Reevaluating the compositional process of Anton Webern, 1910-1925
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Analytical treatments of Anton Webern’s compositions between 1910 and 1925 fail to provide a “rosetta stone” by which these works may be collectively understood. In his 1932 lecture, The Way to the New Music, Webern provided a clue to understanding these works. Here he used the term “run” to describe his compositional process for the Bagatelles. The present study proposes that what Webern termed a “run” refers to an unfolding aggregate of unique pitch-classes that mark a division, idea, or theme within the composition. Although a run usually contains pitch-class repetition, the presentation of all twelve unique pitch-classes defines structural divisions within the composition. These boundaries are articulated by the appearance of the final missing pitch-class, and generally supported by additional elements of timbre, tempo, and dynamics. Webern was forced to thin the texture and compress the form in his atonal works in order to permit one to aurally perceive the introduction of unique pitch-classes. My analyses of Opp. 7 through 19 support this conclusion.