Webern, Anton (1883 – 1945)

Webern detail his early days with Schoenberg, and notes that since 1934 ‘I have lived… exclusively in relation to teaching’

An outstanding and rare three-page autograph letter signed by Anton Webern, 24th May 1939 to a Mr. Abraham.

Webern opens by apologising for the two month delay in replying, explaining, ‘giving information about yourself is probably the hardest thing to decide.’ He continues, ‘Not knowing or having the 1928 edition of the Groves Dictionary, I can’t say what might need correction. The following data on the two points you are familiar with.’

The composer then writes out a detailed history of his musical career. In part, ‘I studied between 1904 and 1907 with Schoenberg in Vienna. From then until the outbreak of the war, I was active as an opera conductor at German-Austrian theatres. During the war I was enlisted but but not at the front. In 1918, I moved with Schoenberg to Mödling near Vienna (where I still live today) to compose exclusively and to give composition lessons! I soon found reason to become a conductor… In 1923, I took over the newspaper of the founded choir of the social-democratic art centre in Vienna, which was run by Dr. David Bach. In this connection, I conducted for about a decade… a number of the Vienna workers’ symphony concerts every year…’ He notes some of the works that he conducted, including Schoenberg’s Friede auf Erden.

He continues, ‘Also, almost exactly this time I was appointed to give orchestral concerts for the Vienna Radio and repeatedly worked abroad as a conductor… With the political changes in Austria after 1934, all this came to an end for me. Since then I have lived, just as I originally wanted to, exclusively in relation to teaching. Of my students, Ludwig Zenk in particular has already made a name for himself as a composer.’

Webern then moves on to address his compositional output, noting, ‘Unfortunately, there is currently no complete list of my work that can be sent… So I have to decide to list them here.’ He then lists all of his works in order from Opus 12 to 28, followed by a list of pieces by other composers the he has edited. He concludes the letter by suggesting that any further queries are directed to Erwin Stein at Boosey and Hawkes, and signs off hoping that his correspondent’s ‘wishes have been fulfilled’.

Letters by Webern are quite rare to the market. This one provides comprehensive details about his career. It also includes an interesting reference to the ‘political changes in Austria after 1934’, and how after that, ‘all this came to an end for me’. A curious comment given the speculation about to the extent to which Webern supported, or at the very least displayed a passive attitude, to the Nazi era. He is also known to have have visited Jewish colleagues, including the David Bach mentioned in this letter, to show his support following Kristallnacht. Ultimately, it had been his intention to leave Austria in 1945.

In very fine condition. Together with the original hand-addressed envelope by Webern.