In his late compositions Webern exhibited a predilection for many types of cyclic organization, involving intervals, motives, contours, and twelve-tone rows; in particular, cyclic row organization provided Webern a means of serial structure beyond the row. Much as the twelve-tone principle produces an ordering of pitch classes that lies behind small formal units, cycles order the presentation of twelve-tone rows and give structure to large formal spans. The present study explores four cyclic organizational principles in works from the String Quartet, op. 28 (1938), to the Second Cantata, op. 31 (1943): (1) the structural composition of complete cycles, including their length, the segmental invariances they produce, and their interaction with Hildegard Jone’s texts; (2) the primitives, potentialities, and surface articulations of aligned cycles, both synchronous and asynchronous; (3) the close relationship of row cycles and retrograde inversional symmetry; and (4) cycles that produce cyclic row areas. The article closes with an extended analysis that ties Webern’s late cyclic practice to his broader organicist views of nature, finding a match in cyclic composition for the often ungraspable but omnipotent laws that Webern imagined in the world around him.
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Research Article| October 01 2018
Cycles in Webern’s Late Music
Journal of Music Theory (2018) 62 (2): 165–204.
Brian Moseley; Cycles in Webern’s Late Music. Journal of Music Theory 1 October 2018; 62 (2): 165–204. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00222909-7127658
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