Anton Webern

By: Brian Berger
December 3, 2014


The wire report, dateline Vienna, November 3, began “ANTON VON WEBERN [1883–1945], well-known Austrian composer, was murdered in mysterious fashion on Sept. 15, and his son-in-law has been arrested in connection with the case.” The details offered were as spare, if not as exacting, fierce or luminous as the music that would, in decades hence, transform the sound of modernism. Though he revered Gustav Mahler and wrote his PhD on Heinrich Isaac, it was private study with — and the subsequent mentorship of — Arnold Schoenberg through which Webern’s epigrammatic genius thrived, in stages: chromatic, atonal, serial. For such, Webern’s compositions were largely shunned and in 1938, labeled entartete — degenerate — and banned by the Nazis. His heroes being Jewish, Webern the artist was no anti-Semite but Webern the nationalist, who both discretely aided Jews and admired Hitler’s surety was… naive? disassociative? fucking delusional? Words fail and, besides, for decades, who beyond his wartime intimates knew? In 1957, Columbia Records issued a landmark four-LP box of Webern’s complete works. In 1961, musicologist Hans Moldenhauer published the real story of Webern’s death: accidentally shot by an American soldier after a raid on the house of Webern’s son-in-law, a suspected black marketeer; a Moldenhauer-organized Webern Festival in Seattle soon followed. Frank Zappa thanked Webern on the Mothers of Invention’s Freak Out (1966) and in Gravity’s Rainbow (1973), a long-running dialectic, Beethoven versus Rossini, is interrupted by news of the shooting: “Do you know what kind of myth that’s going to make in a thousand years?”

Six Pieces for Large Orchestra, Op. 6 (1906)

Six Songs on Poems by Georg Trakl, Op. 14 (1917-1921)

String Trio, Op. 20 (1927)

Piano Variations, Op. 27 (1936)


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Jean Luc Godard, Ozzy Osbourne, Anna Freud.

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