Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Concerto Guide: Anton Webern, Concerto for Nine Instruments, op. 24

I was just going to mention this piece and go right on to the Berg Violin Concerto, but I changed my mind so here is a short post on the Concerto for Nine Instruments, op. 24 by Webern, composed in 1934. The piece is tightly-constructed using a twelve-tone row, each three-note segment of which is a version of the others:

The first trichord being the prime form, the next three are, respectively, the retrograde inversion (backwards and upside down), the retrograde (backwards) and the inversion (upside down). Here is the first movement with the score:

Apart from that, I just don't have much to say about it. One interesting thing about this kind of writing is how quickly the possibilities were exhausted and even after the principles of serialism were extended to other parameters like rhythm, dynamics and articulations, how quickly that was exhausted as well. The repertoire of serialism is not really large.

The relationship between this piece and previous concertos is tenuous. It is obviously not a solo concerto in the Baroque, Classical or Romantic modes. It is more like a Baroque concerto grosso for a group of solo instruments, but without the orchestral accompaniment. This is like a crystalline distillation of music. I suppose, if you like this sort of thing, it is a masterpiece. But to start sensing that, you would have to listen to it many times. It does have its unique appeal, but despite the fond hopes of his admirers, I doubt that we will ever hear Webern's music whistled in the street.


Rickard Dahl said...

I was surprised when I came across this concerto a few months back. Had no idea Webern had a concerto (if it really can be called that). I dislike Webern quite a lot. Schoenberg's and Berg's music has a thicker texture and more interesting things are happening. Webern's music has the nasty quality of atonality combined with a very thin texture. Well, the third movement is interesting rhythmically at least.

Bryan Townsend said...

Not to everyone's taste, certainly!

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