Sechs Stücke für grosses Orchester (‘Six Pieces for Large Orchestra’), Op. 6

The mature musical language of Anton Webern (1883–1945) owed much to Schoenberg’s explorations in chromaticism and atonality, adapted to his own highly expressive and refined sense of sound, texture and gesture.  The Sechs Stücke für grosses Orchester Op.6 were composed in 1909 as a memorial to Webern’s mother, who had died in 1906.  The work is scored for a very large orchestra, with 4 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 English horns, 3 clarinets, 2 bass clarinets, 2 bassoons, 6 horns, 6 trumpets, 6 trombones, bass tuba, 2 harps, celeste,  percussion (including 3 timpani) and strings, but these forces are used sparingly. 

In common with much of Webern’s output, each piece is conceived on a miniature scale, with extremes of dynamics, texture and rhythm.  The longest piece in the set (IV) is 41 bars in length, while the shortest (III) consists of only 11 bars of music.  The fourth piece (‘Marcia funebre’) in particular reflects Webern’s devotion to the music of Gustav Mahler and represents in a greatly compressed form the expressive gestures of a Mahlerian funeral march. 

The work was first performed at the Musikverein in Vienna on 31 March 1913 (the first printing of the flyer gives the date as 30 March) alongside pieces by Schoenberg, Zemlinsky, Mahler and Berg, in a concert that had to be abandoned in the face of public uproar.  It was first published privately under Webern’s own imprint in 1913. 

Webern later arranged the work for chamber ensemble (flute, oboe, clarinet, string quintet, percussion, harmonium and piano) for performance in 1921 by the ‘Society for Private Performance’, a concert series founded by Schoenberg that was dedicated to the performance of contemporary music in the best possible conditions, with optimum rehearsal time.  In 1928, Webern also produced a version with reduced orchestration, which was first published by Universal Edition in 1956.

Anton Webern

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