Anton Webern

Cantata No. 2  (1941-43)

I       Sehr lebhaft
        Bass solo and orchestra
        Schweigt auch die Welt

II      Sehr verhalten
        Bass Solo and orchestra
        Sehr tiefverhalten innerst Leben

III     Sehr bewegt
        Soprano solo, women's chorus and orchestra
        Schopfen aus Brunnen des Himmels

IV   Sehr lebhaft
       Soprano solo and orchestra
       Leichteste Burden der Baume

V    Sehr massig
       Soprano solo, mixed chorus, solo violin and orchestra
       Freundselig ist das Wort

VI    Sehr fliessend
        Four-part mixed chorus and orchestra
        Gelockert aus dem Schosse

Webern's op. 31, his last completed work, strikes a balance between traditional older styles of the Renaissance Netherlands composers on one hand, while at the same time looks to the future. The concise writing epitomizes the precision which Webern is famous for, and expresses a depth of thought which is typical of his mature style.  It is evident from the numerous letters he wrote to his friends, including Hildegard Jone, who supplied the text, and Willi Reich, that the work contains many levels of interpretation and personal meaning for Webern, which is partially evident in the text-painting in which he manipulates the row or emphasizes certain notes.  

Apparently, Webern did not specifically set out to write a Cantata, and at one point he describes the work as an oratorio. The gestalt of the piece was not evident to Webern until much of the work had been completed, suggesting that he relied on his intuition in shaping the piece together.  It was not until he started working on a seventh movement that he
realized the piece was complete as it was, needing only a few alterations to round off the work.  While it has been interpreted from his letters to Jone that he first began composing Freundselig ist das Wort, the evidence from examining his sketchbooks indicate that he actually composed Leichteste Burden der Baume first. The chronology of the movements according to when they were composed is: IV, V, VI, then I, II and III.

The work was composed while Webern was undergoing extreme hardship, due to Hitler's ban on his later music.  The reason for the excessive delays in composing the work is due to the fact that he was forced to work for Universal Edition during the war years, arranging and reading scores of others, a task which to Webern was unbearable.  Complicating
things further were the bombings of Modling, where he resided during these last years, which resulted in numerous relatives taking refuge at his residence.  

Several aspects of the work make it unique compared with his comparitively small output:  the last movement, in strophic form, is repeated twice with no variation other than the change of text;  the entire work is his longest opus regarding performance time;  it is the only time he wrote for women's chorus as well as bass solo.  However, the pointillistic technique and use of klangfarben texture are typical of Webern's expressive gestures, as is also the sparseness of the score.  The fullest texture is achieved in the final movement which is a four-part canon reminiscent
of the Renaissance in appearance, but completely contemporary in sound. The first and fourth movements are recitatives which serve as introductions to the proceeding movements.  During these movements Webern's awareness of sonority is evident as he obtains numerous timbres by combining or contrasting instruments which punctuate the accompanying text.

The resulting mood of the piece actually mirrors the dark and forboding influence of the war which was transpiring as Webern composed this work.  In contrast, the text speaks of nature and alludes to a Christian outlook of life.                           

Kolneder, Walter.  Anton Webern: An Introduction to His Works. Trans. by Humphrey Searle.  Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968.

Moldenhauer, Hans. Anton von Webern: Perspectives. Ed. by Demar Irvine. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1966.

Moldenhauer, Hans and Rosaleen Moldenhauer. Anton von Webern: A Chronicle of His Life and Work. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1979.

Webern, Anton. Letters to Hildegard Jone and Josef Humplik. Ed. by Josef Polnauer. Trans. by Cornelius Cardes. Bryn Mawr: Theodore Presser Company; London: Universal Edition, 1967.