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Anton von Webern: (b. Vienna, 3 Dec 1883; d. Mittersill, 15 Sept 1945)
Anton von Webern (he dropped the 'von' when Austria became a republic after World War I) was born in Vienna in 1883. His father, Karl von Webern, was a mining engineer who came from an old aristocratic family which had settled in Carinthia for centuries. In 1890 he was transferred to Graz and in 1 894 to Klagenfurt; Anton attended the Gymnasium at Klagenfurt and also had private lessons in violin and 'cello playing from the Klagenfurt musician Dr Edwin Komauer. He also came across Mahler's works in piano arrangements, but he had little theoretical instruction. From about 1901 onwards he began to write songs, and when he matriculated from his school in 1902 he was rewarded by being given a trip to the Bayreuth Festival. His father wanted him to look after the family estates, but eventually agreed to him studying music at the University of Vienna and completing his studies with a doctorate in philosophy: this decision was partly due to Karl von Webern being appointed to a post at the Ministry of Mines in Vienna, so that the whole family moved back there. In Vienna Anton von Webern studied musicology with the famous Guido Adler and harmony and counterpoint with Hermann Graedener and Karl Navratil, and for his doctorate he wrote a thesis on the Choralis Constantinus of Heinrich Isaac. He found the teaching of Graedener and Navratil somewhat barren, and looked round for a better instructor; in 1904 he went to Berlin to see Pfitzner about taking lessons with him, but when Pfitzner made some slighting remarks about Mahler Webern turned round and went straight back to Vienna. Probably on Guido Adler's advice, he showed some of his songs to Schoenberg, who accepted him as a pupil in the autumn of 1904.
This was a decisive step in Anton von Webern's life. Schoenberg was an inspired teacher who really built up the musical characters of his pupils, and this was just what Anton von Webern needed at this stage. He has described Schoenberg's methods in 'Arnold Schoenberg as Teacher' (published in Anton Webern by Friedrich Wildgans, London 1966). During this period he wrote a sonata movement for piano, some songs and a piano quintet in one movement which had a private performance in Vienna at that time but was not published till after Anton von Webern's death. None of these works are characteristic of Anton von Webern's later style, and nor is his official Op. 1, the Passacaglia for orchestra, which he regarded as ending his apprenticeship with Schoenberg in 1908. In that summer he obtained a position as conductor at Bad Ischl, but he loathed the work there. He returned to Vienna in the winter, obtaining occasional work as a conductor and chorus repetiteur. Schoenberg had begun to write his first so-called 'atonal' pieces in 1908, and after writing the tonal, but highly chromatic chorus 'Entflieht auf leichten Kahnen' Webern followed his master's example in his songs Op.3 and 4, the Five Movements for string quartet Op. 5, the Orchestral Pieces Op.6, the Four Pieces for violin and piano Op.7 and the Rilke songs Op. 8, all written between 1908 and 1910: these are Anton von Webern's first really mature works, and show the characteristic brevity of his style.
In the winter of 1910-11 Anton von Webern held the post of assistant conductor at the Stadttheater in Danzig; here again he was extremely unhappy, and he returned to Vienna in the spring of 19 1 1 . Meanwhile he had married his cousin Wilhelmine Mortl, who bore him a daughter, Amalie, in April. He spent the summer in Carinthia, having given up his Danzig contract; meanwhile, Schoenberg had decided to move to Berlin. Berg and Webern tried to set up a foundation for him so that he could live without financial worries: Anton von Webern followed Schoenberg to Berlin in the autumn and spent the winter there, visiting the Mahler Festival in Munich in November together with Berg. Anton von Webern spent some time in preparing a brochure in honour of Schoenberg to which a number of musicians, principally Schoenberg's pupils, contributed; this was published in 1912. In February 1912 Anton von Webern went with Schoenberg to Prague, where he was hoping to obtain a post at the German Theatre, of which the musical director was Schoenberg's brother-in-law, the composer Alexander von Zemlinsky. This did not materialise at the time, and Anton von Webern returned to Vienna; shortly afterwards he received a contract to conduct at the theatre in Stettin, and went there in June. His contract was for a year, but he disliked Stettin as much as Danzig, and early in 1913 he returned to Vienna on sick leave; he ended his contract with Stettin in the summer. From 1913 to 1914 he lived in Vienna, writing his six Bagatelles for string quartet Op. 9, his Five Pieces for orchestra Op. 10 and the Three Small Pieces for 'cello and piano Op. 1 1. In 1915 he joined the army as a volunteer, but owing to his weak eyesight he was excused active service; meanwhile he was frantically trying to get Schoenberg out of the army. Anton von Webern was released early in 1917~and went with Schoenberg to Prague in March; he arranged to take a post at the theatre there for the summer season. Returning to Carinthia he began some of the songs with instruments which were eventually incorporated into Op.13 and 14. He did not like his work in Prague any more than that in Stettin, and by August 1918 he was back in Vienna. He found an apartment in Modling, a district where he was to live till almost the end of his life.
Anton von Webern's wife had borne him a son and two more daughters and his financial position was not easy. He taught some pupils, helped Schoenberg in the organisation of his Society for Private Musical Performances, and returned to Prague to conduct for a short time in 1920. He began to be offered conducting work in Vienna - the Schubertbund, the Modling Male Voice Choir and, from 1922, the Workers' Symphony Orchestra and chorus. Universal Edition were now publishing his works, and he constantly had to appeal to them for money. In 1924 he was given the Music Prize of the City of Vienna, and he was beginning to be asked to conduct his works abroad. He adopted the twelve-note method of Schoenberg in his songs Op. 17 (1924) and used it in all his subsequent works. In 1927 he was appointed conductor and then musical adviser for the Austrian Radio, and he undertook conducting tours in Germany and England in 1929, 1932, 1933 and 1935. In 1932 he moved into Vienna for a short time, but soon returned to the Modling area. The advent of the Dollfuss government in 1934 meant the end of Anton von Webern's activities with the Workers' Symphony Orchestra, and he had to live almost entirely by teaching. The Anschluss of 1938 made his position even worse; he had to work as a proof reader for Universal Edition and make piano scores for them; he was regarded as a 'cultural Bolshevik' by the Nazis, and his music was banned in Germany and Austria. In 1943 Anton von Webern travelled abroad for the last time, to hear the first performance of his Variations for orchestra in Switzerland. Although he was nearly sixty he was called up for work as an air-raid warden and had to live in barracks for part of the time. In the spring of 1945 he heard that his son had been killed on the Yugoslav front. At Easter he left Modling and managed to reach Mittersill near Salzburg, where two of his daughters were living; Anton von Webern's other daughter also reached Mittersill, and so did the sons-in-law eventually. After the end of the war Anton von Webern received various offers of important posts in Vienna, but he was tragically killed in 1945. He had gone to visit his son-in-law Mattl at another house in Mittersill: Mattl had been engaging in black market activities, and American soldiers had come to arrest him. Anton von Webern had been given a cigar by Mattl and went outside the house to smoke it, not wanting to inconvenience his sleeping grandchildren. An American soldier, who was returning to barracks carrying a gun, bumped into Anton von Webern in the dark, and being of nervous disposition, fired three shots at him. Anton von Webern died shortly afterwards.
Anton von Webern's music has influenced the younger generation of composers even more than that of Schoenberg and Berg. He adopted Schoenberg's methods in a radical way of his own; his works are very brief and concise, and every note in them is essential. There are strong contrasts ofcolour and a most sensitive use of sound; he has certainly taught composers to look at music in a new way. Unfortunately some of his successors ascribed to him the principle of 'total serialisation', in which not only the notes but also all the other so-called 'parameters' in music, such as duration, dynamics, tone-colour, method of playing, octave pitch of individual notes, etc., are subjected to serial organisation. This was not Anton von Webern's aim; he always felt that he was combining Schoenberg's twelve-note method with strict classical forms, as may be seen from many passages in his letters. At any rate he was the originator of a new kind of music which springs from the past but has anticipated the music of the future. And his idealism and strength of character have set an example to all his successors.
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