“The Riddle” about the Centre in the Fifth Movement of Anton Webern’s Cantata op. 31

Larisa L. Gerver


The article presents an analytical commentary of Anton Webern’s elucidation of the form in Freundselig ist das Wort (the fifth movement of his Cantata opus 31): “In the centre are the words: ‘Weil er am Kreuz verstummte <...>” (from a letter to Hildegard Jone dated 25 July, 1942). Although the boundaries of the phrase about the Cross are clearly marked by double barlines in the musical score, it is not easy to understand exactly what Webern meant. Kathryn Bailey, the author of an article about the Cantata Opus 31 and a book about Webern’s serial works, has labeled his statement about the centre as “somewhat imprecise to say the least” and the bars encompassing it “a riddle.” Responding to these evaluations and drawing on Bailey’s research — primarily, the signs of the central symmetry in the serial canon Freundselig ist das Wort demonstrated by her — the author of this article offers her own version of the solution to the question of the centre.

An analysis from the position of metrotectonicism shows that, first, the phrase about the Cross does not present the centre in a strict sense, although it is located at the centre of the five sections of Freundselig ist das Wort, and, second, that a compositional centre does, indeed, exist here. This is demonstrated by the peculiarly shaped ending to the phrase about the Cross, which corresponds to the notion of a “central cadence,” which, according to Georgy Konyus, is “a sort of knot binding the identical or similar constructions placed on either side of it,” and is situated at an equal distance from the beginning and final points of the form.

Keywords: Anton Webern, Cantata op. 31, centre, Georgy Konyus, metrotectonism, central cadence

For citation: Gerver L.L. “The Riddle” about the Centre in the Fifth Movement of Anton Webern’s Cantata op. 31 [Electronic source]. In: Sovremennye problemy muzykoznaniya / Contemporary Musicology, 2023, № 2, pp. 95–115. DOI: 10.56620/2587-9731-2023-2-095-115


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DOI: https://doi.org/10.56620/2587-9731-2023-2-095-115

Copyright (c) 2023 Larisa L. Gerver

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