Webern, Anton von

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Webern, Anton von

Anton von Webern (än´tōn fən vā´bərn), 1883–1945, Austrian composer and conductor; pupil of Arnold Schoenberg. He conducted theater orchestras in Prague and in various German cities until 1918, devoting himself thereafter to composition and teaching. His first composition, a passacaglia for orchestra (1908), which showed the postromantic influence of Mahler, gave no hint of the exclusive use of the twelve-tone technique (see atonality) of Schoenberg that was to characterize the rest of his output. In his relatively few works, mostly for small chamber combinations or for voice, he reduced music to its barest essentials, depriving it of traditional harmonic concepts. He concentrated many fragmented musical events, ordered by intricate contrapuntal, rhythmic, and dynamic patterns, into extremely contracted time spans. For example, the whole of Five Pieces for Orchestra (1911–13) contains only 76 measures. In later works, such as Variations (1940) for orchestra, he strove for total variation, the opposite of traditional developmental technique. His individual style was both poetic and intensely expressive, and his music has become increasingly influential, although it remains outside the popular taste. Webern was accidentally killed by a sentry during the American occupation of Germany.

See his letters, ed. by J. Polnauer (tr. 1967); his The Path to the New Music, ed. by W. Reich (tr. 1963); biography by F. Wildgans (tr. 1966); study by R. Leibowitz (tr. 1949, repr. 1970).

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