Thursday, June 23, 2016

Webern's Use of Pointillism

This week, Clef Notes is looking at pointillism and how it appears in both art and music. Last time, we looked at Georges Seurat’s famous pointillist painting A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. Today, let’s listen to Anton Webern’s (1883–1945) Symphony, Op. 21, which shows how pointillism is used in composition.

Anton Webern
Courtesy of 
A student of Arnold Schoenberg, Webern was known to use the 12-tone method in his work. He was a firm believer that composers worked as researchers, discovering new ideas and ways to compose. Believing that the best art only does what is necessary, many of his works are quite concise, without the lush elaboration found in music of the Romantic era. His Five Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 10, No. 4, for instance, is only six measures long!

Some of Webern’s work is considered to use pointillism. Like the dots on the artist’s canvas, pointillism in music uses only one to four notes at a time, sounding like pitch points to the ear. The only way to truly understand this is to listen to an example.

Webern’s Symphony, Op. 21 above is quite interesting in that, not only do we hear pointillism, but in the first movement alone we also witness a double canon in inversion and palindromes!

Next week, we will wrap up our month on music and art by looking at post-modernism. Stay tuned! 

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