BBC Radio 3 hosts Webern Day on Thursday, Sept. 15 (tomorrow), on the anniversary of the death of composer Anton Webern. On that evening in 1945, Webern stepped outside to smoke a cigar, and an American soldier, seeing the glow of the cigar, panicked and shot Webern three times.
The only piece of Webern’s I’m anywhere familiar with is the Six Bagatelles for String Quartet, which Kronos Quartet recorded on its album Winter Was Hard. Back when I was a teenager with delusions of musician grandeur, Webern’s sparse and precise music peaked my curiosity. Did he end up being an influence on me in college? Not so much. (I had John Zorn and Wayne Horvitz for that.)
I can’t say I’m as passionate about 20th Century classical music as I was as a student, but even today, Webern’s music keeps me curious. His pieces are extremely concise but incredibly expressive, a kind of economy that appeals to me in prose writing, and increasingly, in songwriting.