Anton Webern

Symphony, Op. 21

    Description by Alexander Carpenter

    The Symphony, Op. 21, was the first large-scale orchestral work Webern had written since the Five Pieces, Op. 10, 15 years earlier. The work marks the beginning of a period of extreme compression in Webern's music. Dedicated to his daughter Christine, the Symphony is a work of severe economy and restrained expression. Its symmetrical structure and pointillistic texture are quintessential hallmarks of Webern's mature compositional style.

    Scored for clarinet, bass clarinet, two horns, harp, first and second violins, viola, and cello, the Symphony is widely regarded as a masterpiece in miniature: Webern's teacher and mentor Arnold Schoenberg was astounded and moved by the work's concision. Like most of Webern's 12-tone works, the Symphony is based on a single series dominated by semitones. The work consists of two short movements. The first is in two parts -- statement and development -- and begins with a double canon in four parts; the second movement is a theme with seven variations and a coda, and also includes the use of canon.

    The Symphony is perhaps most remarkable for its use of symmetry, which in some quarters has stirred accusations against Webern of a certain excessive pedantry. That symmetry takes several forms, from the work's palindromic series to the canonic variations that work in both directions from the exact center of the piece outwards. The astute listener can spend a lifetime hearing an intricate web of such structural correlations within the Symphony, which is a sort of super palindrome.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Ruhig schreitend
    2. Variationen & Thema

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2015 Deutsche Grammophon / Universal 4811510
    2015 Deutsche Grammophon 002894794261
    2014 Deutsche Grammophon
    2014 Deutsche Grammophon 002894793431
    2014 Deutsche Grammophon 4793445
    2010 Deutsche Grammophon
    2010 Denon Records
    2010 Apex
    2010 Apex / Warner Classics 256468399
    2007 Elatus
    2006 Universal Music
    2006 Accord 4768862
    2006 Edel Classics 0002332
    2005 Naxos 8557530
    2002 Naxos 554841
    2000 Deutsche Grammophon 457637
    1999 Teldec 22902
    1998 London / London 444593
    1998 New York Philharmonic 9701
    1997 Deutsche Grammophon 447765
    1996 Denon Records 18005
    1995 Berlin Classics 0090202
    1991 Sony Music Distribution 45845
    1991 Astree 7805
    1989 Deutsche Grammophon 4274242
    Deutsche Grammophon 457639
    New York Philharmonic 9708/09