Anton Webern, (1883-1945), Austrian composer, who extended the twelve-tone system of the Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg and influenced a generation of post-World War II composers.
Webern was born Anton von Wevern December 3, 1883, in Vienna, where he studied under the eminent Austrian musicologist Guido Adler at the University of Vienna and, beginning in 1904, privately with Schoenberg. From 1908 until 1934 he pursued a career as a conductor in Prague, Vienna, and various German cities, taught composition at the musical academy founded by Schoenberg in Vienna, and introduced the works of contemporary musical innovators. His career was cut short for political reasons in 1934, and he subsequently earned a meager living from teaching and editing jobs. In 1945 he moved to Salzburg, where he was accidentally shot by an American military policeman on September 13, 1945.
Webern and the Austrian composer Alban Berg were Schoenberg's most important disciples. Webern's early works, such as the Passacaglia (1908) for orchestra, are richly scored, heavily chromatic works in the postromantic style. His music during the period between his Six Pieces (1910) for orchestra and the Five Canons (1924) for soprano and two clarinets was marked by sparse textures, small instrumental ensembles, and highly compact musical construction. With his 1924 work Drei geistliche Volkslieder (Three Spiritual Folksongs) he adopted Schoenberg's newly formulated twelve-tone system. His subsequent works remain notable for their extreme condensation, brevity, great clarity and delicacy, and fragmentary melodic units. Webern extended the twelve-tone concept of serialization of pitch to serialization of rhythms, dynamics, and tone colors. His use of shifting tone colors is remarkably illustrated in his 1932 orchestration of the Ricercar from Johann Sebastian Bach's Musical Offering. Webern's principal twelve-tone works include a Symphony (1928) for chamber orchestra, the cantatas op. 29 (1940) and op. 31 (1943), and the Variations (1940) for orchestra. He also edited the Choralis Constantinus II of the Flemish composer Heinrich Isaac, whose mastery of counterpoint Webern greatly admired.