1913-1914. Between 1917 and 1921, he wrote numerous cycles for voice, where the usual piano accompaniment is replaced by small ensembles or by the clarinet, an instrument he was most fond of.

The rise of the Nazis rocked Webern’s life—his music became “degenerate art”, Schoenberg was exiled, and Berg died in 1935. Webern was the only member of the Second Viennese School remaining in the city, and he lost all his paying jobs as a musician. A tragic mistake ended his life in 1945—despite a curfew, he went outside to smoke a cigar and was killed by an American soldier. Webern’s œuvre was quickly rediscovered by, and had a profound influence on, the musicians of the generation of 1925, who founded the Darmstadt School and developed integral serialism. (Translation: A. Deruchie)