Quartet Op. 22: movement I - Webern

Notes on the Webern piece

  • Created by: Annie
  • Created on: 02-02-11 10:51

Quartet - Webern - 1


  • This work dates from 1930 and is an example of serialism
  • Shows signs of Neoclassicism in it's reliance on counterpoint and symmetrical structure
  • It was intended for concert performance by professional musicians

Rhythm and metre

  • The movement is mainly in 3/8 with frequent changes to 4/8 and 5/8
  • From bar 24 to the end it is all in 3/8
  • Pulse is difficult to detect because of 'pointilliste' instrumentation and apparantly random placing of material within the bars
  • The work is built almost completely on three rhythmic cells:
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Quartet - Webern - 2

(Rhythm and metre continued)

  • Rests contribute to the rhythmically dislocated effect


  • Melodic lines are angular i.e. they are marked by large leaps
  • Typical large intervals include:
  • Major 7th
  • Minor 9th
  • Major 10th
  • Octave displacements are frequent (compare saxophone melody at bars 6-10 with its recapitulation at bar 28)
  • All melodic material derives from the tone row
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Quartet - Webern - 3


  • It is not helpful to try and describe harmony in this work!
  • Vertical structures frequently consist of no more than two notes
  • There are some three- and four-not chords (see bar 11, semiquaver 4 and bar 12, semiquaver 2)
  • There is a total absence of conventional harmonic procedures such as cadences
  • Music is dissonant with no preparation or resolution


  • Atonal
  • It is a serial work based on 12-note rows; that is, all 12 notes of a chromatic scale are heard in a fixed order
  • The basic note-order - the prime order - is heard in the tenor saxophone part in bars 6-10
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Quartet - Webern - 4

(Tonality continued)

  • This order is used throughout, sometimes in:
  • Inversion (the intervals of the prime order are presented 'upside-down' for example, compare tenor saxophone in bars 1-3 with the first three notes of the prime in bars 6-7)
  • Retrograde (the intervals of the prime order are presented in reverse order, for example, piano right hand in bar 21)
  • Retrograde inversion (the intervals are presented both upside down and running backwards, as in the saxophone part of bar 24)
  • Transposed form; that is, beginning on any note (for example, the violin in bar 1 starts the prime order ten semitones higher than the prime in bar 6)
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Quartet - Webern - 5


  • It can be regarded as being in ternary or sonata form:
  • Introduction
  • The first repeated section is a sort of exposition, with the prime order clearly announced in the saxophone
  • The second repeated passage contains the equivalent of a development and from bar 28 a recapitulation
  • After the repeat there is a coda with the introductory material in retrograde


  • There is an unusual selection and combination of performing forces in this work (compare with the Haydn string quartet)
  • A wide range of performance techniques are used:
  • Pizzicato/arco (violin)
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Quartet - Webern - 6

(Resources/Texture continued)

  • Mute on and off (violin)
  • Rapid contrasts of articulation and dynamics (all instruments)
  • Spread chords in both directions (piano)
  • Webern frequently uses isolated notes or points of sound, hence the term 'pointillism'
  • He uses Klangfarbenmelodie (sound-colour-melody) with the melody line split between instruments. For example, compare the original statement of the prime order in bars 6-10, which is entirely on tenor saxophone, with its restatement starting at bar 28:
  • 28: clarinet C#-E
  • 29-30: violin F-D; clarinet D#-B
  • 30-31: tenor sax Bb-A-G#
  • 32: violin F#-C-G
  • The texture can also be described as contrapuntal with mirror canons
  • The texture intensifies at the climax in the development with more overlapping of parts
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