This mini-essay is an opportunity for you to dive deeply into a short but probably unfamiliar style of music from the early 20th century—Anton Webern’s Symphony, Opus 21 (1927-28).
1) Read the essay by Todd Tarantino about Symphony, Opus 21, by Anton Webern, a German composer who studied with Arnold Schoenberg. The essay lists the instruments used in this symphony. Tarantino includes time stamps (off by about 4 seconds) connected to the recording you will listen to. There is some information about Webern’s compositional methods, but don’t get too anxious about being able to hear the details of twelve-tone technique or even following the repeats in symphony’s first movement.
2) Listen to Robert Craft’s performance of the first of two movements (Ruhig, schreitend, or “Quiet, stepping”) of Symphony, Opus 21. (This recording is only the first of the two movements.) It’s about seven and a half minutes long. Follow the advice of Webern’s colleague Alban Berg to “Listen profoundly” to this relatively short symphonic movement.
3) Webern called this a “symphony.” Neither of its two movements is in sonata form. (Don’t worry about listening to the second movement.) You have heard three symphonies in this course by Mozart, Beethoven, and Berlioz. What about this work puts it in the category of a symphony? What differs from the symphonies that you are more familiar with? Orchestration? Form? Melodic style? Harmony? Rhythm? Dynamics? What makes this piece expressive or worth listening to? Any other musical elements? Feel free to include information about one or more of the older symphonies for comparison.
4) Write your essay as a letter to an intelligent and interested friend (“Dear Sydney…”) This is a somewhat famous piece that uses twelve-tone technique as Webern’s way to organize the composition. Don’t worry about this. Write about what you hear. Tarantino’s essay can help you grasp something about the movement’s form, orchestration, and other elements.
This is atonal music, and you may at first hate the piece; try to move beyond that reaction to find something of beauty.