Part of Scored-up Scores.

Webern: Symphonie op.21, Movement 1, Opening

This page provides some notes on the Webern Symphonie extract shown in the interactive score.

Canons

Webern described this movement as a ‘double canon in contrary motion’ (i.e. melodic inversion). There are canons in each section, very much including this opening which sees a double canon between parts 1 and 2, and 3 and 4. The table below shows this along with the first two rows and instrument successions.

Part First Row Instruments Second Row Instruments
1 P0 Hn2-Cl-VC I3 VC-Cl-Hn2
2 I0 Hn1-BCl-Vla P9 Vla-BCl-Hn1
3 I8 Hp-VC-Vln2-Hp-Hn2-Hp- P5 Hp-Hn2-Vln1-Hp-Vla-
4 P4 Hp-Vla-Vln1-Hp-Hn1-Hp- I7 Hp-Hn1-VC-Hp-Vln2-

There are comparable timbral sequences in both of the canon pairs and pairings of instruments (including harp’s two hands) from the outset. There is also palindromic symmetry in the first pair (connecting to many other symmetries in this work).

The Row

The row matrix is set out below in a one possible configuration that sees the piece begin with P0 (Webern’s sketches set this out with P and I swapped around).

I0 I9 I10 I11 I7 I8 I2 I1 I5 I4 I3 I6    
P0 A F# G G# E F B A# D C# C D# R0
P3 C A A# B G G# D C# F E D# F# R3
P2 B G# A A# F# G C# C E D# D F R2
P1 A# G G# A F F# C B D# D C# E R1
P5 D B C C# A A# E D# G F# F G# R5
P4 C# A# B C G# A D# D F# F E G R4
P10 G E F F# D D# A G# C B A# C# R10
P11 G# F F# G D# E A# A C# C B D R11
P7 E C# D D# B C F# F A G# G A# R7
P8 F D D# E C C# G F# A# A G# B R8
P9 F# D# E F C# D G# G B A# A C R9
P6 D# C C# D A# B F E G# G F# A R6
RI0 RI9 RI10 RI11 RI7 RI8 RI2 RI1 RI5 RI4 RI3 RI6    

Some properties of the row:

  • The second hexachord is a retrograde of the first.
  • That symmetrical property is exploited through dovetailing row forms, so the same minor third dyad both marks the end of one row and the beginning of another. For instance, in b.11-14: P0>I3, I8>P5, P4>I7 and I0>P9.
  • There are pairs of identical rows (like P0 = R6), and so 24 distinct forms in total, rather than 48 (4x12).
  • The tritone is important in this piece; notice that opposite notes in the row (notes 1 and 12, 2, and 11 …) are always a tritone apart.
  • The row can be thought of as four trichord cells: [013], [014], [014], [013].

Confused?

Again, just explore the interactive score to get a sense of how this looks in action.