Webern wrote his Quartet for violin, clarinet, tenor saxophone, and piano, Op. 22 (1928-1930) for the 60th birthday of architect Adolf Loos. As happened during the composition of his String Trio, Op. 20 (1926-1927), Webern discarded sketches for a projected third movement after deeming the first two movements a complete entity. Another connection the quartet shares with the String Trio is an opaque structure Stravinsky described as "scatty."
The quartet was originally intended as a sort of reflection of nature, depicting landscapes and flora. After Webern had sketched themes according to this intent, the work gradually morphed into its completely different final form. The canons that had by this time begun to permeate Webern's music are more loosely realized in the quartet than in the composer's previous works. In the first movement, for example, their most conspicuous feature is a two-note "limping" motive, a short-long rhythm that is later reversed; in the middle of the movement, the motive is sounded both in its original rhythmic values and in augmentation.
The second movement alludes to techniques Webern more fully developed in his Concerto, Op. 24 (1931-1934). Most prominent is the splintering of notes within a phrase among the various instruments in the sort of intricate pointillistic texture that became one of the most identifiable hallmarks of the composer's style. When uniformly unfavorable reviews poured in after the quartet's premiere in Vienna on April 13, 1931, Webern was unworried. Though the performance must have been superb -- the personnel included violinist Rudolf Kolisch and pianist Eduard Steuermann -- one critic wrote that the work displayed "amazing similarity to certain basic human utterances of an indecent nature."