WEBERN'S compositions have been described as "curious, crystalline formations." Stravinsky called them "dazzling diamonds." A different metaphor spontaneously occurred to me some decades ago, after a day spent analyzing the Symphony. I dreamt that night that I was carefully making may way through an exquisite bed of flowers that had been planted according to the principles of 12 tone composition. Webern would have been pleased. In his diaries and letters, this supposedly most abstract and "mathematical" of composers repeatedly makes similar associations. Opus 6, No. 3 "'conveys the impression of the fragrance of the Erica [a kind of heather].'" The Opus 18 songs have something to do with the "'inscurtable meaning'" of alpine flowers: "'I have struggled all my life to reproduce in music what I perceive there. Just as the fragrance and the form of these plants impress themselves upon me-as a God-given gift-so I would like it to be also with my musical conceptions.'"
The revolution in the language of music embodied in the works of Arnold Schoenberg and his two pupils, Alban Berg and Anton von Webern, in the early years of this century marked the beginning of a new era in the history of music. Today, as a part of that history, they are collectively identified as "the second Vienneses school," but their own compatriots in the early days jocularly referred to them as "the Holy Trinity": Schoenberg the Father, Berg the Son, and Webern the Holy Ghost. Webern's was music of an unprecedented brevity, stillness, and tension, in which a single note or chord could constitute a "theme," in which every trace of padding and doubling and even the very concept of harmonic "background" or "accompaniment" had been eliminated. It was even suggested that Webern had invented a new musical entity, the "pensato", a note which was to be imagined, not played.
The lives of Berg and Schoenberg are known to us through the writings of Willi Reich and Hans Stuckenschmidt, biographers who were acquainted with and authorized by the composers themselves. Hans Moldenhauer never personally met his subject, but his biography-written in collaboration with his wife Rosaleen-too may be regarded as authorized, for it is based primarily on sources made available to him by members of the composer's family, above all his eldest child, Amalie, to whose memory the book is dedicated. Moldenhauerhs achievement is immeasurably superior to those of his predecessors. When it comes to purely musical questions, he is no more competent to deal with these than they were competent to deal with these than they were, but he is an extraordinarily able collector of basic source material and an excellent organizer and chronicler of this material. What we have here is a vivid and comprehensive description of the life and character and times of Webern, largely given to us in the very own words of this most private and withdrawn of men.
From the years of his early adolescence Webern was an habitual diarist, recording not only the extrinsic events of his daily life, but also his aesthetic experiences and critical judgements of the books that he read and the music that he heard. He saved everything: his earliest attempts at composition, his juvenile literary efforts, programs, canceled train tickets, the flowers that he gathered on hismountaineering excursions. His letters, too, constitute a vivid personal journal, a private and yet eloquent record of his experiences, thoughts, and developement as man and artist. But for Moldenhauer's diligence as a collector, much of this material would have been lost or scatered.
Webern's temperament and personality were as high-strung and tense as his compositions. Like his music, his life was spare and economical in its content, yet enormously complex and dense in its structure and interrelations. Communion with nature was an essential sacrament, to be celebrated in solitude or with a few initmatte companions in the rarefied air of the mountain heights. Totally dedicated to his family, he gave them his love and devotion and received theirs in return, with no expectation that there could be any sharing or understanding of his life's work. His loyalty to those friends, above all Schoenberg and Berg, with whom he could share his life as a musician, was equally total and permanent, and his correspondence with them, important excerpts of which are published here for the first time, runs to thousands of pages. There was never any prospect that he could earn anything as a composer, but as a professional conductor he was able to find repeated opportunities for employment in the theatre. No sooner did he find such employment, than he would fall ill and be forced to give it up. Eventually he admitted that his recurrent illness had a psychological rather than a physical basis and in 1913 he submitted to an intensive course of therapy under "'a certain Alder,'" as he wrote to Schoenberg in one of a series of absorbing letters in which he described his treatment.
Between the two wars he found a satisfying outlet for his considerable abilities as a condutor with choral groups and orchestras sponsored by the Social Democratic Party in Vienna. All this came to ane end in the civil war days of February 1934, with the destruction of the Austrian socialists by the Dollfuss government. By the time of the Anschluss in March 1938 Schoenberg had emigrated to America and Berg was dead. Even before the Nazis had come to power, Webern's 22-year-old son had joined the still illegal party, and a few weeks after the Anschluss, under the sign of the swastika, Webern gave his youngest daughter in marriage to a brown-shirted storm trooper. His many Jewish friends and colleagues fled the country or went into hiding. Webern tried to remain in touch with them adn to help them, even at some risk to his own safety. At the same time he hoped for the best, and not only accepted the Nazis but even approved of them, because "'for dear order's sake any kind of authority should be respected.'" Perhaps, in time, they could even be convinced "'of the rightness of the twelve-tone system,'" which also stood for order and authority. Meanwhile his own music, along with Schoenberg's and Berg's, was banned in the Third Reich as "degenerate art," and Webern was forced to earn his living by making piano scores of the operas of approved composers. But his desperate optimism never failed him, and when the German consul showed up for the premiere of the Orchestra Variations in Switzerland during the war he saw this "'as a good omen and as a reward for my loyalty.'"
In February 1945 Webern's son was killed during an air attack on his troop train. The Following Easter, as the Russian troops neared Vienna, the bereaved parents set out on foot for the relative security of Mittersill, where his children and grandchildren had moved to escape the air raids. And there, on September 15, four months afterthe end of the war, Webern was accidentally shot by a nervous member of the American occupation forces who had come to arrest his son-in-law for black market operations.
In Mittersill, too. Webern kept a notebook. The last entry is a quotation from Rilke: "'Who speaks of victory: To endure is everything.'" CAPTION: Illustration, Drawings of Webern by Emil Stumpp (left), Oskar Kokoschka, and Egon Schiele (right). The music score by Webern is a draft of Op. 15, No. 4 (1922); Picture, Anton von Webern at age 20