On several occasions in the midcentury United States, the music of Anton Webern was reimagined as music for children. In 1936 conductor and musicologist Nicolas Slonimsky published the score of Webern’s op. 10/4 on the children’s page of the Christian Science Monitor. In 1958 Webern’s op. 6/3 was featured in a New York Philharmonic Young People’s Concert, the first conducted by Leonard Bernstein. Eight years later, Webern’s Kinderstück (Children’s Piece) received its posthumous premiere at Lincoln Center, performed by a nine-year-old pianist. In each case children served as a marker of accessibility, meant to render Webern’s music more palatable to adult audiences; thus was Webern’s music subsumed within the middlebrow circulation of classical music. Although recent scholarship has considered the intersections between modernist music and middlebrow culture, Webern’s music has remained absent from these discussions. Indeed, Webern’s terse, abstract, and severe compositions might at first appear ill suited to middlebrow contexts. Yet, as these three historical moments make clear, children served as a potent rhetorical force that could be used to market even this music to a broad audience of adults.
Modernist Music for Children: Three Sketches of Anton Webern in the Midcentury United States
David H. Miller recently completed a PhD in musicology at Cornell University, with a dissertation on the reception of the music of Anton Webern in the United States. Beginning in 2021, he will serve as Assistant Professor of Practice at the University of California, Berkeley. In addition to his academic work, David is an accomplished performer of early bowed bass instruments.
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David H. Miller; Modernist Music for Children: Three Sketches of Anton Webern in the Midcentury United States. Journal of Musicology 7 October 2020; 37 (4): 488–517. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/jm.2020.37.4.488
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