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NEIL BoYNTON

SOME REMARKS ON ANTON WEBERN'S


"VARIATIONS" OP. 27

Quite how this work, as well as other variation movements by Webern, may be considered as variations is a recurrent theme in the analysis of his music. Evidence from
the correspondence shows that Webern regarded the whole work as variations, and
not just the third movement, as some writers have suggested. The sketch material
held at the Paul Sacher Stiftung in Basel offers more evidence along these lines, touching on issues of duration and musical space and the idea of a twelve-note row, or
group of rows, functioning as a fixed point of orientation within a work, in a manner
similar to the harmonic function of a tonic - one of the topics raised by Webern in
the 1932 lectures, Der Weg zur Kompost'tt'on t'n zwb'!fTiJnen. The aim of the present study
is to relate evidence predominantly from the sketches and the correspondence to the
idea of divided variations, that is, the idea of dividing a theme and variations into two
or more movements and issues of formal combination bound up with that; it does not
pretend to offer a comprehensive examination of the work as variations, especially as
regards the motivic construction.

ONE-, TWO- AND THREE-MOVEMENT DESIGNS FOR THE THEME AND VARIATIONS

Tracing the history of the theme and variations in the genesis of Webern's Op. 27
reveals three distinct designs: (i) a one-movement set of variations; (ii) a set of variations divided into two or more movements with the theme in first position; and (iii),
the final version, a set of variations divided into three movements with the theme
at the head of the last movement. Evidence for these designs comes from both the
analysis of structural features in the sketches and the final version of the work and
remarks made by Webern in correspondence dating from the time of its composition.
These designs are not the only ones to be found, but they mark the definitive stages
of the history of variations in the work and between them they encompass all the

I am grateful to the Arts and Humanities Research Board (UK) for financial support toward the preparation
of this paper. Some of these remarks on Webern's !1lriations originate in: Neil Boynton, The Combination of
Variations and Adagio-Form in the Late Instrumental Twelve-Note Works of Anton Webern. Diss., University of Cambridge, 1993.

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Net? Boynton

material contained in the sketches. The main change in the history of these designs
is the switch from a one-movement set of variations to a set which is divided into
movements. Webern's realisation "daE die 1/a:n'att'onen wet'tergehn" 1 comes at a time
when the first part of a second movement had been sketched,2 and thus it is worth
noting that this second movement was initially conceived as a new movement in a
kind of "Suite" for piano. 3 For this reason one has to distinguish between designs for
the variations as a self-contained set within the work and designs for the whole work
as variations. In this light, Webern's title for the finished work can be seen to reflect
the latter. Nonetheless, as this essay will argue, the combining of sonata forms and
variations that is part and parcel of dividing the theme and variations into movements,
compromises the structural force of the variations, effectively limiting them to a onemovement design.

***
Shortly after starting a second movement Webern wrote to his friend and former
pupil Ludwig Zenk: "Meine Variationen sind fertig." 4 And, although he had already
mentioned the idea of a suite to David Josef Bach (15 July, see note 3) immediately
prior to the first sketches for this new movement (dated 18 July), his talk of"KlavierVariationen" and "Variationen fiir KJavier" in earlier letters to Arnold Schoenberg suggests that he probably first conceived the work as a one-movement piece. 5 Figure 1a
shows a one-movement design for the theme and variations.

2
3

4
5

Letter from Webern to JosefPolnauer, 26 July 1936, quoted by Hans and Rosaleen Moldenhauer, Anton
von We bern: Chronik seines Lebens und Werkes, trans!. by Ken W. Bmtlett. Zurich, Freiburg im Breisgau
1980, p. 440/"that the variations go on.forther' [Hans and Rosaleen Moldenhauer, Anton von Webern: A
Chronicle of his Life and Work. New York 1979, p. 482].
See Figure 4, below, for a description of the drafts for the andante.
We bern wrote to David Josef Bach on 15 July 1936: "Meine Klavier-Variationen sind schon fertig; sie
werden einen Satz einer Art Suite fUr Klavier bilden." [Paul Sacher Stiftung, Basel, Sammlung Anton
We bern]/"My piano variations are already finished; they will form a movement of a kind of suite for
piano." [trans!. by the author); and to HildegardJone andJosefHumplik on 18 July: "[ ... ) einen Teil
meiner neuen Arbeit habe ich schon fertig gestellt. Ich erzahlte Euch, daB ich etwas fUr !<Javier schreibe.
Das Fertige ist ein Variationen-Satz; es wird eine Art 'Suite'." [Osterreichische Nationalbibliothek, Vienna,
Handschriftensammlung, published in: Anton Webern, Briefe an HildegardJone undJosefHumplik, ed.
by JosefPolnauer. Wien 1959, p. 34, No. 68)/"I have already finished one part of my new work. I told you
that I was writing something for piano. The completed part is a variations movement; the whole will be
a kind of'Suite'." [Anton Webern, Letters to HildegardJone andJosefHumplik, ed. by JosefPolnauer,
trans!. by Cornelius Cardew. Bryn Mawr (a. o.) 1967, p. 32, no. 68.]
Postcard, 21 July 1936, Paul Sacher Stiftung, Basel, Sammlung Anton Webern/"My variations are finished." [Trans!. by the author.]
Letters to Schoenberg, 9 March and 18 June 1936, Library of Congress, Washington. Photocop-

20!

SoME REMARKS ON ANTON WEBERN's "VARIATIONS" 0P. 27

Theme and variations


a.

one-movement design

Po

Po Po

Theme and variations


b.

Andante

two-movement design
f),LJJ

Po

c.

final version

Po

yffn

Po

~!ffi

Po

Andante

Scherzo

Theme and variations

I A I B I A' I

I Th. I 1 I 2 I 3 I 5 I 7 I

Po

Po

7!ffi

Po
Ij j j j

Figure 1: One-, two- and three-movement designs for the theme and variations

In this design the first row to appear in both the theme and the closing section is
the On'ginalreihe, Webern's row number 1; the sixth variation also begins with the
Originalreihe. 6 (I do not wish to discuss here the differences between the relation of
variations 6 and 7 to the theme, for now it is enough to recognise that the return of
the Origt'nalreihe establishes a connection between the outer sections of the work.
Note also that variations 4 and 6, which are to be found in the sketches, and which are
shown in Figures la and lb, do not appear in the final version of the work.)
The conditions for a variation set do not presuppose a particular shape for the
work or movement as a whole, variations are, so to speak, the formless form: in this
context the rationale for creating a framing arch is to set the boundaries of the whole
series of variations, to indicate the closure of the set, or at least to offer something that
ies of Schoenberg's letters in the Librmy of Congress are held in the Arnold Schonberg Center, Vienna;
these copies were used as the source for the present essay. In the second letter, the word "Variationen" is
written in Roman letters, and thus stands out from the surrounding words in cursive script, perhaps as the
designation of a possible title for the work.
6 On the distinction between Originalreihe and Grundreihe see Regina Busch, Letter to the Editor
(apropos Kathryn Bailey's article 'Willi Reich's Webern' in TEMPO No. 165; extracted from a longer letter to the Editor ofTEMPO), in: Tempo 166 (1988), pp. 67-69.

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Nez? Boynton

contributes to the closure of the set, more than simply stopping at the end of the last
variation. The means by which the framing arch is created in the one-movement draft
is similar to what in the 1932 lectures Webern described as analogous to the referential function of the main key of tonal music: "Die Reihe in der urspri.inglichen Form
und Tonhohe gewinnt eine Stellung analog der 'Haupttonart' der fri.iheren Musik;
die 'Reprise' wird naturgemaB zu ihr zuri.ickkehren. Wir schlieBen 'im gleichen Ton' I
- Ganz bewuBt wird diese Analogie zu fri.iheren Gestaltungen gepflegt, und so wird
es wieder moglich, zu groBeren Formen i.iberzugehen." 7 I do not think it is possible to
cite the one-movement draft as an example of this analogy just like that, rather one
must insist on the similarity of the two, because what we have in the one-movement
draft is not a reprise per se, and in fact to talk of reprises in variations presupposes one
is already dealing with a special type of variations (as we find when considering the
andante in the two-movement draft). Although it is difficult to judge the force of this
device, the appearances of the On'ginalreihein the one-movement draft create connections between the parts of a large form (large in comparison to the short, expressionist pieces that preceded twelve-note composition), and it is the scale on which such
connections operate that is significant. Pursuing the analogy with tonality, one might
compare the difference between a return of the tonic and a reprise in a variation set
with the Allegretto and the Adagio molto of the last of Ludwig van Beethoven's Six
Van'ations Op. 34: in the ''Allegretto" the tonic reappears for the first time since the
theme (but with material of a different character), the ensuing ''Adagio molto" begins
with a quotation of the opening of the theme. 8 See Figure 2.
A mere eight days since beginning sketches for a second movement and only five
days after telling Zenk that his variations were finished, Webern wrote to his friend
Josef Polnauer saying that he now realised the variations go on further. 9 How much
further, how many movements were envisaged for the suite as a whole, and whether
all of the movements of the suite would be variations is not disclosed. Nonetheless, it
is worth reconsidering the idea of a continuation of the theme and variations at the
point when the new movement was completed. See Figure lb. Here, one can see that
a new framing arch for the theme and variations is created through the return of the
7 Anton Webern, Der Weg zur neuen Musik, ed. by Willi Reich. Wien 1960, p. 58 (26 Februmy 1932)/"The
original form and pitch of the row occupy a position akin to that of the 'main key' in earlier music; the
recapitulation will naturally return to it. We end 'in the same key!' This analogy with earlier formal construction is quite consciously fostered; here we find the path that will lead us again to extended forms."
[Anton Webern, The Path to the New Music, ed. by Willi Reich, trans!. by Leo Black. Bryn Mawr (a. o.)
1963, p. 54.]
8 F-D-B~-G-E~-c-F. Cf. Arnold Schoenberg, l<undamentals ofMusical Composition, ed. by Gerald Strm1g
and Leonard Stein. London 1967, p. 174.
9 See note 1.

SoME REMARKS ON ANTON WEBERN's "VARIATIONs"

Th.

I
F

r(ili ~

B~

E~

Or.

27

'"' :,etto

Adagio molto

rrJii p

Figure 2: Tonal and motivic return in Beethoven's Six ran'ations Op. 34

Originalreihe at the beginning of the reprise of the andante. The arch structure sets the
limits of a two-movement design for the variations. The last section of the two-movement design thus functions as reprise of the new movement, which is evident from the
motivic construction, and it also appears to serve in some way as the end-frame of the
whole set of variations - "finale" seems too strong here, for there is little that could
be described as serving the function of summing-up. Again, as in the one-movement
design, quite what the force of this connection that spans the variations amounts to is
difficult to ascertain, but the intention of creating some sort of a link is unambiguous,
especially in view of the fact that the first part of the andante begins with different
rows altogether, that is, one might have expected the reprise of the andante to begin
with the same rows as its first part. Paradoxically, it is at the moment of dividing the
variations that the need for an arch that spans the whole work is perhaps felt to be
most acute - the rationale remains the same whether the variations are divided or
not. Likewise, the strong motivic connection between variation 7 and the first part of
the andante provides immediate support for the idea that variations go further despite
the obvious physical separation (issues of space and proportion that also appear to
relate to the idea that the variations go further will be examined later).
The division of the variations into movements and the quasi-harmonic structuring
across the whole set present new formal possibilities. Whereas in Beethoven's Six
f/ariatt'ons Op. 34 the harmonic structuring of the set offers the possibility of separating
the tonal return from a motivic reprise, in Webern's Op. 27, by virtue of dividing the
variations into separate movements, some variations (or parts thereof, videlicet the
second movement of the final version) will be reprises - not of the theme, but - of
earlier variations. In fact in the two-movement design the relation of the reprise of
the andante to its first part is obviously much stronger than its relation to the theme,
in other words the relation to the theme is obscured by the exposition-reprise relation that holds within the andante itself. Another way of considering the problem is
to imagine the hypothetical case of a listener arriving at the reprise of the andante:
in order to establish the framing arch there would have to be something to send

Nett Boynton

the listener back to the theme, but because the reprise of the andante so completely
matches its first part there is little stimulus to hear back beyond this point, to prompt
in the listener a reawakening of memories of the theme, and so the arch that bounds
work is eclipsed by the exposition-reprise relation in the last movement. Whereas the
quasi-harmonic structuring of Webern's two-movement design promotes relations
between theme and variations, the new formal possibilities opened up by dividing the
variations into movements concern mainly the relation of variations to each other.
Formally, there are now two primary structuring forces in operation: the theme of the
variations, and the main theme of the andante. The latter is still notionally subordinate to the variation-theme, but it very nearly approaches the former in terms of the
effect that it has on the shape of the work as a whole. The moral of the story would
appear to be that exposition-reprise relations between variations subvert the relation
of the reprise-variations to the theme.

***
Having finished the work, Webern wrote to Schoenberg: "Die Variationen sind auf drei
ganz abgeschlossene Satze verteilt. Auch erscheint das 'Thema' nicht besonders hinausgestellt. Ich mochte fast sagen, man soll es gar nicht erst suchen." 10 See Figure 1c. A
similar description is given later to Eduard Steuermann, the work's dedicatee:
Ich schicke Dir mit gleicher Post meine "Variationen" u. bin sehr gliicklich, daG Dich meine
Widmung an Dich freut. Wie ich Dir, glaube ich, schon angedeutet habe, sind sie in fUr sich
abgeschlossene Satze (drei) aufgeteilt. Ich stelle auch das "Thema" gar nicht ausdriicklich
hinaus (etwa in friiherem Sinne an die Spitze). Fast ist es mein Wunsch, es moge als solches
unerkannt bleiben. (Aber wer mich danach fragt, dem werde ich es nicht verheimlichen).
Doch moge es Iieber gleichsam dahinter stehen. (Es sind - Dir verrate ich es natiirlich
gleich- die ersten 11 Takte des 3. Satzes). [ ... ] Der erste Satz ist quasi ein Andante, der 2.
ein Scherzo[ ... ]. Der 3. Satz ist nun wirklich eine Variationen-Reihe, in seinem Bau.1 1

10 Letter from Webern to Schoenberg, 21 September 1936, Library of Congress, Washington/"The variations are arranged in three quite self-contained movements. The 'theme' is also not specially set apart
[from them]. I would almost say, one should not at all look for it at first." [Trans!. by the author.]
11 Letter from Webern to Steuermann, 6 December 1936, published in: Regina Busch, Aus dem Briefurechsel Webern-Steuermann, in: Heinz-Klaus Metzger and Rainer Riehn (eds.), Anton Webern I. Miinchen
1983 (Musik-Konzepte, Sonderband), pp. 23-51, here pp. 32-33/"I am sending you my Variations by the
same post and am very happy that you are pleased with my dedication of the work to you. As, I believe,
I have already indicated to you, they are divided into self-contained movements (three). Also I make the
theme by no means expressly prominent (at the top, as it used to be for instance). I almost wish that it
remain unrecognized as such. (But I will not hide it from anyone who asks about it.) Nonetheless, it had

SOME REMARKS ON ANTON WEBERN's "VARIATIONS" 0P. 27

205

These two letters clearly show that Webern considered the whole work as variations,
the letter to Steuermann specif)ring in addition other forms involved : thus, the first
movement represents a combination of andante-form and variations, and the second
a combination of scherzo-form and variations.1 2 The issue of formal combination,
touched on in these remarks, is one of central significance to his twelve-note works.
Webern first mentioned the idea of a theme and variations divided into three movements to Steuermann the day before he began sketching the scherzo movement:
Ich arbeite [ ... ] an den Variationen fUr Klavier, von denen ich Dir schon erzahlt habe. Es
werden aber welche in mehreren Siitzen. Zwei von diesen sind schon fertig, den dritten u.
wie ich glaube, letzten hoffe ich noch vor Schlug der Ferien - also bald - zu beenden u.
damit die ganze Arbeit, die Dir, liebster Freund, gewidmet sein soli. Ich will die 3 Satze einfach "Variationen" benennenP

The changes that took place in order to arrive at the final version from the two-movement design consist principally in putting the variation movement in last position,
deleting variations 4 and 6 from that movement, and, it would seem perhaps by way
of compensation, adding two new variations in the guise of the scherzo movement. 14
better stand behind, so to speak. (It is - naturally I shall tell you straight away - the first 11 bars of the 3rd
movement.) [ ... ]The first movement is quasi an andante, the second a scherzo[ ... ]. The third movement
is just really a series of variations, in its construction." [Trans!. by the author.]
12 Some of the correspondence from this time is discussed by Kathryn Bailey, Willi Reich's Webern, in:
Tempo 165 (1988), pp. 18-22; cf. also Busch, Letter to the Editor. On andante-form see Anton We bern,
Ober musikalische Formen: Aus den Vortragsmitschriften von Ludwig Zenk, Siegfried Oehlgiesser, Rudolf Schopf und Ema Apostel, ed. by Neil Boynton. Mainz (a. o.) 1999 (Veroffentlichungen der Paul
Sacher Stiftung/Publications of the Paul Sacher Stiftung 8), and Schoenberg, Fundamentals of Musical
Composition. Regarding the temary division of the scherzo in Figure 1c see Neil Boynton, Anton Webern, Vrm'att'onen op. 27: Gegeniiberstellung der Handexemplare von Else Cross und Peter Stadlen, in:
Markus Grassl and Reinhard Kapp (eds.), Die Lehre von der musikalischen Aufftihrung in der Wiener
Schule: Verhandlungen des Internationalen Colloquiums Wien 1995. Wien, Koln, Weimar 2002 (Wiener
Veroffentlichungen zur Musikgeschichte 3), pp. 101-111. On Webern's understanding of scherzo-form in
general, see Webern, Ober musikalische Formen.
13 Letter from We bern to Steuermann, 24 August 1936, published in: Busch, Aus dem Briefurechsel We-bern-Steuermann, p. 26/"1 am working[ ... ] on the variations for piano which I have already told you
about. It will be variations in several movements, however. Two of these are already finished, the third, and
I think, last I hope to complete before the end of the holidays - soon therefore - and with that the whole
work, which should be dedicated to you, dear friend. I want to call the 3 movements simply 'Variations'."
[trans!. by the author] The idea of three movements is also mentioned the day before in a letter toJone
(23 August 1936); see Webern, Briefe an HildegardJone undJosefHumplik, p. 34, no. 69, or Webern, Letters to HildegardJone andJosefHumplik, p. 33, no. 69, respectively.
14 Both the two-movement draft and the final version might be considered as comprising a theme and ten
variations: when the three sections of the andante are reckoned in o/16, an idea which was tried out in the

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Nett Boynton

The last variation of the variation movement remains the same as it was in the oneand two-movement designs. And now, this last variation as closing section of the
work can be seen to refer back to the first part of the andante by dint of the motivic
connection that in the two-movement design served as evidence of continuity of the
variations across the divide between movements.
Putting the variation movement last creates the unusual situation where the theme
is no longer at the head of the work ("an der Spitze") - Webern's unease in explaining to both Schoenberg and Steuermann that he had written a set of variations with
the theme buried in the middle of the work aside is obvious. Consequently, the usual
sort of relations of a theme and variations are lost - in the normal course of events
one thinks, for example, of the play, at the beginning of each new variation, between
references back to the theme and the contrast, or otherwise, in character with the
preceding variation. And, when in the final version one does arrive at the theme at the
beginning of the last movement, one is hardly overwhelmed by a sense of connections
coming home to roost (as if the normal relations of theme to variations were somehow working in reverse). Nonetheless, a framing arch is possible once more, now that
the variation movement is in last position - that is, now that the last section of the
work is not a reprise of the first part of the last movement (now that this movement
is "nun wirklich eine Variationen-Reihe"), a way is left open for the listener to hear
further back into the work. In essence, the final version ofWebern's theme and variations represents the finale of a work with motivic-thematic connections between each
of its three movements. In the large, some structural aspects, notably the framing arch,
bear resemblance to Johannes Brahms's Symphony no. 4 (the return of first-movement
material based on thirds toward the end of the passacaglia), and the broad outline of
the work is not dissimilar to Brahms's Quintet.for Clart'net and Strings Op. 115, which
also has a variation finale. See Figure 3. In Brahms's Qutntetthe return of the opening
motto in the coda of the finale creates a work-bounding arch. The material of variation 5 is linked to the motto in such a way that it can be said that the music moves
toward the motto as a fitting conclusion of that movement, rather than it simply appearing as a trivial addition.

sketches with respect to the middle section, each is eleven bars long, yielding an overall structure for the
work of eleven eleven-bar sections. This type of structuring is perhaps of most interest when viewed as
a controlling structure for the work, as a means of defining the extent of the theme and variations, something which takes on a new dimension when dealing with divided variations. The changes of metre in the
sketches are discussed as part of the genesis of the andante, below.

SoME REMARKS ON ANTON WEBERN's "VARIATIONs"

Sonata form

Adagio

Exposition Elaboration

Reprise

Scherzo

II I I II
A

Andantino

OP.

207

27

Theme and variations


Presto

~I

I I I
3

"COda]

Figure 3: Work-bounding motivic return in Brahms's Quintetfir Clan'net and Strings Op. 115

Considering Webern's designs for divided variations prompts one to consider some
of the factors that condition the introduction of sonata-form elements into variations. The introduction of a sonata-form reprise creates problems not only for the
relation of the reprise-variation to the theme, but at the same time creates an entity
that clearly exceeds the extent of the theme both in its length and proportions and in
the number of its parts. One device which stops short of this is what Schoenberg has
described with respect to variations 1-3 of Beethoven's Thirty-Two Van'atz'ons WoO 80
as the unfolding of an idea in successive steps. These three variations are based on the
same motive and although they are grouped together the absence of an intervening
contrast means there is no' suggestion of a reprise, rather the impression is one of a
gradual unfolding. The switching of the left- and right-hand parts between variations
1 and 2 is in some ways similar to the switching of parts between the exposition
and reprise ofWebern's andante. In Beethoven's variation 2, however, one recognises
immediately the continuation of the idea precisely because there is no intervening
contrast; and in variation 3 the unfolding can be seen to reach an obvious climax
when the two running parts of the preceding variations are combined against each
other. In these three variations the one-to-one relation of the variation to the theme
is confirmed every step of the way - one can clearly see that the building blocks of
the emerging internal form correspond to the theme; in Webern's andante, in the
two-movement design for the variations, the reprise creates at once an internal connection far bigger in extent than the theme and forces one to address, retrospectively,
a frame of reference that is not normally encountered in this context. It is perhaps also
worth noting that in Beethoven's Thirty-Two Variatt'ons the internal subset begins in
variation 1, hardly the place that one would or could develop an internal force strong
enough to rival the theme.
The idea of compromise, of the variations being effectively reduced to one-movement structures, relates to the autonomy of the theme and variations, not to the sonata forms involved, nor to the piece as a work of art, whatever that might mean. By
which, I mean to set limits regarding the observations on the designs for divided variations, above. Clearly, I am not suggesting that this absolutely cannot be done - and
here, I am thinking of Schoenberg's comments on the relation of art and theory: "im
Kunstwerk gibt es keine Irrti.imer, keine Irrlehren und daher kann ein Kunstwerk nie

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Nez7 Boynton

widerlegt werden"1 5 - merely that the results are perhaps quite different fiom what
we might expect on the basis of studying the features of undivided variation sets.
Fundamentally, theme and variations are founded on the idea of continuous change;
(ternary) sonata forms are founded on the idea of a return following a (harmonic)
contrast, or rather a repetition made more forceful by an intervening contrast. The
synthesis of homophonic and polyphonic writing expressed as the formal synthesis
of scherzo and fugue in the third movement ofWebern's next work, the String Quartet
Op. 28, traverses equally fragile theoretical ground. Regina Busch writes:
I:

Wie weit Variation gehen kann, ohne die "Unveranderlichkeit" eines Fugenthemas anzutasten - sofern diese wesentlich zum Fugenthema iiberhaupt gehort -, wird man aus der
Musik Weberns entnehmen mlissen. Mit anderen Worten: in welcher Gestalt, in welcher
Weise ist das Fugenthema in der Reprise des Scherzothemas noch als Fugenthema wiederzuerkennen, von der Identitat der 12 Tone einmal abgesehen ?16

Whereas in Op. 28 the element of variation (which derives from the homophonic
structuring) threatens the unalterability of the fugue theme, in the two-movement
design of Op. 27 it is the element of repetition contained in the sonata-form reprise
that undermines the variations' demand for change.

THE SKETCHES FOR THE ANDANTE

Changes of metre are the most conspicuous feature of the sketches for the andante;
the sketches for the middle section also document the development of the sequence
of rows that leads to the reappearance of the Originalrdhe at the beginning of the
reprise. The sketches extend over six pages of Sketchbook IV (Paul Sacher Stiftung,
Basel, Sammlung Anton Webern). Experimentation with metre is in fact to be found
15 Arnold Schoenberg, The Musical Idea and the Logic, Technique, and Art oflts Presentation, ed., trans!.
and with a commentary by Patricia Carpenter and Severine Neff. New York 1995, p. 116/"In the work
of art there are no mistakes, no false doctrines, and for that reason a work of art can never be refuted."
[Schoenberg, The Musical Idea, p. 117.]
16 Regina Rusch, Oher die horizontale und vertikale Darstellung musikalischer Gedanken und den musikalischen Raum, in: Metzger, Riehn (eds.), Anton Webern I, pp. 225-250, here p. 248/"How far the process
of variation can go without injuring the 'invariability' of a fugue subject- insofar as this belongs to the
essential character of a fugue subject at all -will have to be decided on the basis ofWebern's music. In
other words: in what way is the fl1gue subject in the recapitulation of the scherzo theme still recognizable
as the fugue subject, ignoring for the moment the identity of the 12 notes?" [Regina Busch, On the Horizontal and Vertical Presentation of Musical Ideas and on Musical Space (III), trans!. by Michael Graubart,
in: Tempo 157 (1986), pp. 21-26, here p. 24.]

;I

SoME REMARKS ON ANTON WEBERN's "VARIATIONs"

OP.

27

throughout Webern's sketchbooks: frequently one finds changes of metre in the first
sketches for a movement; there are also examples where the metre of a whole movement is changed apparently after the sketching is complete, for example, the metre of
the last version of the theme and variations movement in Op. 27 is 8, in the printed
score itis 2.17 In the andante, the changes in metre persist right up to the beginning
of the reprise. The dates in the sketches suggest the writing of the movement can be
divided into three drafts. Clearly this is a rough picture, and one can discern other
drafts within drafts, nonetheless, the dates in the sketches match up with reports
of the work's progress in the correspondence and this broad outline is sufficient for
present purposes. See Figure 4.

47
(a) Draft 1

18. VII. 36

5/8
First part, 2- and 4-bar units

22. VII. 36
(b)

Draft2

50

5/4
26. VII. Abreise
nach Uttendorf

5/8

,I

49

'

First part, 11-bar unit

First part, 6-bar unit

.I

.I

.I

49

52

(c) Draft3

5/16, 3/16

54

51

5/16, 3/16

10. VIII. 36

3/16
19. VIII. 36

3/16
First part, 18-bar unit

Middle section

Middle section

Reprise

Figure 4: Drafts for the andante, Sketchbook IV

After completing the first draft, begun on 18 July, Webern wrote to Zenk on 21 July
that his variations were finished; after completing the second draft, begun on 22
17 Some of these are reported by Kathryn Bailey, Rhythm and Metre in Webern's Late Works, in:
Journal of the Royal Musical Association 120/2 (1995), pp. 251-280; see also Regina Busch and Reinhard
Kapp, Tempofiagen bei Anton We bern mit der Vorfiihrung zweier von RudolfKolisch einstudierter Aufnahmen, in:Jean-Jacques Diinki, Anton Haefeli and Regula Rapp (eds.), Der Grad der Bewegung: Tempovorstellungen und -konzepte in Komposition und Interpretation 1900-1950. Bern 1998 (Basler Studien
zur Musik in Theorie und Praxis 1), pp. 185-201, especially pp. 194-196.

210

Net7 Boynton

July, he wrote to Polnauer on 26 July, the day of the departure for Uttendorf, that the
variations go further; after finishing the third and final draft he wrote to Steuermann
on 24 August that the variations would be divided into three movements in all - he
began sketching a third movement the next day, on 25 August. 18 The only part of the
movement that was unambiguously conceived as a new movement in a suite was the
first draft, as this predates the postcard to Zenk. The realisation that the variations
go further could be seen to be something that Webern arrived at through reviewing
the material he had completed since that postcard to Zenk, and so the contents of
the second draft are potentially germane to that idea; certainly, the third draft was all
written with the idea of divided variations in mind. The first three pages of sketches,
pages 47, 50 and 49, concern the first part of the andante; the next two, pages 52 and
51, concern the middle section; and the last page, page 54, the reprise.19 It was Webern's practice to begin on the right-hand page of a double-page spread, then move to
the left-hand page, hence the page order 50 then 49, 52 then 51- the even-numbered
pages being on the right-hand side of the sketchbook. The first and second drafts are
written entirely in quintuple metres, %and%; in the third draft, only the middle section includes sketches in a quintuple metre, 5/16, while the whole of the movement can
be followed through this draft in :Y16.

***
The sketches for the first part of the andante are spread across all three drafts. The
pairing of rows in the relation P :R (in the first instance P8 and R8, Webern's row
numbers 45 and 46, respectively) is introduced in the very first line of the first draft.
This pairing creates symmetrical pitch formations in the horizontal plane. The final
version of the movement is entirely structured from such pairs of rows, and in light
of the final version of the work, this pairing proves to be exclusive to the movement.
This feature is one aspect that marks out the first draft of the andante - as inferred
from the correspondence, above - as independent of the variations. Another new
feature is the quintuple metre.
By the end of the second draft, however, in the upper part of page 49, the new
metre is bound up with one that creates a formal connection with the variations
movement: the first complete draft of the andante theme is eleven % bars long, the
same length as the variation theme and each of its variations. No sooner than an
eleven-bar section is established, the significance of its length as a formal criterion
of the theme and variations is putatively swept away when at the beginning of the
18 Postcard to Zenk, see note 4; letter to Polnauer, see note 1; letter to Steuermann, see note 13.
19 All the sketches referred to from Sketchbook IV are on 16-stave landscape paper, ca. 27 x 33.5 em.

SoME REMARKS oN ANTON WEBERN's "VARIATioNs"

OP.

27

2II

third draft, in the lower part of page 49, the metre is changed to 3/16. The change on
page 49 is wholesale, affecting all of the music composed thus far: the eleven-bar
unit at the top of the page is written out again in :Y16 with only a few changes, mostly
concerning the end of the section. It appears as if this writing-out of the music
- the first entry in the sketchbook since Webern reported to Polnauer his having
realised that the variations go on further- is simply the recording of afot't accomplt:
The switch to :Y16 brings the motivic pattern of the opening of the andante into the
closest relation with the opening of variation 7 of the preceding movement: both
begin with the fourfold appearance of a five-beat motive set against a triple metre;
the motive is syncopated in variation 7 and on the beat in the andante. In the latter,
the rhythmic outline of this opening first appears in the second draft in % (page 50,
staves 7-8 and 11-12: the continuation is indicated by an arrow drawn in blue
crayon). See Figure s.zo
Variation 7 is sketched in 3fs and, apart from the very first bar, bar 78[a], the continuation of which gives way to 78 [bJ, one beat later than in the final version. See
Figure S(a). The rhythmic shifting of the whole variation necessary in order to arrive
at the final version is striking in that the relation between phrase contour and metrical accentuation (however vestigial the latter is in practice) is completely altered at
a stroke. 21 Nonetheless, nothing changes as regards the mutual positioning of the
repeated five-beat motives. It seems in both variation 7 and the andante that the setting of a motive or phrase against the metre is used as a device for establishing referential features in the music: the first and fourth appearances of the five-beat motive
occupy the same position in the bar. In variation 7 the fourth appearance, marked
"tempo", is used as the beginning of a new group of phrases, the music effectively
recommences from the same position that it held at the beginning of the variation.
Note also that the fourth phrase begins with the same pitches as the first. In the
first part of the andante the fourth appearance of the motive is the last in a group of
phrases, and here a sense of closure is created by a return to the initial position. This

20 The sketches are all in pencil, but for the following: Figure S(a), bar-lines, bar numbers, clefs at the
beginning of the stave, "VII Var.", "tpo", "20" and accompanying bracket written in blue crayon, "1" and
accompanying bracket in red crayon; Figure S(b) bar numbers in blue crayon, row numbers, brackets
at end of rows, and dashed lines in the middle of rows in red crayon; Figure S(c) bar numbers in blue
crayon.
21 In this connection Webern's remark to Willi Reich about the treatment of the two motivic ideas of the
l'l:triations.for Orchestra Op. 30 is telling: "Durch aile miigliche Verlegung des Schwerpunktes innerhalb der
heiden Gestalten entsteht immer was Neues in Taktart, Charakter usw." [Letter, 3 May 1941, published
in: Anton Webern, Der Weg zur neuen Musik, pp. 66-67, here p. 67]/"Through all possible displacements
of the centre of gravity within the two shapes there's forever something new in the way of time-signature,
character, etc." [Webern, The Path to the New Music, p. 62.]

Net7 Boynton

212
78[a]
VII
;.; V ar.

'

---------------

79 rit.
~

~115--

8""~

/_,

1:....

"''if'

I'#''

ubt

(a) Sketchbook IV (Paul Sacher Stiftung, Basel, Sammlung Anton Webern), p. 48:
transcription of first phrase of variation 7 of the variation movement, bars 78[a], 78[b]-79, staves 14-15

Sehr mallig

IO.VIII
Ill

.h.

45

46

1--1

I)

__.,..

~qs:

IP

'

201

"

IU'-'~"

78[b]tpo

'I

pp

-~

b{ I~

lb~

t-

''

'

~~

~~

.~

1p
'

F=-

~ r0.'

v----J;;

A.

'

vJ

'I

45

46~

(b) Sketchbook IV, p. 49: transcription of the beginning of the andante in 16, bars 1-7, staves 11-12

[staves 11-12]

[staves 7-8]

@)

'1.

f
:

_r-:-1

~~~

h;

3 gilt

f ~u
1]-

'I

dim.

6-

qnb.io v
t-

(c) Sketchbook IV, p. 50: transcription of the beginning of the andante in%, bars 1-4, staves 7-8, 11-12

Figure 5

.i

I'

SOME REMARKS ON ANTON WEBERN's "VARIATIONS" Qp, 27

213

sense of closure is reflected in the symmetrical pitch structure, which literally returns
to its point of departure.22
Paradoxically, despite that the 16 metre effectively replaces % as the metre of the
andante in the second draft on page 49, both versions of the completed section on
this page embody features which show that the variations go on further. Obviously,
the formal connection- that the length of the andante theme is the same as the variations theme - is most apparent when considering the version in %, the motivic one
when considering the version in 16. As regards the formal connection, it would seem
that it is not the quintuple metre that is significant in itself, rather it is the length of the
first part of the andante when measured in relation to that metre, which, apart from
indicating the absolute significance of eleven, suggests also that the content of each
bar or group of bars is somehow meaningfl1l, that is, in general terms, periodic patterns smaller than the length of the andante theme deserve scrutiny, and this brings
one back to the repeated five-beat motive at the beginning of the theme, among
other things.2 3 Later the five-beat motive is reduced to a three-beat one and this is
pursued for a while. Considering the course of the theme in 16, the complexity of the
opening five against three is then seen to resolve into simpler and shorter three-beat
patterns. In this context, the idea of switching from one metre to another is little more
than electing a new basic metre for the movement. The notion of contemplating essentially the same object in different metres - in some ways, a change of perspective,
whichever one is chosen as the basic metre - recalls Dika Newlin's remembrances of
Schoenberg talking about houses designed by Adolf Laos: "Uncle Arnold compares
them to sculptures made of glass, in which one can see all the angles at once."2 4

***

22 The same device can be seen at the opening of the scherzo movement: a three-quaver motive is set
against a% metre; a return to the initial position in bar 3 is avoided by the insertion of a quaver rest.
23 In many ofWebern's sketches the basic unit or initial motive corresponds to the length of the bar. The
first motive of the third movement of the Concerto Op. 24, a three-beat motive, was first sketched in %,
the metre was subsequently changed to 72. By contrast, in the litriations Op. 30 it appears the content can
be most readily measured motivically, in the arrangement of the two basic motives in the main voice (as
put forward by Webern's pupil Siegfried Oehlgiesser in a talk for Radio Studio ZUrich, produced in 1969;
Radiovortdige, Sammlung Siegfiied Oehlgiesser, Paul Sacher Stiftung, Basel) - at least here, the relation
of motive to metre takes on new forms. See also Neil Boynton, Formal Combination in Webern's Variations Op. 30, in: music analysis 14/2-3 (1995), pp. 193-220.
24 Dika Newlin, Schoenberg Remembered: Diaries and Recollections (1938-76). New York 1980,
p. 133, quoted in: Busch, Ober die horizontale und vertikale Darstellung musikalischer Gedanken, p. 235.
Regina Busch there also pulls together other examples of three-dimensional objects used by Schoenberg
and Webern. See Busch, Ober die horizontale und vertikale Darstellung musikalischer Gedanken, p. 232.

214

i
I

I,

Net? Boynton

In the continuation of the third draft, on page 52, successive drafts for the new section alternate between o/16 and 3/16. The impression of starting over, of working out
new ideas, that is conveyed as one uncovers the to-ing and fro-ing between the two
metres2 5 and the gradual establishment of a model comprising a group of four rows
(that will later be transposed sequentially) is reinforced by the numbering of the 5/16
bars on this page. Not only are the usual bar numbers, counting from the beginning
of the movement, given above the stave, but another set of numbers, starting from 1
again, appears below the stave. At the point at which one draft in 5/16 breaks off having reached bar 17 (or bar 6, counting from 1) the note "6 Takte" has been added, an
indication of the number of extra bars needed to complete an eleven-bar section. On
page 51 the metre is :Y16 throughout and some %6 barlines have been added later ;26
sums at the end of the page were used to reckon the length of the middle section in
terms of both metres. Here, the impression is one of checking to see that what has
been composed out in the new metre really still does conform to the length of the
theme and variations. See Figures 6 and 7.21
The alternation between different metres on page 52 appears to have been motivated by the need to conceptualise the new material in 5/16, that is, a way of contemplating the layout in the other metre - the basic unit of the middle section is two 5/16
bars long28 - even though at that stage it seems that the decision had already been
made that the final version of the movement would be in 3/16. In addition to the other
features mentioned above which are in some way evidence of a desire to match the
length of each part of the andante with the theme and variations, checks were made,
both at the beginning of the middle section and at the beginning of the reprise, of
where the first beat of each new eleven-bar section, that is, the first beat of each new
variation, would fall: the first sketch for the middle section begins with the last bar of
the first part in o/16 (even though the metre was changed to 3/16 on the previous page,
page 49); and the first sketch for the reprise begins with the last bar of the middle section in 5/16 (again, even though :Y16 is the basic metre of the preceding page, page 51). 29
25 For instance, the continuation of the 5/t6 draft begun in staves 4-5 on staves 10-11 (the end of row 8) indicates that the 3/16 draft on staves 7-8 was added sometime during the sketching of the o/16 draft, presumably after the two-bar unit using the first pair of rows had been sketched out.
26 Page 51 can be seen as comprising two large drafts, both covering thirty-six bars of3/t6; the first draft,
systems 1-3, actually finishes on the first beat of a thirty-seventh bar. o/16 barlines have been added to the
second draft; they are not present in the first draft, except in the first system on page 51, which is common to both drafts.
27 The whole of page 51 is reproduced in facsimile in Hans Jorg Jans, Felix Meyer and Ingrid Westen
(eds.), Komponisten des 20.Jahrhunderts in der Paul Sacher Stiftung. Basel1986, pp. 144-145.
28 Actually, two 5/16 bars and a demisemiquaver; and the basic unit of the first part is one 5,4 bar in length. See
note 23, above.
29 This is the only o/t6 bar to appear on page 54 and its appearance is not registered in Figure 4.

SoME REMARKS ON ANTON WEBERN's "VARIATIONs"

Or.

27

215

(4)

(5)

(6)

(7)
(8)

(a) Draft showing two sets ofo/16 bar numbers, starting fiom 12 and 1, staves 4-5,
and the alternation of o/16 and :Y16, staves 4-5, 7-8
(9)

(10)

(11)

(b) Draft showing the annotation "6 Takte" above bar 17 (bar 6), staves 10-11

Figure 6: Sketchbook IV (Paul Sacher Stiftung, Basel, Sammlung Anton Webern), p. 52

This last check shows that in the reprise E~. the first note of the Originalreihe, would
fall exactly on the first beat of the first o/16 bar. Although one sees only the 3/16 metre in
the final, printed version of the work, the structural correspondences of the erstwhile
quintuple metre remain intact.

***
The two-movement design for the variations is characterised by the return of the
Originalreihe at the beginning of the reprise of the andante, thereby creating a link
not to the first part of the andante, but all the way back to the theme of the variations movement. An abandoned draft for the middle section of the andante on
page 51 shows how the sequence of rows that runs throughout this section initially

r:il

)\

II
2!6

Net7 Boynton

'I

(a) Draft showing addition ofi't6 barlines, staves 2-3

(13)

==~~=============
,.:f:.'
.'l,.~

(b) Sums, bottom right margin


Figure 7: Sketchbook IV (Paul Sacher Stiftung, Basel, Sammlung Anton We bern), p. 51

SoME REMARKS ON ANTON WEBERN's "VARIATIONs" Or. 27

217

overshoots the mark and is subsequently pared back to end with the rows PO and RO,
which, to pursue the analogy with tonal construction, appears to function like the
model and sequence construction of the middle section of many small ternary forms,
ending on an appropriate upbeat chord. 30 The row structure of the middle section
is based on a group of four rows, which is twice repeated in sequence, each time a
perfect fourth higher than the last; the last group ends with the pair (PO, RO). In the
abandoned draft a third sequence is introduced which would inevitably lead away
from this pair. Annotations in the draft show that Webern counted off each pair of
rows ("3. x", "4. x", etc.), beginning with the first pair of the first sequential repetition.
See Figure 8.

(a) Draft, Sketchbook IV, p. 51


systems 2-3

system 1

3. X
19

20

11
Rl1

xi

R2
33P2

7
8

16
Rl6

4. X
14

xx

R7
13P7

6.x

5.x
23
24

111
RI11

xx

RO
PO

7.x
43

44

14
RI4

(b) Final version

middle section
11
Rl1

XX

R2
P2

reprise
16
Rl6

XX

R7
P7

111
Rl11

XX

RO
PO

XX

PO
RO

Figure 8 : Row schemes for the middle section of the andante

Taken together, the sequence of rows in the middle section and the reappearance
of the Originalreihe at the beginning of the reprise make a figure peculiar to neither
variations nor andante form alone, but rather one that results from the combination
of structural elements of both. Whatever one makes of the effect of the analogy with
tonal construction - and, of course, this aspect of construction has to be rethought

30 "A harmony which leads to the recapitulation. In classical music this harmony is the dominant, because
it reintroduces the tonic in its tonality-defining sense." [Schoenberg, Fundamentals of Musical Composition, p. 123] Cf. also Leopold Spinner's remarks on "Scherzo Form", which include an analysis of the first
movement ofWebern's Op. 27: Leopold Spinner, A Short Introduction to the Technique ofTwelve-Tone
Composition. London (a. o.) 1960, pp. 9-10 (text), pp. 31-35 (examples).

218

Net? Boynton

in relation to the final version of the work - it is nonetheless clear that the Originalreihe exerts a force upon the pitch structuring leading up to its reappearance that is
like, at least by virtue of its extent, the force exerted by the return of a tonic in earlier
music.
The structuring of the andante as a small three-part form with a contrasting middle
section is also evident in the relation of the phrasing to the symmetrical pitch formations that derive from the P :R row pairs throughout the movement. In the outer parts
of the andante the boundaries of the phrase groups correspond with the symmetrical
pitch formations : each of the groups of phrases ends with a return to the pitches with
which it started. This patterning mimics the notion of a harmonically stable (fist)
construction that is centred on the tonic, as is typical of establishing sections. 31 In the
middle section of the movement none of the phrases or phrase groups bar the last
corresponds with the symmetrical pitch formations - the beginnings and endings of
the first phrases are indicated by the "rit." and "tempo" markings. 32 Here, each pair of
phrases (the phrase pairs roughly match up with the row pairs) ends with different
pitches to which it started; all these phrase groups are relatively unstable (locker) in
that they move away from their point of origin. Only the last phrase in the middle
section corresponds with a symmetrical pitch formation, that created by the row pair
(PO, RO), and so do all the phrase groups in the reprise. The restoration of this correspondence that was a feature of the first part of the andante lends support, by analogy
with tonal construction, to the function of the last row pair of the middle section as
an upbeat chord to the reprise.

***
The remarks on the Variatt'ons have drawn primarily on evidence in the sketches and
correspondence and much of the discussion has centred on large-scale formal issues.
One topic that did not receive much attention is the smaller scale, motivic aspects of
variation form, the specific connection of any one phrase with the theme. Schoenberg's method of describing motivic connections and derivations has in the past been
decried for want of the systematic rigour expected of modern analytic theory, and
perhaps this apparent lack of rigour, or lack of substance that might serve as the basis
for more robust theoretical enterprises has diverted attention from what his manner
31 For a description of stable and loose construction, see Erwin Ratz, Einftihrung in die musikalische Formenlehre: Ober Formprinzipien in den Inventionen und FugenJ. S. Bachs und ihre Bedeutung fiir die
Kompositionstechnik Beethovens. Wien 31973, p. 21.
32 1bis phenomenon is noted by Nicholas Cook: "[ ... ]there are important aspects of phrasing which cut
across the palindromes and the serial structure in general." [Nicholas Cook, A Guide to Musical Analysis.
London, Melbourne 1987, p. 310.]

SoME REMARKS oN ANTON WEBERN's "VARIATIONS"

OP.

27

219

of describing the processes of motivic variation has to offer. Perhaps we might adopt
some of Schoenberg's ideas about motivic variation, such as those laid out in the early
chapters of Fundamentals ifMust'cal Compost'tt'on ("Every element or feature of a motive
or phrase must be considered to be a motive if it is treated as such, i.e. if it is repeated
with or without variation." 33), as the basis for assessing motivic connections between
theme and variations in the music ofWebern, not to mention the kind of connections
that Webern demonstrated himself when analysing Beethoven's Sechs let'chte Vart'att'onen iiber et'n Schwet'zer Lt'ed WoO 64 in lectures given in February 1937.34 Certainly,
this approach seems to be what is called for if we are to take as our starting point an
earlier remark by Schoenberg, dated 10 July 1928, which he noted down at the time
of composing his own Vart'att'onsfor Orchestra Op. 31: "Die moderne Variationen Form
legt nicht so gro:Bes Gewicht darauf, wie die alte, class das Thema aus der Variation
unmittelbar herauszuhoren ist, sondern begniigt sich, in der Erkenntnis, class alle wesentlichen Qualitaten unter allen Umstanden wahrgenommen werden, mit der Verarbeitung der konstruktiven Eigenschaften."35

33 Schoenberg, Fundamentals of Musical Composition, p. 9.


34 Webern, Ober musikalische Formen, pp. 383-388.
35 Arnold Schoenberg, Die moderne Variationen Form, unpublished manuscript, Arnold Schonberg Center,
Vienna, T35.18/"The modern form of variations does not place so much weight as the old one on being
able to detect immediately the theme in the variation, rather it is satisfied in the knowledge that, with
the processing ofits constructive properties, all essential qualities are perceived under all circumstances."
[Trans!. by the author.]