string quartet

Between 1909 and 1913, Webern wrote three sets of pieces for string quartet, with five, four, and three movements respectively. He had originally planned for these to form a single large group to be published as his Opus 3. “These three groups belong together,” he wrote, “and I would like them always to be played in sequence.” At some point, however, he abandoned his Opus 3 concept, and the pieces, save one with voice, became his Five Movements, Op. 5, and Six Bagatelles, Op. 9. Four of the latter were composed in 1911, and the remaining two date from two years later. In 1924, Webern gave his friend Berg a copy of the score of Bagatelles upon which he had written “Non multa sed multum” (“Not much in quantity, but much in content”). When Schoenberg, Webern, and Berg abandoned tonality during the first decade of the century, they abandoned an important means of channeling musical tension over large spans of time. Consequently, early atonal works tended to be brief and aphoristic. This tendency was stronger in Webern than in his two Viennese colleagues, and nowhere is it more manifest than in Six Bagatelles. As Kathryn Bailey has written, they are “fleeting glimpses, whispered suggestions, breaths …of the air of another planet.” Indeed, most of the movements usually last less than a minute in performance, and numbers 2 and 3 typically clock in at less than 30 seconds. Schoenberg praised Bagatelles as the epitome of taughtness and discipline in a preface he wrote for the published score: “Consider what moderation is required to express oneself so briefly. Every glance can be expanded into a poem, every sigh into a novel. But to express a novel in a single gesture, joy in a single breath—such concentration can only be present when there is a corresponding absence of self-indulgence.”

A Deruchie [ii-07]