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Viennese-born composer, pupil of Schoenberg, and a principal member of the so-called Second Viennese School.

Career summary

Webern studied harmony, counterpoint and musicology at the University of Vienna from 1902 to 1906. Between 1904 and 1908 he also studied composition with Arnold Schoenberg, and by the end of his studies Webern had produced the pair of compositions that became his published Op. 1 and Op. 2 – the Passacaglia for orchestra and a short choral canon. Both these works were accomplished demonstrations of the kind of extended tonality that Schoenberg himself was moving beyond in 1908, and in various sets of songs, like his Opp. 3 and 4 (1908-09), Webern – remaining personally close to Schoenberg – soon showed what was in some respects an even more radical approach to form and texture, abandoning all but the more rarefied allusions to traditional harmony and thematic process. The kind of brooding intensity to be found in such early post-tonal instrumental miniatures as the Sechs Bagatellen for string quartet (1911, 1913) and the Drei kleine Stücke for cello and piano (1913) is continued into the more serene but no less concentrated expressive world of Webern’s twelve-tone compositions, culminating in the Variations for Orchestra, Op. 30 (1940), and the two Cantatas, Op. 29 (1938-39) and Op. 31 (1941-43).

Webern and Schenker

No direct contact or correspondence between Webern and Schenker is known to have occurred, nor do we know whether Schenker ever heard any of Webern's music. No doubt Webern was implicitly included in Schenker's frequent jibes at atonal composers (e.g. "about the atonalists: the impotent should not be allowed to call themselves unfeminine": diary OJ 3/6, p. 2615, January 3, 1924).


  • Arnold Whittall

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  • OJ 14/15, [15] Printed invitation from Schoenberg to Schenker, undated [c. November 1, 1907]

    Invitation to a concert of music by pupils of Schoenberg.

  • OJ 12/6, [17] Handwritten letter from Jonas to Schenker, dated November 27, 1932

    Jonas has received a preliminary refusal from Anthony van Hoboken [over subscriptions for Das Wesen des musikalischen Kunstwerks], and seeks Schenker's advice; reports contact with Furtwängler; comments on lectures given by Webern.

  • OJ 15/16, [91] Handwritten letter from Hans Weisse to Schenker, dated March 30, 1933

    In this long letter, Weisse expresses his bitter regret about Otto Vrieslander's reaction to his criticism of a recently published collection of his (Vrieslander's) songs, and to Schenker's exaggerated claims of their worth. Weisse defends his critical stance on the grounds that objective discussions are the only worthwhile ones, and that he took the trouble to write about the songs in a 14-page letter to Vrieslander only for the sake of art (in the Schenkerian sense) and feels hurt both by Vrieslander's personal reaction to Weisse's criticism and by Schenker's defence of the older pupil. — In the final paragraph, he inquires again about gaining permission to make multiple copies of Schenker's foreground graph of the "Eroica" Symphony.