Anton Webern

burning ambulance

Anton Webern was born December 3, 1883. Had he lived, today would have been his 129th birthday. (That’s a joke, obviously, but Webern did in fact die before his time—he was shot by an American soldier on September 15, 1945, while standing outside his house having a smoke.)

Webern studied under Arnold Schoenberg, and formed an important friendship with fellow student Alban Berg (composer of the opera Wozzeck). But unlike either of those men, whose pieces were frequently grand in scale, he (in the words of Alex Ross in The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century) “found his calling as a miniaturist.” Webern composed extremely short, compressed pieces that—despite employing atonality, serialism and other theoretically rigorous strategies that can sound alienating to the listener in search of conventional melody and harmony—are extremely beautiful for all their alien spareness. Ross again: “The impulse to go to…

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