Webern and his Melodic Motivic Development in Early Atonal Music - part 4

part 1
part 2
part 3


From classical training and influences to the initial exploration of atonality, Webern explores his new world using tools from his past. However, because he is exploring new sounds in atonality, he ends up creating new worlds of music. Through analysis we can see his classical background echoed in his development of motivic material, migrating from one motive to the next, making variations to the motives, but also retaining elements while moving forward.

Yet, in his use of harmony we see him break from tradition. Rather than create tonal centers or chord migrations, the pitch sets he uses end up being more melodic in nature, sometimes using subsets of the melody and other at other times using complementary sets. The harmonies move like his melodies and occasionally foretell what is to come melodically. At the end of each movement, harmony and melody combine to create the final culmination, each dependant on the other to achieve the end.

The death of his mother in 1906 had a profound effect on Webern during the time of this composition. He wrote to Schoenberg in 1912, "almost all my compositions have originated in her memory."1 He couldn't separate his compositions from the memory of his mother, so, too, his melodies can not be separated from his harmonies.

Appendix A

Relations for the melodic phrases for the 5th Movement

  2a 2b 2c 2d 2e 2f 2g 2h 2i
2a -   K K Kh K Kh Kh K
2b   - Kh Kh Kh Kh Kh    
2c K Kh - Kh   Kh   K K
2d K Kh Kh - K = Kh    
2e   Kh Kh K - K   Kh K
2f K Kh Kh = K - Kh    
2g Kh Kh   Kh   Kh - K Kh
2h Kh   K   Kh   K -  
2i K   K   K   Kh   -

Appendix B

Relations for the harmonic movement for the 5th Movement

  5-1(12) 5-z(18) 4-17(12) 5-30 4-5
5-1(12) --       K
5-z(18)   -- K   K
4-17(12)   K -- K  
5-30     K -- K
4-5 K K   K --

1 Letter of 17 July 1912, translated in Hans Moldenhauer and Rosaleen Moldenhauer,Anton von Webern: A Chronicle of His Life and Work (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1979), p. 83.


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Brown, Robert Barclay, "The Early Atonal Music of Anton Webern: Sound, Material and Structure" (Ph.D. diss., Brandeis University, 1965)
Cone, Edward T., "Webern's Apprenticeship", The Musical Quarterly LIII (1967) 39-52.
Forte, Allen, The Atonal Music of Anton Webern, Yale University Press (1998)
Forte, Allen, The Structure of Atonal Music, Yale University Press (1973)
Forte, Allen, "Schoenberg's Creative Evolution: The Path to Atonality", The Musical Quarterly, Vol. LXIV, No. 2, April, 1978: 133-176
Hans Moldenhauer and Rosaleen Moldenhauer,Anton von Webern: A Chronicle of His Life and Work, New York: Alfred A. Knopf (1979)
Marvin, Elizabeth West, "The Structural Role of Complementation in Webern's 'Orchestra Pieces (1913)'" Music Theory Spectrum, Vol. 5. (Spring, 1983), pp. 76-88
Marvin, Elizabeth West, "An Analytic Study of Anton Webern's Posthumous Orchestra Pieces (1913)" (Masters Thesis, Eastman School of Music, 1981)
Peles, Stephen, ed. The Collected Essays of Milton Babbitt, Princeton University Press (2003)
Perle, George, "Webern's Twelve-Tone Sketches", The Musical Quarterly LVII (1971) 1-25.
Schoenberg, Arnold, The Fundamentals of Musical Composition, Faber & Faber Limited (1967)
Webern, Anton The Path to the New Music, Bryn Mawr, Pa. (1963)
Webern, Anton, Six Pieces for Large Orchestra, Opus 6, Universal Edition (1928)
Whittall, Arnold, "Post-Twelve-Note Analysis" J Royal Music Assn 94 (1987) 1-18


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