The Kennedy Center

Anton Webern



Anton Webern was an Austrian composer, teacher and conductor.  He is known for extending the twelve-tone system made famous by Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg.   Webern is best known for breaking with tonality and for creating serial composition.  His innovations were formative in the musical technique which later became known as total serialism. 

He was born Anton Friedrich Wilhelm von Webern in Vienna on December 3, 1883.  He was born into an old Austrian aristocratic family.  He received his first musical instruction from his mother Amalia who was a pianist and singer.  He studied piano and theory with Edwin Komauer while at grade school in Klagenfurt.  He attended the University of Vienna where he studied musicology under Guido Adler and earned a P.H.D. in musicology.   In 1904 he started taking private music composition studies with Arnold Schoenberg.   From 1908 he only wrote freely atonal music until 1925, after that period he only used Schoenberg's twelve-tone technique in every composition.

In 1911, he married Wilhelmine Mortl, his first cousin despite the Roman Catholic prohibition against first cousins marrying, the marriage was not made official until 1915, after three of the couple's four children had already been born.  Often described as an uncompromising idealist he spent most of his career unrecognized as a musician.  Unable to find employment at a conservatory or major university he taught and he supported himself through conducting and giving private lessons.  Around the early 1920s he led the Vienna Workers Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, sponsored by the Austrian government.  And finally in 1927 he became a conductor and advisor on modern music for Austrian Radio.  These were the only successes he enjoyed during his lifetime.  He was blacklisted and branded by the Nazis during the World War II as a degenerate artist and stripped of all his conducting posts.

His only son died as a result of the war, so the composer and his remaining family fled seeking safety near Salzburg.  On September 15, 1945, Anton Webern was accidentally shot and killed by an American soldier.  His death was a tragedy because he was just about to become a recognized artist.  He greatly influenced many postwar composers such as Igor Stravinsky and Aaron Copland both of them turned to serialism during the 1950s.  His entire collection of compositions can be listened to in about four hours.  He composed in almost all musical genres except ballet.  



Anton Webern


  • Five Pieces