Sebastian Wedler

On the Genealogy of Webern's Lyrical Physiognomy

Anton Webern has long been considered to be a ‘musical lyricist’. Theodor Adorno, for instance, argued that Webern had been generally guided by the idea of ‘absolute lyricism’. Drawing on Karol Berger’s A Theory of Art, my paper takes ‘musical lyricism’ to be a concept of temporality, a temporality of the decisive moment or ‘Augenblick’ in which—as opposed to ‘narrative’ or ‘dramatic-dialectical’ orientations of musical form—the individual musical part rests in itself. This paper takes the perspective that throughout his compositional output, Webern was concerned with these ‘lyrical’ notions of temporality, and that it is this that arguably fundamentally distinguishes Webern’s aesthetics from that of Schoenberg or Berg. While these ‘lyrical notions’ have only been addressed in Webern’s aphoristic and dodecaphonic works, this paper explores the genealogy of Webern’s ‘lyrical attitude’ by an in-depth analysis of Im Sommerwind (1904). I will approach the work by means of four analytical focal points: (i) Webern’s ‘leitmotivic practice’ and the tight-knitted threads of motivic-thematic correspondences that issue from this; (ii) a Hepokoskian analysis of the work’s ‘sonata deformation’; (iii) the ‘interlacing of harmonic plateaus’ through a combination of Schenkerian and Neo-Riemannian analysis, effectively evoking the virtual contemporaneity of events; (iv) and the penetration of the overall form through what Ernst Kurth conceived of as ‘wave forms’, with the effect that motion is suggested while nothing is actually developing. In the course of this, I will discuss these analytical findings in the light of the work’s programme, a poem of the same name by Bruno Wille, as well as Webern’s sketches from the Paul Sacher Foundation, Basel, Switzerland. In so doing, my paper aims at a contribution towards the elucidation of Webern’s ‘lyrical physiognomy’ in particular, and the analytical grounding of the paradigm of ‘lyrical’ temporality in general.