Anton Webern

Pieces (5) for orchestra, Op. 10

    Description by John Keillor

    Anton Webern's Five Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 10 require less than five minutes to perform. The movements are not thematically connected, nor do they include traditional formal plans or tonal relationships. What they do contain is probably the most convincing utilization of Klangfarbenmelodie (tone-color melody) ever and apply an aphoristic approach to composition for orchestra for the first time.

    These pieces are the last orchestral works Webern published before his adoption of the 12-tone method. His Op. 1 Passacaglia for Orchestra was post-Brahmsian and his Op. 5 orchestral works were atonal, sectional, and hint at the initial implications of the new musical language. Op. 10 expresses only the raw components of musical sound: notes, intervals, scraps of ostinato, rhythms, attack, volume, and tone color. While the Op. 5 was written in brief enough sections and durations to be considered miniatures, Op. 10 does away with the conventions of a traditional orchestral narrative. The result is an aphoristic approach that condenses the sound into one, hyper-expressive text. The result is a spilling over of artistic idea that is undeniable, immediate, and difficult to articulate.

    What can be discerned is a flow of tone-color that is continually associative. For example, a plucked violin relates to the harp heard earlier. A horn can function as color conduit between a flute and a trumpet. This is in addition to tempos changing and recurring and many other basic, identifiable materials, such as register. With so much going on in a very brief period, the spirit of the movements harness a precariousness that might be the closest to the Expressionist oeuvre among Webern's instrumental works. The function of each musical signpost is always fluctuating, further abstracting the surface and underlying structure. A painstaking order is obviously at work in these movements. This music pushes the traditional limits of perception and yet exhibits strikingly lucid, even candid intentions. Webern's mastery of this language is palpable, but this is hardly a comfort. Webern was primarily concerned with the contours of natural phenomena, which follow a logic separate from the world humanity has created for itself.

    The premiere of Op. 10 was on June 22, 1924, over 10 years after its completion. Webern conducted the five movements himself, in Zurich, during the fourth festival of the International Society for Contemporary Composers. Critics had time to absorb Webern's approach to music by then, and wrote favorably, even glowingly, of the work. Music reporters from Berlin, who had lambasted him in the past, described the composer as "a true musical poet," and provided many similar accolades as well. The concert catapulted the composer to international fame. In terms of winning respect from the music world, this concert may have been the most successful evening of Anton Webern's career.


    1. Sehr ruhig und zart
    2. Lebhaft und zart bewegt
    3. Sehr langsam und ausserst zart
    4. Fliessend, asserst zart
    5. Sehr fliessend

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2015 Deutsche Grammophon 002894794261
    2013 Profil - Edition Günter Hänssler PH 13038
    2013 Decca / Mercury 4785092
    2012 Audite AUDITE 21412
    2010 Denon Records
    2010 Apex
    2010 Apex / Warner Classics 256468399
    2009 Sony Music Entertainment 753658
    2009 Naxos 8557531
    2008 RCO Live 08005
    2007 Elatus
    2006 Profil - Edition Günter Hänssler 4057
    2006 Edel Classics 0002332
    2005 Naxos 8558168-69
    2002 Haenssler 93080
    2002 Haenssler 93060
    2002 Naxos 554841
    2000 Deutsche Grammophon 457637
    2000 Montaigne 782096
    1999 NM Classics 97014
    1999 Col Legno 20041
    1999 Teldec 22902
    1998 London / London 444593
    1997 Phantom Import Distribution WPCR-784
    1995 Berlin Classics 0090202
    1995 Deutsche Grammophon 437786
    1994 Disques Montaigne 780518
    1994 Koch Schwann 310692
    1993 Deutsche Grammophon 431774
    1991 Sony Music Distribution 45845
    1991 Astree 7805
    1991 RCA Victor Red Seal 60827
    1990 Mercury 432006
    RCA Victor Red Seal 60827
    McGraw Hill 700808
    Disques Montaigne 88518
    Nuova Era 2386
    Denon Records 78822
    Arlecchino 34