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Anne C.

Shreer
Reclaiming Tradition
The instrumental and vocal miniatures that Webern composed between 1909 and
1914 sound at first so utterly strange that they seem to exist outside of any tradition.
1
Their extreme brevity, timbral richness, quiet dynamics, and most of all, the fleeting
quality of their gestures were unprecedented at the time of their composition and
still sound fresh in the twenty-first century. Single notes, fragments of melodies,
fragile chords, and ostinatos emerge but vanish just as quickly. Not least because of
its lack of redundancy, the music resists description using common analytical
metaphors drawn from language (such as phrase or exposition). Instead of laying
out a premise or developing an argument (as in the typical Beethovenian or Schoen-
bergian exposition), each of Weberns miniatures seems to articulate and inhabit a
space, created not by a linear unfolding, but by the potentiality implied by the mul-
tiple connections that the listeners ear is able to make between musical events. Every
detail is compositionally significant: dynamics, articulation, register, timbre, and
silences play an equal role to pitch and rhythm. While the extremely short duration
of each piece or movement may estrange a listener who approaches the experience
with normal concert expectations, it allows the attentive listener better to hold the
piece in memory.
2
Since in Weberns densely-composed music there are more poten-
tial relationships than it is humanly possible to hear at any one time, different
listeners (or the same listener on different hearings) will relate the events in multiple
ways, resulting in different articulations of the space within the same piece. Like
Morton Feldmans music too, Weberns invites the listener into the process of making
the piece. Of course a culturally informed, understanding mind is necessary for any
music to be heard as music and not random sounds.
3
But Weberns aphorisms leave
more imaginative space for the listener to fill than most other music, particularly
when compared with the rhetoric-based music of the German classical tradition.
1 | These include Fnf Stze fr Streichquartet, Op. 5 (except No. 1), Vier Stcke fr Geige und Klavier, Op. 7,
Zwei Lieder, Op. 8 (early version for voice and large orchestra), Sechs Bagatellen fr Streichquartett,
Op. 9, Fnf Stcke fr Orchester, Op. 10, Drei kleine Stcke fr Violoncello und Klavier, Op. 11, as well as
the songs Die Einsame (later Op. 13, No. 2) and Leise Dte (originally grouped together as
Zwei Lieder, op. 7), O santes Glhn der Berge (originally grouped with Nos. 2, 3, and 5 of Op. 10
as Vier Stcke fr Orchester, das 3. mit Gesang, op. 6), Schmerz immer [] (originally grouped
with Nos. 1 and 6 of Op. 9 as Drei Stcke fr Streichquartet [mit Gesang], op. 3, No. 3), as well as
the drat of the orchestra song, Kunttag III.
2| For a detailed investigation of how musical brevity aects the listeners experience, see Simon
Obert, Musikalische Krze zu Beginn des 20. Jahrhunderts. Beihete zum Archiv fr Musikwissen -
schat 63 (Stutgart: Steiner, 2008).
3| See Albrecht von Massow, Musikalisches Subjekt: Idee und Erscheinung in der Moderne. Rombach
Wissen schaten. Reihe Literae 84 (Freiburg im Breisgau: Rombach, 2001).
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Beethovens Trills, Weberns Sixth Bagatelle,
and the Shards of Tradition
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Weberns music seems therefore to look more towards the future than the past,
historically speaking; this view lay behind his enormous influence on New Music
after 1945. But while Weberns music may sound like luft von anderem planeten,
its distance from tradition does not mean the absence of tradition. His miniatures
are suffused with gestures, textures, and forms of tonal music, even if these are trans-
formed beyond immediate recognition.
4
The funeral march of Op. 6 is an obvious
example, but there are also echoes of Schubertian melody (Op. 7, No. 3, piano right
hand), of Mahlerian orchestration (Op. 10, No. 5), and of tonal gestures, such as
suspensions (Op. 5, No. 5, end, here left poignantly unresolved). One could even
hear the fade-out ending of Mahlers Ninth Symphony echoed in Weberns endings
that dissolve into silence, marked verklingend or verlschend, as for example
Op. 5, Nos. 2 and 5; Op. 7, No. 4; Op. 9, Nos. 3 and 4; and Op. 10, No. 1. These topoi
from the Classic-Romantic tradition, however attenuated, are accompanied by other
signifying gestures that are unique to Weberns music.
5
While all these topoi are sub-
tle if not sublimated in the earlier works, Weberns later works display their affinities
to the classical tradition more overtly: in terms of genre (symphony, concerto,
cantata), form (variations, sonata, and rondo forms), and technique (canon).
The category of topoi in Weberns miniatures may be expanded to include musical
figures: traditional ways of grouping tones, such as appogiaturas, turns, mordents,
grace notes, ostinatos, tremolos, and trills, all of which are plentiful in his earlier music.
Although these figures do not serve a tonal function here which is why the conven-
tional name ornament is not appropriate , they still evoke connections with tradi-
tion. Each figure forms a textural, timbral, rhythmic and possibly metric or registral
shape that is recognizable only in terms of its past usage as a convention (someone who
has never heard a grace note will not be able to identify one). If genre rests on a kind
of contract between listeners and composers, then a figure which is a very small
subset of the manifold elements that make up a genre would analogously require
a knowledge of many similar figures in order to be recognizable. As a conventional
grouping, a figure can immediately refer to other such figures; it participates in its local
musical discourse and at the same time in a larger historical nexus. Whereas a single
pitch, an interval, or a simple rhythm usually does not carry any particular associations
from work to work because of its ubiquitousness, a figure remains identifiable as a
discrete element, even though the different manifestations of the type may vary
considerably. Nonetheless the nature of the figures reference to other pieces of music
is general rather than specific; whereas pitch and rhythmic elements can be used to
4| As Adorno put it: Indem sie [die Neue Musik] nmlich die traditionellen Formen vermeidet,
bewahrt sie diese auf. Noch die freiesten und unschematischsten Gebilde enthalten die Spur ge-
schichtlicher Tektonik. In his Interpretationsanalysen neuer Musik, chapter Anton Webern: Sechs
Bagatellen fr Streichquartet op. 9, Der getreue Korrepetitor: Lehrschriten zur musikalischen Praxis, ed.
Rolf Tiedemann. Gesammelte Schriten 15 (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1976), p. 279
(originally published in 1963).
5| Julian Johnson has identied specic topoi in Weberns music from this period, such as the
ostinato, the lling of chromatic space, and the descending solo violin line, that invoke ideas of
nature and the maternal (which were intertwined in Weberns private mythology); see his Webern
and the Transformation of Nature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), pp. 99127.
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quote or to allude to other works, it is impossible to quote a specific pre-existing ap-
pogiatura or trill. Figures, therefore, have a kind of generic familiarity, but due to their
brevity and conventionality lack the ability to refer to specific passages in other works.
Listening to echoes of the past in Weberns music is very different from a struc-
tural hearing, in which only internal relationships are considered. If we hear his
music as alluding to other music, then we cannot consider it to be self-contained,
but open. This has important implications for how we interpret the music. For if
the music is not completely hermetic, we have to employ analytical approaches that
will recognize topoi, and be willing to ascribe meanings to them. Given musics non-
referential nature, the interpretation of meaning in music resides with the listener
and analyst, not with the composer. Although a convincing interpretation will be in-
formed by all the relevant historical and biographical information available (as
I hope this one is), it does not claim to invoke the composers intention as proof or
authority. Even if it were possible to know what Webern had really intended with
a given work, his interpretation would not have as much meaning for us as it did for
him. The following essay should be understood as an experiment in intertextual
analysis, an attempt to hear one of the layers of history within the work. This inter-
pretation may seem subjective and indeed it is so, if subjective is defined as the ac-
tive understanding of an aesthetic phenomenon as constituted by a listening subject.
If Weberns music allows room for the listener to create meaning, then many differ-
ent kinds of meaning can result, although since musical meaning in our culture is
constituted in fairly specific ways, the number of plausible readings is not infinite.
I make no claim that Webern thought any of these things. But if the essay induces
others to hear Weberns music in a new way, it will have succeeded.
On this basis I shall propose a thesis that not only is the sixth Bagatelle, which is
the focus of this essay, suffused with references to tradition, but that these references
mean something; not in the sense of specific semantic meanings perhaps, but rather
that they articulate an attitude towards the cultural past which can be described as
simultaneously yearning for transcendence and mourning its loss. In his introductory
essay to this volume, Simon Obert presents and examines three distinct modes of
interpretation of the sixth Bagatelle: structural (relationships internal to the work),
poetic (programmatic on the personal level), and historical/topical (Expressionistische
Miniatur/Volksmusik?).
6
My hearing of Webern-and-tradition partakes of the latter
two. Adornos identification of topics in the sixth Bagatelle that evoke specific historical
models (although Volkslied is surely meant tongue in cheek) and his focus on trills
as a feature have inspired my own interpretation. I also read the sixth Bagatelle
as the conclusion of a personal poetic statement whose core is the vocal setting of
Schmerz immer [], originally the second piece of Drei Stcke fr Streichquartett
(mit Gesang), op. 3, No. 3 (Op. 9, Nos. 1 and 6 were the first and third, respectively).
In this reading, as Obert explains, the sixth Bagatelle hints at a moment of redemption
6| Simon Obert, Der unfaliche Zustand: Fragen an Weberns sechste Bagatelle, in this volume,
pp. 1135.
39 Anne C. Shreffler
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after the trauma.
7
In fact many musical features of the sixth Bagatelle imply a recovery
or release into another realm: the quick tempo, the high register, the fluid progression
of musical events.
8
My interpretation builds on this one, with a modification: the utopia
can be only glimpsed, and the trauma returns after its disappearance. The sixth Bagatelle,
like much of Weberns music from this period, seems to balance precariously between
stasis and instability, straining to evoke an other-worldly peace while perched on the
edge of the abyss.
Starting from the observation that Weberns early pieces for string quartet have
something to do with past music, especially that of late Beethoven, I shall focus on
the trill as one element of the many that could have been chosen of Weberns
compositional Beethoven reception.
9
As already mentioned about figures in general,
Weberns trills do not imitate or reproduce Beethovens trills, but rather evoke them
in highly compressed form; drawing upon the historical figure of the trill in its
specific late-Beethovenian guise allows Webern to express the notion of a longed-for
but unattainable utopia with the merest of gestures.
The second part of my thesis is that this link does not collapse the distance
between Beethoven and Webern, but rather emphasizes it. Webern does not try to
approach Beethovens language in a classicizing gesture, or out of nostalgia, but
rather to reclaim its essence by reinventing it. In other words, that Weberns music
evokes the past is a significant feature of its modernity.
Reclaiming the past is a necessary move with regard to tradition, which, in the
cultural sense, does not ever simply exist, but has to be (re)constituted by artists
working within a particular social context. This is doubly true of music, whose text
status is not as stable as that of literature, and which lacks the object status of the
visual arts. Musical tradition is invisible and inaudible by itself; it can only be ac-
cessed by being re-heard through a lens from the present (whether it be performing
an older work, hearing a recording, reading a score, or writing / performing a new
work). The creation of tradition must be done anew by every generation and indeed
by each individual composer. One of the central features of art since the late eight -
eenth century is that tradition is no longer automatically transmitted and available
in a self-explanatory package to members of a national or cultural group. By the
7 | Julian Johnson oers a similar interpretation of the sixth Bagatelle, whose sound world erodes any de-
ned corporeal quality by emphasizing the high register for the ensemble as a whole and a displace-
ment of verticalities between parts through the simultaneous use of triple and duple rhythms. This piece,
like the song Schmerz immer [] that originally preceded it in the cycle Drei Stcke fr Streichquar-
tet, is concerned with the poetics of the angelic presence which Webern identied with the conti-
nuing sense of his mothers memory. Webern and the Transformation of Nature (note 5), p. 125 and 127.
8| Obert, Der unfaliche Zustand, in this volume, lists these features on pp. 30 f. and observes:
In deutlichem Gegensatz zu dem Bewusstsein von Schmerz, Tod und Verlust, wie es im Gedicht
zur Sprache kommt, artikuliert die sechste Bagatelle mitels musikalischer Merkmale eine Haltung
des Trostes, der Honung und vielleicht sogar der Utopie (p. 31).
9| I am not aware of any studies of Weberns Beethoven reception, which is a large topic that can only
be touched upon here. Whereas Beethovens main legacy to Bla Bartk and Arnold Schoenberg
was formal and motivic organization, Weberns music seems to have more to do with the specic
qualities of Beethovens late works: simplicity, sparseness, high-register sound, but even more
with the ecstatic moments of transcendence depicted in these works.
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twentieth century, the ability to pick and choose ones tradition, to combine
previously separate traditions, and even to create new traditions from scratch
had become necessary characteristics of musical creativity.
10
Hannah Arendt wrote, Insofar as the past has been transmitted as tradition,
it possesses authority; insofar as authority presents itself historically, it becomes
tradition.
11
For the Second Viennese School, Beethoven was (with the possible ex-
ception of Johann Sebastian Bach) the supreme authority in their musical heritage.
But after the crisis of expression at the beginning of the twentieth century, it was no
longer possible to take elements from tradition and employ them without reflection.
To try to recreate an unbroken organic work would be an artificial and illusionary
construct. In describing how Walter Benjamin dealt with the break in tradition,
Arendt suggests that he discovered that the transmissibility of the past had been
replaced by its citability. She offers the image of the physical transformation of
the body at the bottom of the sea from Ariels song in The Tempest:
Full fathom five thy father lies,
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes;
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
12
While it is impossible to dredge up the entire body anymore, one can still dive into
the water and retrieve bits and pieces of it. Only now, there is nothing left of the
original body, as its substance has been transformed: instead of bones, there is coral,
instead of eyes, there are pearls. Arendts name for Benjamin the collector, of objects
as well as of quotations, was the pearl diver.
13
The image of the pearl diver is an apt one for Webern as well.
14
For when
Weberns music alludes to tradition, it does not (re)present it as a whole, but in frag-
ments; the act of taking them transforms the fragments into something rich and
10| See Harold Rosenberg, The Tradition of the New (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1965) (1
st
ed. 1959).
11 | Hannah Arendt, Introduction: Walter Benjamin: 18921940, in Walter Benjamin, Illuminations,
ed. Hannah Arendt, trans. Harry Zohn (New York: Schocken Books, 1978), p. 38. (Arendts
introduction originally appeared as an article in The New Yorker in 1968.)
12| William Shakespeare, The Tempest, ed. Stephen Orgel. The Oxford Shakespeare (Oxford: Clarendon
Press, 1987), p. 123 (I, 2, 397402).
13| Arendt, Introduction: Walter Benjamin: 18921940 (note 11), p. 38.
14| Adorno has compared Benjamin and Webern in a dierent way: In dem mikrologischen Hang,
dem Vertrauen darauf, da die Konkretion eines erfllten Augenblicks alle blo abstrakt anbefoh-
lene Entfaltung aufwiegt, hat Webern etwas mit Walter Benjamin gemein. Die Handschriten der
beiden, des Philosophen und des fanatisch an sein Material gebundenen Musikers, die sich nicht
kannten und kaum viel voneinander wuten, waren einander beraus hnlich; beide sahen aus
wie Post aus einem Zwergenreich, Miniaturformate, die doch stets wie aus einem sehr groen ver-
kleinert wirkten. Anton von Webern, Musikalische Schriten I III, ed. Rolf Tiedemann. Gesammelte
Schriten 16 (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1978), p. 113 (originally published in Merkur 13/3 [1959]).
One could also fruitfully compare Webern with the great miniaturist Robert Walser.
41 Anne C. Shreffler
2shreffler_webern 12.02.12 19:20 Seite 41
strange. Both the fragmentary, incomplete recovery and the sea-change of the ele-
ments are necessary for any kind of continuity of tradition. In this sense, Weberns
early pieces for string quartet (Op. 5 and Op. 9) contain shards of the history of the
string quartet, and especially of Beethovens music in general (not only his string
quartets), but these fragments have been irrevocably transmuted in their substance.
The distance to the past has not been bridged; evoking it means recognizing its loss.
Weberns Trills, Beethovens Trills
A trill is an extremely rapid, a-metric alternation between two pitches (a trill moves
at 640 beats per minute or more). Trills in tonal music have the important function
of introducing additional dissonance and textural complication to harmonically un-
stable pitches that require resolution. A cadential trill prolongs one of the notes of
the dominant seventh chord before it is resolved into the tonic. Like suspensions
and appoggiaturas, cadential trills begin on strong beats. The upper note of the trill
introduces a non-chord tone; the dissonance is heightened by the trills rapid motion
and the noise produced by the clapping of keys, striking of strings with hammers,
or fingers on the fingerboard. This moment is also usually drawn out durationally
to increase the sense of satisfaction when the resolution arrives. The tonal pro -
gression of dissonance to consonance is therefore paralleled by the timbral pro -
gression of noisy (complex) to pure (single tone) sound. As ornaments, trills are
often employed by solo instruments in concertos, sonatas, or chamber music to
heighten the virtuosic effect. Of course, they are found in tutti instruments as well,
but they have an especially thrilling quality (pun intended) when produced by a sin-
gle instrument or voice. A trill is a high-wire act, volatile and elusive, and the extra
effort it takes to maintain it is apparent. It cannot be sustained for very long; after a
while it will become uneven or slow down as the fingers or vocal chords tire. Because
of its inherent dissonance, its added noise and density, and the extra energy required
to produce it, trills have for centuries, in many different musical idioms, been em-
ployed to increase tension in music.
Even in an atonal context, there are trills in Weberns music that are analogous
to cadential trills. These are produced like trills in the Classic-Romantic tradition,
except without a preceding appoggiatura or a termination. (That the cadential trill
with termination was still an active practice as late as 1909 is suggested by the fact
that Webern found it necessary to indicate ohne Ausgang after a trill, see Op. 6,
No. 6 [first version], mm. 14 cellos.) In Op. 10, No. 2, for example, the tremendous
crescendo at the end of the piece, from p to fff, is produced by trills in the glocken-
spiel, horn, Bb and Eb clarinets, oboe, and piccolo. Combining the trills in the differ-
ent instruments multiplies the noise, and since each trill adds a second note, the
pitches are multiplied too: in the last measure (m. 14), which is the culmination of
the crescendo, ten pitch classes are heard (only E and Ab are missing).
15| Brass trills mark the climax in Op. 6, No. 2 (at rehearsal no. 7; mm. 22, 2427); in Kunttag III,
there are ve horn trills in a row (combined with utertongued trombones) in mm. 1819.
42 Beethovens Trills, Weberns Sixth Bagatelle, and the Shards of Tradition
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Characteristic here is the series of horn trills in measures 13 and 14, similar
to those found in other of Weberns early works.
15
These examples are analogous to
cadential trills, since they propel the music forward by increasing its density and
dynamic level. The only difference is that Weberns trills do not elevate a moment
of dissonance that is subsequently resolved, but rather are used by themselves
without resolution to increase tension and thicken the texture.
One has only to think of Beethovens Piano Sonata Op. 106 (the Hammer -
klavier) to remember that, even in tonal music, cadential trills do not have to be
formulaic. At the end of the recapitulation in the first movement, a trill on the
tonic (Bb), after the tonic arrival (mm. 338343), helps to transform Bb functionally
into a dominant and propels the music into the new tonal region of the coda
(Eb minor, mm. 362 ff.).
A little later, a double trill (both hands trill Bb C an octave apart) sounds like a
conventional dominant to the local tonic of Eb major/minor (mm. 365371), but
then freezes on a Bb chord (m. 372).
43 Anne C. Shreffler
Example 1a:
Ludwig van Beethoven, Piano Sonata,
Op. 106/I, mm. 335346
Example 1b:
Ludwig van Beethoven, Piano Sonata,
Op. 106/I, mm. 365373
6
4
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The trill shifts to the third of the chord, D, in what seems to be a very conventional
emphasis of the double suspension that a chord usually brings about, but there
is no resolution to the dominant; the music continues in untroubled Bb major the
tonic of the movement as if nothing had happened. In these passages, the trill is
employed precisely for its cadential connotations, but Beethoven subverts the
processes normally associated with it.
The trill gets another twist in the fugue subject in the last movement; this
is the apotheosis of the cadential trill, complete with termination, but its function
has been inverted from a closing, cadential figure to a thematic, opening one:
Weberns trills more often have the opposite function from traditional ones.
Instead of increasing tension, they mark a moment of repose. A good example is
the orchestral song, O sanftes Glhn der Berge, which was originally the third piece
in a set with the orchestra pieces Op. 10, Nos. 2, 3, and 5.
16
The poem by Webern conveys impressions of seeing a vision of a beloved mothers
face in the evening glow of the mountains. In the second measure, the muted trum-
pets trill, BC
#
, ppp, is soft but clearly audible; it begins alone (with the voice) and
is joined by the [solo] cello. The whole step of the trill is not just a convention:
16| A fair copy of this manuscript is in the Robert Owen Lehman Collection of the Morgan Library,
New York (W376.V665).
44 Beethovens Trills, Weberns Sixth Bagatelle, and the Shards of Tradition
6 5
4 3
6
4
Example 1c:
Ludwig van Beethoven, Piano Sonata,
Op. 106/IV, mm. 1619
Example 2a: Anton Webern,
O sanftes Glhn der Berge, mm. 14
2shreffler_webern 12.02.12 19:20 Seite 44
it echoes and anticipates other major seconds, which are heard often in the opening
bars (see violin m. 1, Ab Bb, viola m. 1, EbC
#
, voice m. 12, DE, cello m. 3, F
#
E,
voice m. 3, GF, and 4, BbC. The inverted form of the interval is also heard, in the
violin upbeat and m. 1, GbAb, and viola m. 1, FEb.)
The trill in measure 2 of O sanftes Glhn accompanies the word sanftes,
which of course does not necessarily have to lend the trill a semantic meaning. How-
ever, this trill, taken together with other similar trills in Weberns vocal music, sug-
gests that soft trills did in fact have a certain broad association with gentleness,
peace, or ecstasy. For example, in Kunfttag III (text by Stefan George), a clarinet
trill, EF
#
, pp, is the sole accompaniment to the vocal line, which sings the words,
[Nun] wird es wieder lenz.
17
Other examples can be found in the Zwei Lieder fr Mezzosopran und Orchester,
op. 7, of 1914.
18
In the first song, Die Einsame (later, after substantial changes
in orchestration, Op. 13, No. 2), a trill on the muted solo violin (am Steg, pp) enters
at the word Himmel; another trill, on the muted solo contrabass (ppp), marks
the word Mond. (The text is a translation from the Chinese by Hans Bethge.)
17 | A detailed pencil drat of this song is found in the Anton Webern Collection in the Paul Sacher
Foundation in Basel.
18| A fair copy of this manuscript is in the Robert Owen Lehman Collection of the Morgan Library,
New York (W376.L532).
45 Anne C. Shreffler
Example 2b:
Anton Webern,
Kunfttag III,
mm. 13
Example 2c:
Anton Webern,
Die Einsame,
mm. 38
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In the second song, Leise Dfte (text by Webern), a trill in the muted viola, pp, is
heard at the word Dfte. Here the figure of the trill has been multiplied: the entire
texture is saturated with fluttertonguing and tremolos.
Whereas in tonal music the trill contrasts with the pure sound quality of the
other notes, Weberns trills are closely related to other timbral effects, such as
tremolo (if marked on the same note, as quick repeated notes, and if marked between
two pitches a third or more apart, a quick alternation between them) and flutter-
tongue. All these are used to produce an impure, flickering, unstable sound. Yet
Webern always indicates the exact pitches to be trilled or tremoloed, and experience
shows that however noisy the sound, the notated pitches are always significant.
19
In Weberns atonal language, neither of the trilled pitches functions as a dissonance,
but by introducing a second pitch, a trill multiplies the possible pitch relationships.
The ostinatos so common in Weberns atonal music could even be considered
the next step on the trill-tremolo continuum: all three produce Klangflchen, with
differing surface articulation. (Trills and tremolos are basically sped-up ostinatos.)
19| Kathryn Bailey has shown that, in the twelve-tone music, even the grace notes are row tones;
see her A Note on Weberns Graces, in Studies in Music (Canada) 6 (1981), pp. 16.
46 Beethovens Trills, Weberns Sixth Bagatelle, and the Shards of Tradition
Example 2d:
Anton Webern,
Leise Dfte,
mm. 16
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47 Anne C. Shreffler
Example 3: Anton Webern, Five Pieces
for Orchestra, Op. 10, No. 4
(published version, with changes marked)
Copyright 1923 by Universal Edition A.G.,
Wien /PH449
2shreffler_webern 12.02.12 19:20 Seite 47
Trills and both kinds of tremolos also share a paradoxical feature: they are constantly
in motion, but at the same time they prolong a steady stream of sound. Since their
motion is the same for the duration of the event, the ear accepts the complex sound
as a single event; a trill can therefore be heard both as forward moving or as sus-
tained. (This is true of trills in tonal music too.)
If Weberns trills can be either forceful and active (cadential) or quiet and
static, the single trill in the orchestra piece Op. 10, No. 4, is an interesting case
because it seems to function as both kinds at the same time. Webern later revised
its instrumentation to bring it more into the latter realm, but I believe that vestiges
of its original power can still be heard. Let us consider the original version, composed
in 1913 as Nr. 5 aus VII Kammerstcke fr Orchester.
20
This differs from the final
version in several slight but significant details (for any detail in a piece of only six
measures is significant!) (see Ex. 3, p. 47). The main difference for our purposes
is the CD b trill in measure 5, which here is played by muted horn instead of
the clarinet, as in the published version. This means, first, that each instrument
(except for the mandolin and the harp) plays only once, resulting in a maximum
of timbral variety. Second, the horn trill in the first version is associated timbrally
with the preceding trumpet and trombone solos, thereby connecting their two
melodic gestures with the horns static trill.
The trill in the fifth measure is part of a contrasting section in the piece,
in which the previous melodic events have ceased and a series of overlapping static,
noisy events take their place. Starting with the snare drum, followed by harp,
then the horn trill, celesta, and mandolin, all play either repeated or sustained notes
(mm. 46). All have a noise component: of course the unpitched snare drum,
but also the harp, celesta, and mandolin attacks, as well as the horn trill. If we
recall that horn trills in Weberns other music of the time are usually employed in
loud climactic music, this passage does not seem to belong to that type of trill,
especially because it and everything around it is very soft. Yet measures 45 of
this piece clearly do not evoke an island of repose, as in Die Einsame or Leise
Dfte, but rather something much more disorienting. Once the snare drum
(which can be associated with military drumming) begins in measure 4, there
are no more melodic orientation points until the violin gesture at the end, and the
music seems in danger of slipping away into incoherence, or at least of dissolving
into unformed stasis. The ppp, diminuendo trill on the muted horn is not only
noisier and harder to produce than the same notes on the clarinet would be, it is
also a markedly lower dynamic level than that at which the horn, which can be
one of the loudest instruments in the orchestra, usually plays. Adorno captured
the threatening quality of passages like this one in his well-known remark about
Weberns pianissimos:
20| There is a manuscript of this piece in the Stadtbibliothek Winterthur (Rudolf Hunziker Collection
BRH MS 1063). It was discovered by Martin Staehelin and is reproduced in Felix Meyer and Anne
Shreer, Weberns Revisions: Some Analytical Implications, in Music Analysis 12 (1993), p. 358;
see also pp. 35763.
48 Beethovens Trills, Weberns Sixth Bagatelle, and the Shards of Tradition
2shreffler_webern 12.02.12 19:20 Seite 48
Dies Pianissimo darf man nicht nehmen, wie es klingt, nicht blo als Reflex der zartesten
Regung der Seele, die es auch ist. Oft, gerade in Weberns Orchesterstcken, [] ist dies
dreifache Pianissimo, das Allerleiseste, der drohende Schatten eines unendlich entfernten
und unendlich mchtigen Lrms: so klang, im Jahre 1916, auf einer Waldchaussee bei
Frankfurt, der Kanonendonner von Verdun, der bis dahin trug.
21
By reorchestrating the trill, Webern changes the piece in ways that are far from trivial.
First, by changing the instrumentation of the trill to clarinet, Webern separated the
lyrical solos of trumpet and trombone timbrally from the static elements (the Bb har-
monic in the viola in mm. 13, the A in the clarinet in mm. 23, and the trill in m. 5).
Second, the original horn trill sounds noisier and rougher than it would if it were
played on the clarinet; at a crucial transition in the piece from pure sounds to noisy
ones, the horn trill bridges the two realms, combining associations from both the
cadential (tension-increasing) and static (relaxed) kinds of trills in Weberns music.
The violin solo at the close, which recalls aspects of the mandolins and trumpets
melodies, tries in vain to restore order after the threat of catastrophe, but its high
register and soft dynamic prevent it from exerting much force; the unease remains.
If Weberns trills have the dialectic quality of repose laced with instability, terra
firma that threatens to crumble under ones feet, they have this in common with
many of the trills in Beethovens late music.
22
One of the most striking features of
this music, as many have pointed out, is that Beethoven does not shy away from
mixing and juxtaposing styles from different historical periods and different levels
of seriousness: Baroque-type textures exist in proximity with simple Classical
melody and accompaniment figures, diatonic popular and dance music is juxtaposed
with dissonant chromaticism.
23
Another paradox of late Beethoven is that while
traditional forms are recast and reinvented beyond recognition (particularly the first-
movement sonata form), forms such as fugue and variation are preserved in their
essential outlines, even if filled with astoundingly novel content.
It is in the late variation movements of Beethovens piano sonatas that I hear trills
that remind me somewhat of Weberns. (These observations apply to similar passages
in the string quartets as well; if the substance in the late-Beethoven body has been
transmuted to coral and pearls, as it were, then fragments can be reclaimed regardless
of the works original instrumentation.) In the second and final movement of the Piano
Sonata Op. 111, for example, trills near the end of the piece grow out of the increasing
rhythmic diminution, which is explored systematically in the first four variations:
21| Adorno, Anton von Webern (note 14), pp. 11718.
22| Adorno writes, Sie [die letzten Klaviersonaten] sind voller schmckender Trillerketen, Kadenzen
und Fiorituren; otmals wird kahl, unverhllt, unverwandelt die Konvention sichtbar, Sptstil
Beethovens, Musikalische Schriten IV, ed. Rolf Tiedemann. Gesammelte Schriten 17 (Frankfurt am
Main: Suhrkamp, 1982), pp. 145 (originally published in Der Auftakt 17/56 [1937]). For an excel-
lent discussion of those moments in Beethovens piano sonatas that seem to shit to another sphere,
see Karol Berger, Beethoven and the Aesthetic State, in Beethoven Forum 7 (1999), pp. 1744.
23| A good example of the later is the enormous stylistic contrast between the fourth movement (Alla
danza tedesca) and the original sixth and nal movement (Groe Fuge) of the String Quartet, Op. 130.
49 Anne C. Shreffler
2shreffler_webern 12.02.12 19:20 Seite 49
The Theme, marked Arietta: Adagio molto semplice e cantabile is a famously simple
two-part theme of sixteen bars in 9/16 meter, which except for a brief A minor pas-
sage at the beginning of the second part, stays firmly in C major. The first three vari-
ations introduce successive rhythmic diminutions; by the third variation, the point
of max imum density is reached with groups of triplet thirty-seconds and sixty-
fourths. The fourth variation returns to the 9/16 of the beginning (Variations 2 and
3 had shortened the measure to 6/16 and 12/32, respectively); the slow triple pulse
of the beginning is clearly audible, as is the Theme. The left-hand accompaniment
figure is metrically interesting, because it is made up of thirty-second notes that
ought to be grouped in threes (as triplet subdivisions of the sixteenth notes), but the
alternation between two pitches, C and G, undermines the triple subdivisions. In
fact, at the beginning of Variation 4, the thirty-second note tremolo C to G con -
tinues for so long (more than five measures) that it ceases to sound fast and dense
and turns into a smooth, sustained, pedal point. (This is exactly the paradox that we
saw with Weberns tremolos and ostinatos.) The thirty-second-note rhythm moves
50 Beethovens Trills, Weberns Sixth Bagatelle, and the Shards of Tradition
Example 4:
Ludwig van Beethoven,
Piano Sonata, Op. 111/II:
Diagram of rhythmic diminution
2shreffler_webern 12.02.12 19:20 Seite 50
into the right hand and into increasingly higher registers, until it leaves the strict
variation form behind and spills over into a cadenza, which is permeated with
sustained and (after an initial f) soft trills in the upper register (see Ex. 5). This mo-
ment seems suspended in time;
24
the trills blur the metric clarity and create a texture
that is constantly moving and at the same time static and outside of the pieces metrical
time world. At first there are fragments of the Theme, but these fall away, leaving only
the high-register trills suspended in mid-air. Then left hand enters (after a pause of
almost three measures) in the low register, moving slowly from Bb below the staff to
the F below and back up again. After the trills cease, the right hand continues upwards;
at the moment of their widest separation, the two hands are five and a half octaves
apart. Without the trills or any of the figuration that has been omni present since the
first variation, the music sounds strangely bare and empty. The Eb major of this passage
stands out tonally as well; this is also the only time in the entire movement that a key
other than the C major / A minor of the Theme is heard. Here the sudden absence of
the trills, combined with the slow tempo, the change of key, and the yawning gap
between the upper and lower voices, create music that strains at the boundaries of
the work (and possibly also of the physical limits of the piano keyboard at that time),
implying a yearning towards a new, other realm beyond earthly music.
25
24| See Charles Rosen, The Classical Style: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven. Expanded edition (New York:
Norton, 1998), p. 446.
25| This remarkable passage has been oten commented upon, most famously in Thomas Manns
novel Doktor Faustus, in which the narrator observes, during a lecture by the music teacher Wendell
Kretschmar, The characteristic of the movement of course is the wide gap between bass and treble,
between the right and the let hand, and a moment comes, an uterly extreme situation, when
the poor litle motif seems to hover alone and forsaken above a giddy yawning abyss a procedure
of awe-inspiring unearthliness []. Thomas Mann, Doctor Faustus, trans. H. T. Lowe-Porter (New
York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1948), p. 55. (Das Charakteristikum des Satzes ist ja das weite Auseinander
51 Anne C. Shreffler
Example 5: Ludwig van Beethoven,
Piano Sonata, Op. 111/II, cadenza
after Variation 4, mm. 106120
2shreffler_webern 12.02.12 19:20 Seite 51
Trills in Weberns Sixth Bagatelle
While Weberns sixth Bagatelle does not have a chain of trills as in the Beethoven
piano sonata, with its six trills in nine measures it has quite a conspicuous number.
It is the only one of the Six Bagatelles to contain trills at all, in the final or the early
versions. There are no trills in the song for voice and string quartet, Schmerz immer
[], or in the Fnf Stze fr Streichquartett, Op. 5. Although trills are quite common
in Weberns early music, as we have seen, they are rare in his string quartet pieces.
It is also interesting that the last two of the six trills in the sixth Bagatelle were added
at a second compositional stage.
26
In a texture characterized by extreme fragmentation, the trills stand out be-
cause of their length all last a full quarter note or more, and the two longest dura-
tions of the piece (a half note and a dotted half note in mm. 5 and 8) are trills and
their relatively stable pitch. As usual, Webern takes great care to notate the trills
upper pitch, which is always either a half step or a whole step above the main one,
and both pitches are clearly audible. The trills are (relative) islands of security in a
phantasmagoric world of fleeting sounds, which are made even more evanescent by
the use of mutes in all instruments throughout the piece. The trills, because of their
duration, can swell, diminish, or be sustained at the same dynamic. The dialectic
quality of the trill that it is in one sense continuous and in another, constantly
changing seems to encapsulate the volatile, elusive quality of this tiny piece.
27
In the first measure, the trill BbCb in the first violin, ppp and crescendo, propels
the music from the A immediately preceding it into nowhere; the sharply articulated
dyads in the second violin and viola break off the momentum as abruptly as it
started. Here the trill articulates a filled chromatic space from A to C
#
(even if the
cellos C is here an octave lower than the other four chromatic notes). The viola picks
up the trill idea in the next measure; like no other event so far, it is heard entirely by
itself. The pitches, EF
#
, are new to this register, which gives the trill a fresh sound.
The length and isolation of the trill as well as the rest in all four voices that follows
it allow the trill to be heard as a small closing gesture, marking off the first two
von Ba und Diskant, von rechter und linker Hand, und ein Augenblick kommt, eine extreme
Situation, wo das arme Motiv einsam und verlassen ber einem schwindelnd klaenden Abgrund
zu schweben scheint ein Vorgang bleicher Erhabenheit []. Thomas Mann, Doktor Faustus:
Das Leben des deutschen Tonsetzers Adrian Leverkhn, erzhlt von einem Freunde, ed. Ruprecht Wimmer.
Groe kommentierte Frankfurter Ausgabe 10.1, [Frankfurt am Main: S. Fischer, 2007], p. 84.)
Adorno, who advised Mann about the musical aspects of the novel, could have been thinking of
this passage in Op. 111 when he wrote of late Beethoven: Die Gewalt der Subjektivitt in den
spten Kunstwerken ist die auahrende Geste, mit welcher sie die Kunstwerke verlt. Sie sprengt
sie, nicht um sich auszudrcken, sondern um ausdruckslos den Schein der Kunst abzuwerfen.
Von den Werken lt sie Trmmer zurck und teilt sich, wie mit Chiren, nur vermge der Hohl-
stellen mit, aus welchen sie ausbricht. Sptstil Beethovens (note 22), p. 15.
26| See Benjamin K. Davies, Inside Weberns Workshop: A Glimpse of Op. 9 No. 6 in the Making,
in Tempo, No. 222 (October 2002), pp. 27.
27| Johnson describes the texture of the sixth Bagatelle as the intrusion into the foreground of a
background layer, as the surface is suused with elements that are usually considered back-
ground in other contexts. Webern and the Transformation of Nature (note 5), p. 125.
52 Beethovens Trills, Weberns Sixth Bagatelle, and the Shards of Tradition
2shreffler_webern 12.02.12 19:20 Seite 52
measures of the pieces as a unit.
28
The chord in measure 3 the only time all four
instruments have a simultaneous attack pulls the texture abruptly upwards, leaving
the violas trill, in retrospect, interrupted and alone.
The trill immediately following in measure 3 (F
#
G
#
in the second violin)
draws on two pitches previously heard adjacent to each other (end m. 1 and beg.
m. 2), and starts on the upper pitch of the previous trill, transposed up an octave.
It also pre sents the F
#
for the first time in this register. Like the trill in measure 1,
this one is also imbedded in a chromatic cluster, spanning from F
#
to A in register 5
(which in fact connects seamlessly with the AC
#
constellation of the beginning).
This trill /cluster launches the pieces first real expansion of registral space at the end
of measure 3 and beginning of measure 4.
The cellos trill AbBb in measure 5, marked am Steg, forte and crescendo and
up to now the longest note in the piece, leads into the climax in measures 56.
29
The bottom note of the trill, the lowest note in the texture (except for the sixteenth
B in the first violin), is new in this register (the Bb 4 was played by the viola in m. 3).
Here the wide spacing means that there is no chromatic cluster; the A that would
fill the trill is sounded, to be sure, in the first violin three octaves higher, and G
and B, further surrounding chromatic pitches, are also present in the wrong
octaves. But since all twelve pitches are sounded in measure 5, there is a much
higher degree of chromatic saturation than before.
The pieces denouement follows after the fermata. Webern re-wrote the ending,
continuing the trill idea from the beginning of the piece (the original ending had no
trills after m. 6).
30
The cellos trill in measure 8, at three beats the longest sustained
duration in the piece, provides a stable if flickering background against which other
colors play. Its bottom pitch, D5, is new in this register, although the upper note Eb5
(like the first trill, a half step) recalls the same pitch in measures 1 and 2 in the viola.
Taken together with the two immediately preceding pitches, the Ab in the viola and
the G in the second violin in measure 7, the trill pitches create a sonority made up of
intervals that have been very prominent up to now: tritone, perfect fourth, and major
third. As such it resembles the sonority on the last eighth of measure 1 and several
others as well (the pitch-class set of this sonority, 0156, is the same as that of the
last beat of m. 3.) The cello trill forms a cluster between C
#
and E that unfolds over
the course of the measure (with the doubled E displaced into the upper registers).
This trill, which like the ones in measures 2 and 3 begins by itself, provides a moment
of stasis, which is emphasized by the fact that it neither crescendos nor dimenuendos.
The sense of momentary calm is underlined by the relatively long note values,
the sparsity of the texture and the luminous E octave in the viola and second violin.
28| The caesura is clearly marked in the performance by the Pro Arte Quartet, with Rudolf Kolisch
as rst violinist (this performance is available on CD: In Honor of Rudolf Kolisch, 18961978: Works
by Schubert, Bartok, Schoenberg, Berg, Webern [Berkeley: Music & Arts, CD-1056, 2003]).
29| In the early version, the trill is played normally (there is no am Steg marking), which would make
it even louder. See the fair copy of Drei Stcke fr Streichquartet (mit Gesang), op. 3 No. 3,
in the Robert Owen Lehman Collection of the Morgan Library, New York (W376.D771).
30| See Davies, Inside Weberns Workshop (note 26).
53 Anne C. Shreffler
2shreffler_webern 12.02.12 19:20 Seite 53
The piece closes with a viola trill (GA) in the middle register. The first violin
plays G
#
in the same register, producing another three-half-step cluster. The trill
is similar in timbre, intervallic structure and register to the one in measure 2,
also played by the viola.
31
This is the end of a chromatic descent that started
in measure 8, proceeding not quite in order (trilled notes shown in boldface):
EbDEC
#
CA
#
BAG
#
G. This descent, along with the thinning texture and
slowing tempo the piece ends at half the tempo at which it began , create an end-
ing that simply dissolves into nothingness.
32
There seems to be no more energy
for extremely high or low notes, as the texture settles into the middle range and
peters out. While the first violins G
#
in the last bar is shaped with a crescendo and
decrescendo, the viola trill simply fades away dynamically from ppp into silence.
At the same time, this chromatic descent and dissolution of texture is not
amorphous, but is articulated into discrete stages. The actual beginning is marked
by the cellos trill in measure 8, not by the Es in the second violin and viola, which
are in the wrong register.
33
With the exception of the cellos A
#
B, every subsequent
note in the descent is altered timbrally (from mm. 810: trill / am Steg, harmonic,
am Griff brett, am Steg, naturale, am Steg, trill). The two naturale notes in measure 9
which are further distinguished by their upwards motion, contrary to the pre -
vail ing tendency create a tiny lyrical gesture, which Webern indicates should be
played sehr zart. This gesture, although not a trill, echoes the half step interval of its
im mediately preceding trill in the same instrument; moreover, it shares not only
the interval but also the exact pitch classes of the trill in m. 1 (which is also played
naturale), an octave lower. This gesture combines a subtle recapitulatory moment
with a deliberately slowed-down fragment of a trill.
The chromatic cluster, though not the trill, is also prominent in the song,
Schmerz immer [], which immediately precedes the Bagatelle in its original
version. Schmerz immer [] begins with a four-note sonority, EFGAb (where
only F and G are in the same register), which is filled in chromatically by the voices
Gb at its entrance. A very similar chromatic sonority is heard at the end: taking
the last three notes in the vocal line with the single note that accompanies them in
the viola, we hear: EFGbG (where again only F and G are in the same register).
31 | There is less timbral similarity between these two trills in the early version; there, the trill in mea-
sure 2 is to be played am Steg, and the one in the last measure col legno. In both cases
(as elsewhere in the piece in this version), the pitches would be less distinct.
32| This is also markedly dierent in the early version, in which measure 8 is to be played at the
original tempo, and the ritardando only begins at the last measure. On the chromatic line, see
Reinhold Brinkmann, Anton Webern: Eine Situationsbeschreibung, in Vom Einfall zum Kunstwerk:
Der Kompositionsproze in der Musik des 20. Jahrhunderts, ed. Hermann Danuser and Gnter Katzen-
berger. Publikationen der Hochschule fr Musik und Theater Hannover 4 (Laaber: Laaber, 1993),
pp. 28082.
33| On this passage, see Regina Busch, Octaves in Weberns Bagatelles, in Tempo, No. 178 (September
1991), pp. 1215; or in German as Oktaven in Weberns Bagatellen, in dissonanz, No. 27 (February
1991), pp. 1012. In the performance by the Pro Arte Quartet with Rudolf Kolisch cited above (note 28),
the top note (in the viola) is changed to an Eb to remove the octave.
54 Beethovens Trills, Weberns Sixth Bagatelle, and the Shards of Tradition
2shreffler_webern 12.02.12 19:20 Seite 54
Just because they share chromatic sonorities does not mean that Schmerz immer
[] and the sixth Bagatelle have the same poetic content, whatever the structural
connection. They are after all quite different in terms of affect: the song is very slow,
and long note values predominate, whereas the Bagatelle is much faster (at least at
the beginning) and has a much more active, quicksilver quality. But it is surely
plausible that Weberns original aesthetic impulse for the Bagatelle was, like
Schmerz immer [], his response to the death of his mother (as indeed he
claimed was the case with practically all his music written during these years
34
). This
interpretation would still not necessarily be meaningful to those not intimately
involved with Weberns family. But knowing this does lend support to the Engel-
Stimmung interpretation that Webern explained in his letter of November 24, 1913,
to Arnold Schoenberg. As Obert shows, a reading of the sixth Bagatelle that connects
it with the content of Schmerz immer [] could interpret the fragmented, fragile,
disconnected, and evanescent sounds of the Bagatelle as a kind of vision.
35
As in
O sanftes Glhn der Berge, the Bagatelle depicts the heavens that have granted
a view of the beloved, but unlike the song, the Bagatelle describes not a complete
vision, but one only glimpsed or imagined. Moreover, the dissolving ending suggests
the gradual dying away of this vision, or perhaps recognizes the impossibility of
ever grasping it.
Beethoven, Webern, and the Shards of Tradition
But trills, high register sounds, and dissolutions of texture have historical associa-
tions apart from Weberns private mythology. We do not need to know anything
about the song, Schmerz immer [], or about Weberns life to associate the numer -
ous and prominent trills in the sixth Bagatelle with a vision of transcendence. Many
trill-laden passages in late Beethoven, including the one in Op. 111/II discussed
34| Johnson shows how this sublimated grief was transformed into specic musical topoi that recur in
Weberns works of this period; Webern and the Transformation of Nature (note 5), p. 84. Weberns leter
of July 12, 1912, to Alban Berg in which he describes how the death of his mother has aected his
composing is published in Opus Anton Webern, ed. Dieter Rexroth (Berlin: Quadriga, 1983), pp. 8687.
35| Obert, Der unfaliche Zustand, in this volume, pp. 2531.
55 Anne C. Shreffler
Example 6: Anton Webern,
Schmerz immer [], mm. 12, 1213
2shreffler_webern 12.02.12 19:20 Seite 55
56 Beethovens Trills, Weberns Sixth Bagatelle, and the Shards of Tradition
Example 7: Ludwig van Beethoven, Piano Sonata,
Op. 111/II, interrupted Variation 6, mm. 162175
2shreffler_webern 12.02.12 19:20 Seite 56
earlier, have precisely these connotations. We have seen how the chain of trills that
come in a kind of cadenza after the fourth variation are set apart formally, tonally,
and timbrally from the rest of the music. The trills climb to a very high register, just
as the left hand descends into the depths. The surface rhythm slows to a third of its
former density, and the trills blur the meter even more. It is not hard to hear this
passage as something outside the musics normal frame.
The sustained, high-register trill as a symbol for transcendence is developed
more explicitly later in the second and final movement of Beethovens Op. 111, at the
beginning of the sixth variation (see Ex. 7). Here a state of balance and repose has
finally been reached after those variations of increasing rhythmic diminution. All
the voices of this three-part texture are in the upper treble register; the melody of
the Theme is played in the middle, and it is accompanied by the tremolo figure
(thirty-second-notes) from Variation 4 in the left hand and a continuously trilled G6
in the right hand (for the second four measures of the Theme, the melody moves
into the topmost register and the trill moves down to G5). The melody is therefore
literally surrounded by shimmering, high-register tremolo/trills, as if by a halo.
The transcendence alluded in the cadenza after Variation 4 would seem to have
been achieved.
36
But this purported Variation 6 dissipates after reaching the first
ending of the Themes first section; it seems to get stuck and repeats the one-mea-
sure cadential figure twice, the G5 trill sounding all the while. The Theme breaks off,
and the variation too, dissolving into thirty-second-note figuration. The movement
(and the sonata) concludes six measures later with repeated restatements of the
Themes head motive. Beethoven could not or was not willing to represent a pure,
unbroken vision of transcendence, even for the length of a single variation (and
even though it would have only taken another eight bars to finish the Theme without
its repeats).
Beethovens trills seem to evoke another dimension, one of transcendence or
ecstasy. Yet the interruption of the sixth variation of Op. 111 seems to imply that such
transcendence is not possible to achieve in this world, but can only be imagined.
While Adorno reads passages like these in Beethovens late works as allegories of the
subjects contemplation of death, I hear Beethovens late music as enacting moments
of transcendence in order to depict for only a brief moment an alternative,
utopian, possibility of existence. While it lasts, the vision of utopia in the second
movement of Op. 111 is represented in as pure and unmediated a fashion as possible.
(This vision could well result from the contemplation of death, but the music
engages all the codes available to it in the Western classical tradition in order to
evoke images of an ecstasy, perhaps of a theological heaven, rather than the
nothingness and impotence of death itself.) Thomas Mann (through Adorno) inter-
preted the end of this movement as a farewell to the sonata:
36| The key (C major) evokes a further topos of transcendence or purity. Another symbolic layer could
possibly be found in the 9/16 meter, unusual for music of that time, resembles, in its triple meter
with three levels of triple subdivisions, the Renaissance tempus perfectum.
57 Anne C. Shreffler
2shreffler_webern 12.02.12 19:20 Seite 57
not only this one in C minor, but the sonata in general, as a species, as traditional art-form;
it itself was here at an end, brought to its end, it had fulfilled its destiny, reached its goal,
beyond which there was no going, it cancelled and resolved itself, it took leave the gesture
of farewell of the D G G motif, consoled by the C sharp, was a leave-taking in this sense too,
great as the whole piece itself, the farewell of the sonata form.
37
This reading embodies a cultural-pessimistic tone that was characteristic of (and ap-
propriate to) the mid-twentieth century, but it is hard to hear this apocalyptic mood
in the music.
38
Weberns specific appropriation of similar moments in late Beethoven (in 1913) im-
plies that their meaning resided for him as well in their evocation of a trans cendent state.
This transcendence may have figured in Weberns private mythology about his dead
mother; he expresses it to Schoenberg in terms of angels (Engel). Although I hear
Weberns trills as refracting Beethovens, prism-like, I would not want to claim that
they have exactly the same meaning as Beethovens. Weberns trills are much briefer
and more evanescent than Beethovens; the sixth Bagatelle does not adopt the trill
/trans cendence topos whole, but rather in fragments, as if it were put together using
shards of the sixth variation of Beethovens Op. 111/II after an explosion.
39
In the sixth
Bagatelle, the fragmented, flickering textures seem to imply that not only is the trans -
cendent sphere literally unattainable, but that we cant even imagine it. Whereas late
Beethoven allows us to see a vision of transcendence, however ephemeral, Weberns
music invokes a faint recollection of a utopia partially imagined and ultimately un grasp -
able. Not literally recoverable at the beginning of the twentieth century, Beethovens trills
have suffered a sea-change. The only way to reclaim them from the past is to dredge
them up, piece by piece, and to recast them, transmuted, into a new substance. For
Webern does not simply remake the trill according to some entirely new function.
We as listeners could not hear it that way, knowing as we do thousands of trills in the
classical tradition. Weberns trills do not erase their memory; the struggles over disso-
nance that they had carried out for three centuries still shine through, however faintly.
37| Mann, Doctor Faustus (note 25), pp. 556. (Und wenn er sage: Die Sonate, so meine er nicht diese
nur, in c-moll, sondern er meine die Sonate berhaupt, als Gatung, als berlieferte Kunstform:
sie selber sei hier zu Ende, ans Ende gefhrt, sie habe ihr Schicksal erfllt, ihr Ziel erreicht, ber
das hinaus es nicht gehe, sie hebe und lse sich auf, sie nehme Abschied, das Abschiedswinken
des vom cis melodisch getrsteten d-g-g-Motivs, es sei ein Abschied auch dieses Sinnes, ein
Abschied, gro wie das Stck, der Abschied von der Sonate. Mann, Doktor Faustus, p. 85.)
38| Jost Hermand also points to the strahlende, ja fast utopisch verklrte Durpassagen in late Bee -
thoven, where von Klte oder zerbrechenden Formen, um auf die Interpretation Thomas Manns
oder Theodor W. Adornos von Beethovens op. 111 zurckzukommen, nichts zu spren [ist]. Im Ge-
genteil, fast alle diese Werke haben einen obstinaten, manchmal sogar ins Vitalistisch-Freuden-
volle umschlagenden Trotzcharakter. Weitermachen auch in wsten Zeiten: Beethovens
Klaviersonate op. 111, in Archiv fr Musikwissenschaft 56 (1999), pp. 97.
39| Adorno writes, Mit dem Ausbruch von Subjektivitt splitern sie [die Konventionen] ab. Als Spliter,
zerfallen und verlassen, schlagen sie endlich selber in Ausdruck um, Sptstil Beethovens (note 22),
p. 16. These remarks, writen in 1937, seem more appropriate for the music of the Second Viennese
School than for Beethovens. I wonder if Adorno could have writen these lines if he had not heard
Weberns Bagatelles, or his Op. 5, Schoenbergs piano pieces, Op. 11, or most of all, Bergs Wozzeck,
in which the re-making of traditional forms and conventions is one of its generating ideas.
58 Beethovens Trills, Weberns Sixth Bagatelle, and the Shards of Tradition
2shreffler_webern 12.02.12 19:20 Seite 58