Music: A Revolution in a Whisper

Anton Webern expanded the modem idiom by shrinking it

No more unlikely mountaineer could be imagined. Slight, sedentary, intensely fastidious, bored by hiking, Anton Webern nevertheless trudged determinedly up the alpine slopes of his native Austria. ''From time to time,'' he explained to his friend Alban Berg, ''I must breathe this air. Transparent, clear, pure—the heights.''

For Webern, one of the great innovators of the 20th century, this was a spiritual matter. In every vista he saw a creative idea logically developed. The merest wild flower reminded him of Goethe's ''primeval plant,'' symbol of...

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