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 Post subject: Anton Webern - Variations
PostPosted: Sun Nov 28, 2010 9:53 pm 
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Posts: 489
Location: Lyon, France
Dear All,

Please find a recording of the only Webern's composition for piano. It has been quite a challenge for me to learn and to record this purely serial piece, the first one I've ever tried to play. I cannot say I am very fond of serial music as a listener, but I wanted to see to which extent the daily contact with it, during several months, would change my appraisal of this so cerebral and mathematised music.

When I play a Bach's fugue, at the end I generally want to come back to the beginning and to play it again, because the music is so dense and complex, and gives the feeling to contain much more as compared to what was caught at the first pass. With these variations, I got the same feeling. Also, in addition to the horizontal dimension, Bach always pay attention to harmony and to the vertical consistency of his music. It seems that Webern (and maybe his colleagues from Wien's second school) had the same concern, but opposite. It means that the notes played at the same time never can be seen as a classical chord. On the contrary, they sound dissonant, but still giving the impression to pertain to a certain category of note clusters. Not the same colours as tonal music, of course, but still colours and variety. And the p/f contrasts plus the rubato gives a wide area for expression. Now I can say that I love this piece. I'm not sure I would have reached this point without having played it myself. I would be interested to know the impressions of new listeners...


Webern - Variations Op. 27, I: Sehr massig

Webern - Variations Op. 27, II: Sehr schnell

Webern - Variations Op. 27, III: Ruhig fliessend

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François
"Je préfère ce qui me touche que ce qui me surprend"
François Couperin (1668-1733)


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 Post subject: Re: Anton Webern - Variations
PostPosted: Mon Nov 29, 2010 2:11 pm 
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Although this may well be an iconic 20th century work, I had not actually heard this set :oops:

It's far more pointillistic and abstract than I had imagined, and it seems to me that music like this is
more of an intellectual exercise than anything else. Bach fugues are intellectual exercises too, except
there you have beauty in spades, and depth, and excitement, and everything else. Not so here, IMO.
I cannot imagine anyone finding the screeching and grinding harmonies of rigid 12-tone music beautiful,
and being moved by it. Awful stuff really, not to put to fine a point on it. I'm sure some scholars will
think very differently, claiming this music as important and necessary. I can appreciate some of
Schoenberg and most of Berg, but Webern's music seems to be a dead-end. Yet I can imagine
studying this is very educating, and can even make you like the music, and god forbid, play it
again. Never mind the poor listeners :wink:

I don't know the music or the score, but it sounds to me like a job well done. I imagine there must be
a myriad of instructions, dynamic and otherwise, in here, which you all follow scrupulously. How much
of yourself you should put into music like this, if any, I have no idea.

Congratulations on a lofty achievement Francois. I do admire people taking the considerable trouble
to learn contemporary music. Stockhausen, Boulez or Barraque next ?

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Nothing is always absolutely so -- Sturgeon's law
Chris Breemer


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 Post subject: Re: Anton Webern - Variations
PostPosted: Wed Dec 01, 2010 12:03 am 
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Joined: Tue Feb 16, 2010 4:45 pm
Posts: 62
Location: Phoenix, AZ
Hello Francois -

Nice job on this interesting submission. I have always had respect for Webern, though it is not something you are going to take out to the pool. I think you can call Webern a pointillist in that his notes seem to be isolated by themselves, but unlike the pointillist painters, who are using points to create a texture, with Webern the "points" are the POINT. I think Schoenberg was after ambiguity, and Berg was after anxiety, but Webern tried to turn each note into a "sound". He turns sounds into motives, and gestures into themes. It is like a Haiku poet, only he also tried to undo syntax! He tried to take out any natural relationship between the notes, and used the serial technique to achieve that effect. This was radical, and became very influential. I was actually taken by the repetition of sounds in these piano pieces. They are like percussion pieces in that the succession of the sounds is where there is expression, and Francois, you have done a good job at this.

I actually kind of like his Five Pieces for Orchestra (it's short), and I have played his interesting orchestration of a J.S. Bach Ricercare several times. In his orchestration of the Bach, he uses 8 or 9 instruments in succession to play through just the fugue subject! The soft and delicate parts of the work are quite interesting, but he has no clue what to do with the loud tutti parts. In his own music, he just never goes there!

I think Webern was very creative, if rather bazaar and idiosyncratic, but I don't see him as terribly intellectual - not in comparison to, say, Brahms. By all accounts he was ultra romantic in his personal life, but he did create his music from the ground up, mostly crafting it from negatives. He never wrote a minor second (9th and 7th is another story). His rhythm is simple and rarely wrote dotted rhythms, though only Webern would write "piu mosso" in the middle of a ritard. He seemed to do everything he could think of to isolate his sounds. Considering Webern's approach to music, it is baffling that he wrote a piano piece in the first place. He tries to use piano notes, chords, and dynamics as isolated and different sounds, and, considering that they are not, he is pretty successful. But I think John Cage had a much better approach in "preparing" his piano. There is no mistaking what he is doing there, as each note IS a different sound.

Thanks, Francois, for taking the time to learn this music. It is such target practice! Best wishes -

Glenn


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 Post subject: Re: Anton Webern - Variations
PostPosted: Sat Dec 04, 2010 6:04 pm 
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Joined: Sun Nov 30, 2008 1:11 am
Posts: 489
Location: Lyon, France
techneut wrote:
Although this may well be an iconic 20th century work, I had not actually heard this set :oops:

It's far more pointillistic and abstract than I had imagined, and it seems to me that music like this is
more of an intellectual exercise than anything else. Bach fugues are intellectual exercises too, except
there you have beauty in spades, and depth, and excitement, and everything else. Not so here, IMO.
I cannot imagine anyone finding the screeching and grinding harmonies of rigid 12-tone music beautiful,
and being moved by it. Awful stuff really, not to put to fine a point on it. I'm sure some scholars will
think very differently, claiming this music as important and necessary. I can appreciate some of
Schoenberg and most of Berg, but Webern's music seems to be a dead-end. Yet I can imagine
studying this is very educating, and can even make you like the music, and god forbid, play it
again. Never mind the poor listeners :wink:

I don't know the music or the score, but it sounds to me like a job well done. I imagine there must be
a myriad of instructions, dynamic and otherwise, in here, which you all follow scrupulously. How much
of yourself you should put into music like this, if any, I have no idea.

Congratulations on a lofty achievement Francois. I do admire people taking the considerable trouble
to learn contemporary music. Stockhausen, Boulez or Barraque next ?

Hello Chris,
Many thanks for your trial to enjoy this music. I understand it is not (yet) successful. I'm sure that if I hadn't practiced it, I'd need at least ten carefull listenings, that you cannot afford, I guess, given your commitment to all PS submissions (and, maybe, no real will to become more familiar with this music). In my case, I guess it is Boulez great love and admiration for Webern which put me the idea of taking a tour in this strange, but still human world. In case someone would like to see the score, I'm attaching it to this post. I've got it from IMSLP, but I'm not sure it is still available...
You'll see that there are not so many indications, as compared to more contemporary music. Also, my tempis are notably under Webern's suggestions, partly due to technical limitations, but also because the quicker you play, the more difficult to catch anything of the structure (yet, it is not an easy task).
Finally, I'd like to point out a magnificent version on Deezer by the Polish pianist Piotr Anderszewski. If you ever make a second trial...

_________________
François
"Je préfère ce qui me touche que ce qui me surprend"
François Couperin (1668-1733)


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 Post subject: Re: Anton Webern - Variations
PostPosted: Sat Dec 04, 2010 6:18 pm 
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Joined: Sun Nov 30, 2008 1:11 am
Posts: 489
Location: Lyon, France
glenn wrote:
Hello Francois -
Nice job on this interesting submission. I have always had respect for Webern, though it is not something you are going to take out to the pool. I think you can call Webern a pointillist in that his notes seem to be isolated by themselves, but unlike the pointillist painters, who are using points to create a texture, with Webern the "points" are the POINT. I think Schoenberg was after ambiguity, and Berg was after anxiety, but Webern tried to turn each note into a "sound". He turns sounds into motives, and gestures into themes. It is like a Haiku poet, only he also tried to undo syntax! He tried to take out any natural relationship between the notes, and used the serial technique to achieve that effect. This was radical, and became very influential. I was actually taken by the repetition of sounds in these piano pieces. They are like percussion pieces in that the succession of the sounds is where there is expression, and Francois, you have done a good job at this.
I actually kind of like his Five Pieces for Orchestra (it's short), and I have played his interesting orchestration of a J.S. Bach Ricercare several times. In his orchestration of the Bach, he uses 8 or 9 instruments in succession to play through just the fugue subject! The soft and delicate parts of the work are quite interesting, but he has no clue what to do with the loud tutti parts. In his own music, he just never goes there!
I think Webern was very creative, if rather bazaar and idiosyncratic, but I don't see him as terribly intellectual - not in comparison to, say, Brahms. By all accounts he was ultra romantic in his personal life, but he did create his music from the ground up, mostly crafting it from negatives. He never wrote a minor second (9th and 7th is another story). His rhythm is simple and rarely wrote dotted rhythms, though only Webern would write "piu mosso" in the middle of a ritard. He seemed to do everything he could think of to isolate his sounds. Considering Webern's approach to music, it is baffling that he wrote a piano piece in the first place. He tries to use piano notes, chords, and dynamics as isolated and different sounds, and, considering that they are not, he is pretty successful. But I think John Cage had a much better approach in "preparing" his piano. There is no mistaking what he is doing there, as each note IS a different sound.
Thanks, Francois, for taking the time to learn this music. It is such target practice! Best wishes -
Glenn

Hi Glenn,
Thanks to you for having taking time to learn this far-to-perfect rendition, and also for your deep thinking about Webern and the Wien school. I am a real beginner in this field, and I'm not sure that I will become more advanced in the future - maybe if I become depressed and get some serious illness, which will probably end up happening - but my little experience fits with your appreciation regarding the importance of sound in this music (although it is black-and-white piano). And, for people like us who like modern jazz, there are beautiful chords, like C-F-B and this kind of intriguing, ambiguous and catching background. As an (amateur) composer, I'd like to write only one piano piece and invent a so new way of making the piano sounding !
By the way, listening your music I guess you've studied a lot serial music, haven't you ?

_________________
François
"Je préfère ce qui me touche que ce qui me surprend"
François Couperin (1668-1733)


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 Post subject: Re: Anton Webern - Variations
PostPosted: Sun Dec 05, 2010 9:41 am 
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Joined: Mon Jun 12, 2006 11:45 am
Posts: 9576
Location: Netherlands
Francois de Larrard wrote:
Many thanks for your trial to enjoy this music. I understand it is not (yet) successful. I'm sure that if I hadn't practiced it, I'd need at least ten carefull listenings, that you cannot afford, I guess, given your commitment to all PS submissions (and, maybe, no real will to become more familiar with this music).

I realize it would take determination and perseverance to get under the skin of this music, and learn to appreciate or even love it. But my rule is that something in a piece must appeal to me instantly. If I don't find that, I usually will not listen again let alone want to play it. It would be different if there was other (piano) music by the same composer that I like, being a completist I like to do everything a composer wrote. But it's not the case here.

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Nothing is always absolutely so -- Sturgeon's law
Chris Breemer


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 Post subject: Re: Anton Webern - Variations
PostPosted: Sun Dec 05, 2010 12:27 pm 
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Posts: 489
Location: Lyon, France
techneut wrote:
It would be different if there was other (piano) music by the same composer that I like, being a completist I like to do everything a composer wrote. But it's not the case here.

Sure, Chris, it is your right to take such an approach. Two more remarks, if I may:
- to be a Webern 'completist' is not difficult: only one piece ! So the reward is high as compared to the investment...
- when you write that a piece must attract you the first time, isn't a negation of the art as a mean of transformation of human beings?
It was my philosophical minute... Have a good sunday !

_________________
François
"Je préfère ce qui me touche que ce qui me surprend"
François Couperin (1668-1733)


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 Post subject: Re: Anton Webern - Variations
PostPosted: Sun Dec 05, 2010 11:56 pm 
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Joined: Mon Nov 29, 2010 7:28 am
Posts: 1250
Location: Springfield, Missouri, USA
Hello Francois,
I enjoyed both the work and your performance. I too salute you for tackling such a dissonant work. Would I program this work? I think I might becuase the portions are not so large even for those who don't care for this dodecaphonic serialism. The work is best appreciated after an understanding of the times and context in which he, Schoenberg and Berg were living and after a thourogh analysis using atonal (set theory) techniques. (Meaning that it's difficult for audiences). The relationship of the 3 movements to eachother by means of the same 12-tone row was evident. Thanks, too for the pdf of the score (interesting that it is a Russian edition, given the angst of WWII?); I now have the Collected Solo Piano Music of Anton Webern. :) I think it should be available for all to listen to.
Eddy

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Eddy M. del Rio, MD
"A smattering will not do. They must know all the keys, major and minor, and they must literally 'know them backwards.'" - Josef Lhevinne


Last edited by musical-md on Mon Dec 06, 2010 5:44 am, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Anton Webern - Variations
PostPosted: Mon Dec 06, 2010 5:39 am 
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Joined: Tue Feb 16, 2010 4:45 pm
Posts: 62
Location: Phoenix, AZ
Francois de Larrard wrote:
By the way, listening your music I guess you've studied a lot serial music, haven't you ?


It is interesting that my music conveys the impression that I have studied the serialists extensively. This is not the case other than being introduced to their music in college. I did not take them seriously in college. I did not take the serialists who were writing in the 60s and 70s when I went to school seriously either. As I grew older, however, I did become more interested when I realized that the serialists really did mean what they were implying emotionally in their music. When I took them seriously emotionally, then I had more respect for them as composers. They are always considered "difficult', but some of the things that were occurring in their lifetime were pretty difficult to deal with!

I read once, concerning the art and music in the period after WWII, that Expressionism paled in comparison to the war, especially when the photos of concentration camps began to emerge. After WWII, composers used serialism to take their emotions OUT of their music, eventually using rows of all musical parameters to control their music. They were basically in shock; nobody was interested in hyper-emotionalism anymore. A young (and pre-LSD) Stockhausen uttered a telling remark when he stated that, for him, total serialism liberated him from the "tyranny of inspiration". I love that.

Personally, I cannot write or improvise in an atonal harmonic environment. I always hear the push and pull of the intervals, even without a tonal center. I cannot live in a world that does not include both F# AND Gb. What guides my "tonal" sense is sharp and flat, ebb and flow, tension and release, yin and yang. I hear both Schoenberg and Berg like this, but not Webern. His music to me is just sound and structure. It is interesting that Schoenberg abandoned the twelve-tone system as a failure (in 1945) just as it was becoming the rage.

There is some interesting discussion here. I agree with Eddy that to understand this music, one must understand the times. Perhaps the angst and scream of a lot of this music gives us a taste of what those times were actually like. Thank you again, Francois, for posting the Webern.

Glenn


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 Post subject: Re: Anton Webern - Variations
PostPosted: Mon Dec 06, 2010 5:52 am 
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Joined: Tue Aug 25, 2009 1:57 am
Posts: 317
Location: New York City
Hello Francois,

Congratulations on very orderly, very neat consistent playing, with excellent expression.

Beautiful, though restricted colors within the tonal palette.

The playing was very disciplined and yet expressive. Bravo.

Kaila Rochelle

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 Post subject: Re: Anton Webern - Variations
PostPosted: Sat Dec 11, 2010 11:02 pm 
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Joined: Sun Nov 30, 2008 1:11 am
Posts: 489
Location: Lyon, France
My appologies for responding so late to your kind posts. I have been away from home for professional reasons. Let's try to keep up...

musical-md wrote:
Hello Francois,
I enjoyed both the work and your performance. I too salute you for tackling such a dissonant work. Would I program this work? I think I might becuase the portions are not so large even for those who don't care for this dodecaphonic serialism. The work is best appreciated after an understanding of the times and context in which he, Schoenberg and Berg were living and after a thourogh analysis using atonal (set theory) techniques. (Meaning that it's difficult for audiences). The relationship of the 3 movements to eachother by means of the same 12-tone row was evident. Thanks, too for the pdf of the score (interesting that it is a Russian edition, given the angst of WWII?); I now have the Collected Solo Piano Music of Anton Webern. :) I think it should be available for all to listen to.
Eddy


Thank you Eddy. Yes, this work is so typical of a certain composition school, and so short and dense that it can be worth programming, even for a wide, non-specialized audience. If you listen the recording I mentioned on Deezer, you will see that it comes quite logically after a Bach suite and a Beethoven sonata. As for the score I have posted, yes it is a Russian edition scanned and proposed on IMSLP. But I don't know the year of publication.


glenn wrote:
Francois de Larrard wrote:
By the way, listening your music I guess you've studied a lot serial music, haven't you ?


It is interesting that my music conveys the impression that I have studied the serialists extensively. This is not the case other than being introduced to their music in college. I did not take them seriously in college. I did not take the serialists who were writing in the 60s and 70s when I went to school seriously either. As I grew older, however, I did become more interested when I realized that the serialists really did mean what they were implying emotionally in their music. When I took them seriously emotionally, then I had more respect for them as composers. They are always considered "difficult', but some of the things that were occurring in their lifetime were pretty difficult to deal with!

I read once, concerning the art and music in the period after WWII, that Expressionism paled in comparison to the war, especially when the photos of concentration camps began to emerge. After WWII, composers used serialism to take their emotions OUT of their music, eventually using rows of all musical parameters to control their music. They were basically in shock; nobody was interested in hyper-emotionalism anymore. A young (and pre-LSD) Stockhausen uttered a telling remark when he stated that, for him, total serialism liberated him from the "tyranny of inspiration". I love that.

Personally, I cannot write or improvise in an atonal harmonic environment. I always hear the push and pull of the intervals, even without a tonal center. I cannot live in a world that does not include both F# AND Gb. What guides my "tonal" sense is sharp and flat, ebb and flow, tension and release, yin and yang. I hear both Schoenberg and Berg like this, but not Webern. His music to me is just sound and structure. It is interesting that Schoenberg abandoned the twelve-tone system as a failure (in 1945) just as it was becoming the rage.

There is some interesting discussion here. I agree with Eddy that to understand this music, one must understand the times. Perhaps the angst and scream of a lot of this music gives us a taste of what those times were actually like. Thank you again, Francois, for posting the Webern.

Glenn


What made me think about serialism in your music was probably both the post-tonal mood and the horizontal dimension. When I was young I did not really study this music (I was educated as an engineer !), but I listened extensively a LP by the French pianist (another engineer, BTW) Claude Helffer who played all Shoenberg opuses for solo piano. And I ended up improvising in Shoenberg style (while of course it was far to be pure serial music !). Sure there is a potential for emotions in this music, even if it is hidden by a formal and mathematical aspect. I am not deep in musicology and music history, but I wonder to which extent a similarity can be found between the second Wien school time (anxiety and horror dealing with WW II), and J.S. Bach's time in Germany, resting after the terrible 30-year war. In both cases, composers wanted to creat an eternal music, out of time, especially because their times were so awfull...


musicrecovery wrote:
Hello Francois,

Congratulations on very orderly, very neat consistent playing, with excellent expression.

Beautiful, though restricted colors within the tonal palette.

The playing was very disciplined and yet expressive. Bravo.

Kaila Rochelle


Thank you very much Kaila for your kind and forgiving appreciation. I'd like to reach more velocity in the 2nd movement, and more flexibility in the tempis. Which is so difficult in such a music is to pay strict attention to every detail, while keeping freedom and expression. Probably the ideal would be to play without score, that I did not try to do with this piece (it would have required some more months of practice !).

_________________
François
"Je préfère ce qui me touche que ce qui me surprend"
François Couperin (1668-1733)


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