Im Sommerwind

Anton Webern

Im Sommerwind

About this work

Im Sommerwind, an "idyll" for large orchestra composed in 1904, is not the very first Anton Webern orchestral piece, as some lists of works and just as many authors seem to indicate. 1903 and 1904 saw the issue of six small items for orchestra (some for full, some just for strings, some more finished than others), items that go by the rather generic title Movement today. But Im Sommerwind was Webern's most ambitious project to date, orchestral and otherwise: except for the above-mentioned Movements, Webern's pre-1904 work consists almost wholly of short songs for voice and piano. The degree to which the ambition that fueled its composition was realized, artistically speaking, is open to some debate. Im Sommerwind was never performed during Webern's lifetime, not for lack of opportunity, but because Webern decided that it, like the rest of the pieces composed before the Passacaglia, Op. 1 (1908), was not worthy of performance. The piece seems, on the other hand, to really have meant something to Webern, and as an effusive imitation of late-Romantic tone-poem style it is not altogether unimpressive. Webern didn't, at any rate, destroy the manuscript, which was unearthed in the post-War years and tidied up for a world premiere performance by Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1962.

The generic but velvety late-Romantic manner of Im Sommerwind is, then, something almost unique in Webern's catalog. Most the songs written between 1899 and 1904 have significantly more "bite" to them -- an individual, if largely untrained and somewhat clumsy Webern is to be heard. By contrast, Webern is obviously standing on the shoulders of the nearest available musical giant -- Richard Strauss -- in Im Sommerwind, very probably because the lush orchestral idiom he felt called to draw upon was a fairly new and unfamiliar one to him. As it happened, the idiom would never grow more familiar to him, save through other composer's works -- when Schoenberg, with whom Webern studied from late 1904 on, began to summarily dismiss everything Strauss and Strauss-like, Webern was not far behind.

Im Sommerwind, idyll though it be called, is in fact a tone poem; its model is a poem of the same name by Bruno Wille. The work lasts around 12 or 13 minutes, and is scored for a fairly sizeable orchestra: 13 woodwind players, six horns, a pair of trumpets (but no trombones), percussion, two harps, and, of course, strings.

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