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The Creative Partnership of Anton Webern and Hildegard Jone: Revising a Modernist Narrative
Anton Webern is pervasively valued as a representative and agent of European musical modernism. His compositional career is commonly portrayed as a narrative from youthful beginnings in the creation of a musical avant-garde under the mentorship of Schoenberg, followed by his distinctive ventures with the twelve-tone method that carried him to maturity. Without challenging the basic outlines of the narrative, this paper asserts that it is incomplete by omitting the decisive impact of Webern’s interactions with and settings of poetry by Hildegard Jone in his late vocal works.
In these works, Webern, who had set texts by a range of well-known authors whose texts were also set by other composers, set only texts by his contemporary, Hildegard Jone, a female poet and painter who was known in Vienna at the time, but has been forgotten in the historiography of Austrian literature and marginalized in much of the scholarly literature on Webern. Webern not only selected texts from Jone’s poetry for his vocal works, but also developed a close personal alliance with the poet that was rooted in mutually held aesthetic values associated with Viennese modernism and Christian existentialism. Webern discovered features in Jone’s poetry that resonated with his artistic beliefs and his commitment to the twelve-tone method. For her part, Jone found in Webern a kindred spirit who shared her philosophical interest in the transcendent act of creation, devotional aspects of modernism, and connections between the arts.
The cherished bond between the two artists became a creative partnership that enriched the lives and artistic work of both. With a study of selections from Webern’s settings of Jone’s poetry, this paper reveals expressive synergies in terms of metaphor, imagery, and rhetoric that illuminate Webern’s sensitivity to the texts as critical resources within his twelve-tone compositional technique. The paper concludes with a reflection on the impact of this creative partnership on the narrative of Webern in the context of musical modernism.
Catherine Nolan is Professor of Music Theory and Associate Dean (Graduate Studies) at the Don Wright Faculty of Music at the University of Western Ontario. Her research interests focus on theoretical, analytical, and critical issues surrounding modernist music of the twentieth century, particularly the late music of Anton Webern, Webern’s creative partnership with poet (and painter) Hildegard Jone, and on the history and timeless expression of mathematical models in music theory. Her publications have appeared in Journal of Music Theory, Music Theory Spectrum, Music Theory Online, and Journal of Mathematics and Music, and in edited collections, including The Cambridge History of Western Music Theory and The Princeton Companion to Mathematics. Her essay on Canada’s first serial composer, John Weinzweig, appeared in Weinzweig: Essays on His Life and Music (ed. Brian Cherney and John Beckwith).