As a part of the pioneering Second Viennese School and later an ideal for the postwar modernists, Anton Webern (1883-1945) is essential in modernist tradition. However, the established perception of Webern as a groundbreaking, hardcore avant-gardist seems to be in significant contrast to Webern's own view of himself and his peers as the natural evolutionary continuation of the grand Austro-German music tradition. Webern's vocal music is of particular interest in this matter, as he wrote radically new music and developed an increasingly stringent twelve-tone technique, while setting his songs to Romantic, enigmatic and folkloristic poems.
Layered vocal music
Already on the compositional level, then, Webern's vocal music is layered with different expressions of musical meaning and meticulously developed aesthetic ideals, and it is surrounded by passionate views on what music must and must not be. Webern and his Second Viennese fellows struggled with an audience that labelled their music inaccessible and alienating, labels that cling to musical Modernism to this day.
Questions to be explored
The core of this project are the following underexplored questions: How does it all sound? How do all these aesthetic contradictions and layers of meaning come into play when Webern's vocal music is being performed? What role does performance play in the perception of accessibility and musical meaning? How do different singers balance the relationship between music that is atonal, angular and seemingly unintuitive, with traditional texts and poems?
These questions will be explored through the theoretical frameworks of musical performativity. What does it mean to view music as performance, as Nicholas Cook has been prompting for almost two decades? How should one go about analyzing musical performance? And what is the role of the written score in such an analysis?