Dissertation Index

Author: Mullin, Carolyn D.

Title: Global Coherence in Selected Atonal Works of Anton Webern

Institution: University of Oregon

Begun: unspecified

Completed: June 2005


This study examines entire works from Anton Webern's atonal oeuvre (1908-1914) to show how global coherence is achieved through the notion of process. Talking about 'process' is a way of talking about music as it unfolds over time, as it happens dynamically, and it also takes into consideration how the composer thought about coherence. In a 1932 lecture Webern describes unity as “how one thing leads to another.” With this in mind, this study describes how coherence is expressed both within movements and through an entire work in Webern's Six Bagatelles for String Quartet (1911-1913), Cello Sonata (1914), and Three Short Pieces for Violoncello and Piano (1914).

The harmonic structure plays an important unifying role in each piece. However, Webern expresses coherence in several other ways as well, described analytically as contour-space segments, pitch interval successions, and rhythm (including duration successions and duration-space successions). These prove useful in reinforcing assertions I make regarding formal structure and descriptions about overarching processes that contribute to global coherence.

A process that I call 'focusing' is one way in which Webern expresses global coherence over an entire work. In general, a process of focusing involves musical materials being unclear or only suggested at the beginning of a piece, then being clarified or realized in the middle, and finally focused into their bare essentials by the end. As a result, a coherent progression can unfold across a piece in different ways. Conversely, this process can also progress in the opposite direction. In addition, there is evidence of nascent serial technique as expressed through rhythm, contour, and harmony.

My interpretations of three of Webern's late atonal compositions offer a different analytic perspective--adding another 'piece to the puzzle' of our understanding of Webern's atonal music. By examining the processes that contribute to global coherence in Three Short Pieces Op. 11, Cello Sonata, and Six Bagatelles Op. 9, we can provide a thorough picture of how Webern creates unifying structures across an entire work. Indeed, the kinds of coherence displayed by Webern's pieces closely match concepts that many attribute to his teacher, Arnold Schoenberg. This helps us to understand the Second Viennese School itself as a coherent development.

Keywords: global coherence, process, Op. 11, Op. 9, Cello Sonata, Webern




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