Background Information
Performer Bios

Poet/Composer Bios

Additional Information

Biographies of Poets & Composers: Main Page | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z
Bach & Other Composers

Anton Webern (Composer, Arranger)

Born: December 3, 1883 - Vienna, Austria
Died: September 15, 1945 - Mittersill, Austria (accidentally shot and killed by an American soldier)


The remarkable Austrian composer, Anton (Friedrlch Willhelm) von Webern (he removed the nobiliary particle "von" in 1918 when such distinctions were outlawed in Austria), received his first instruction in music from his mother, an amateur pianist; then studied piano, cello, and theory with Edwin Komauer in Kiagenfurt. He also played cello in the orchestra there. In 1902 he entered the University of Vienna, where he studied harmony with Graedener and counterpoint with Navratil. He also attended classes in musicology with Adler; received his Ph.D. in 1906 with a dissertation on Heinricb Isaac's Cboralis Constantinus II.

n 1904 he began private studies in composition with Arnold Schoenberg, whose ardent .disciple he became; Berg also studied with A. Schoenberg. Together, A. Schoenberg, Alban Berg, and Webern laid the foundations of what became known as the 2nd Viennese School of composition. The unifying element was the adoption of A. Schoenberg's method of composition with 12 tones related only to one another. Malevolent opponents referred to A. Schoenberg, A. Berg, and Webern as a Vienna Trinity, with A. Schoenberg as God the Father, A. Berg as the Son, and Webern as the Holy Ghost; the last appellation was supposed to describe the phantomlike substance of some of Webem's works.

From 1908 to 1914 Webern was active as a conductor in Vienna and in Germany. In 1915-1016 he served in the army; in 1917-1918, was conductor at the Deutsches Theater in Prague. In 1918 he settled in Mödling, near Vienna, where he taught composition privately. From 1918 to 1922 he supervised the programs of the Verein für Musikalische Privataufführungen (Society for Private Musical Performances), organized in Vienna by A. Schoenberg with the intention of promoting modern music without being exposed to reactionary opposition (music critics were not admitted to these performances). Webern was conductor of the Schubertbund (1921-1922) and the Mödling Male Chorus (1921-1926). He also led the Vienna Workers' Symphony concerts (1922-1934) and the Vienna Workers' Chorus (1923-1934), both sponsored by the Social Democratic Party. From 1927 to 1938 he was a conductor on the Austrian Radio; furthermore, he conducted guest engagements in Germany, Switzerland, and Spain. From 1929, he made several visits to England, where he was a guest conductor with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. For the most part, however, he devoted himself to composition, private teaching, and lecturing.

After Hitler came to power in Germany in 1933, Webern's music was banned as a manifestation of "cultural Bolshevism" and "degenerate art." His position became more difficult after the Anschluss in 1938, for his works could no longer be published. He eked out an existence by teaching a few private pupils and making piano arrangements of musical scores by others for Universal Edition. After his son was killed in an air bombardment of a train in February 1945, he and his wife fled from Vienna to Mittersill, near Salzburg, to stay with his married daughters and grandchildren. His life ended tragically on the evening of Septtember 15, 1945, when he was shot and killed by an American soldier after stepping outside his son-in-law's residence (for a full account, see: H. Moldenhauer, The Death of Anton Webern: A Drama in Documents, New York, 1961).


Webern left relatively few works, and most of them are of short duration (the 4th of his 5 Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 10, scored for clarinet, trumpet, trombone, mandolin, celesta, harp, drum, violin, and viola, takes only 19 seconds to play), but in his music he achieves the utmost subtilization of expressive means. He adopted the 12-tone method of composition almost irrimediately after its definitive formulation by A. Schoenberg (1924), and extended the principle of nonrepetition of notes to tone colors, so that in some of his works (e.g., Symphony, Op. 21) solo instruments are rarely allowed to play 2 successive thematic notes. Dynamic marks are similarly diversified. Typically, each 12-tone row is divided into symmetric sections of 2, 4, or 6 members, which enter mutually into intricate but invariably logical canonic imitations. Inversions and augmentations are inherent features; melodically and harmonically, the intervals of the major seventh and minor ninth are stressed; single motifs are brief, and stand out as individual particles or lyric ejaculations.

The impact of these works on the general public and on the critics was disconcerting, and upon occasion led to violent demonstrations; however, the extraordinary skill and novelty of technique made this music endure beyond the fashions of the times; performances of Webern's works multiplied after his death, and began to influence increasingly larger groups of modern musicians; Igor Stravinsky acknowledged the use of Webem's methods in his latest works; jazz composers have professed to follow Webern's ideas of tone color; analytical treatises have been published in several languages. The International Webern Festival celebrated the centennial of his birth in December 1983 in Vienna.


See: Works

More Photos

Source: Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of 20th Century Classical Musicians (1997)
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (June 2009)

Anton Webern: Short Biography | Works | Arrangements/Transcriptions: Works | Recordingof Fuga (Ricercare) a 6 voci from Musical Offreing BWV 1079, orchestrated

Other Arrangements of J.S. Bach's Works

String Quartet, Op. 28 (1936-1938; Pittsfield, Massachusetts, September 22, 1938) - the tone row of this piece is based around the BACH motif

Links to other Sites

Anton Webern (Wikipedia)
Anton Webern (Dedicated Website)
Anton Webern (Craton)
Anton von Webern (Classical Music Pages)
The Complete Works of Anton v. Webern (Graham)
Anton Webern (Classical Composers Database)
Anton Webern (W.W. Norton)

Anton Webern Biography (Naxos)
Anton Webern (Find a Grave)
Anton Webern (Wikipedia)
Anton Webern (Classical Archives)
Anton Webern (
Anton von Webern (Karadar)


Igor Stravinsky: "[Foreword]". Die Reihe 2 (2nd revised English edition): vii.(1959)
Anton Webern: The Path to the New Music. Edited by Willi Reich. (1963) [Translated by Leo Black.] Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania: Theodore Presser Co., in Association with Universal Edition. RepriLondon: Universal Edition, 1975. (Translation of Wege zur neuen Musik. Vienna: Universal Edition, 1960)
Hans Moldenhauer: The Death of Anton Webern: A Drama in Documents (New York: Philosophical Library, 1961)
Hans Moldenhauer: Anton von Webern Perspectives. Edited by Demar Irvine, with an introductory interview with Igor Stravinsky (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1966)
Friedrich Wildgans: Anton Webern. Translated by Edith Temple Roberts and Humphrey Searle. Introduction and notes by Humphrey Searle (New York: October House, 1966)
David Ewen: "Anton Webern (1883-1945)," in Composers of Tomorrow's Music, 66-77 (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co, 1971)
Hans Moldenhauer & Rosaleen Moldenhauer: Anton von Webern: A Chronicle of His Life and Work (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1978)
Joachim Noller: "Bedeutungsstrukturen: zu Anton Weberns 'alpinen' Programmen", in Neue Zeitschrift für Musik151, no. 9 (September): 12–18 (1990)
Kathryn Bailey: The Twelve-Note Music of Anton Webern: Old Forms in a New Language. Music in the Twentieth Century 2 (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991)
George Perle: Serial Composition and Atonality: an Introduction to the Music of Schoenberg, Berg and Webern. Sixth ed. (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1991)
Andrew Mead: "Webern, Tradition, and 'Composing with Twelve Tones'", in Music Theory Spectrum 15:173-204 (1993)
Malcolm Hayes: Anton von Webern (London: Phaidon Press, 1995)
Kathryn Bailey (ed.): Webern Studies (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996)
Kathryn Bailey: The Life of Webern (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998)
Allen Forte: The Atonal Music of Anton Webern (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998)

Biographies of Poets & Composers: Main Page | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z
Bach & Other Composers


Back to the Top

Last update: Wednesday, June 14, 2017 15:59