Im Sommerwind: The Surprisingly Tonal Tone Poem by Anton Webern

Aug 22, 2017

Austrian composer Anton Webern became famous as a member of the "Second Viennese School," known for writing atonal music. But, as WRTI’s Susan Lewis reports, an early work—officially premiered decades after Webern’s death—shows another side to the 20th-century modernist.

Webern's tone poem, 'Im Sommerwind,' was composed in 1904 with his childhood home, The Preglhof, in mind. His father sold the country estate in 1912.

Radio script: 

MUSIC:  Webern: Variations for Orchestra

If you want to go further without the normal sense of tonality and harmony, you have to master tonality.

Susan Lewis: Webern’s Variations for Orchestra, which premiered in 1943, is an example of the kind of spare, atonal music for which the composer became famous. But Webern began his career as a musicologist with a degree in Renaissance music.  And in 1904, the year before he started his studies with Arnold Schoenberg, he wrote the lush, very tonal tone poem, Im Sommerwind, which was never performed during his lifetime.

MUSIC:  Webern's Im Sommerwind, The Philadelphia Orchestra with Yannick Nézet-Séguin

Yannick Nézet-Séguin: He never heard it...It was more like an exercise of youth.

SL: Philadelphia Orchestra Music Director Yannick Nezet-Seguin

YNS:  The interesting thing was—he was very proud of this piece, and always showed it to students to say, listen, if you want to go further without the normal sense of tonality and harmony, you have to master tonality. And this was an example of him mastering it before turning 180 degrees different.

SL: Webern died in 1945; the score was discovered in 1961 among belongings that had passed to his daughter. The next year, it was premiered at the First International Webern Festival by Eugene Ormandy and The Philadelphia Orchestra.