The Hills Are Alive with the Sound of Webern: Im Sommerwind

The Hills Are Alive with the Sound of Webern: Im Sommerwind

On March 26, 28, and 29, conductor Matthias Pintscher and pianist Cédric Tiberghien team up for Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20, an eclectic program of works by Mozart, Debussy, and Webern. In this post, discover Webern’s Im Sommerwind (In the Summer Wind), a lush orchestral tone poem inspired by the glories of the Austrian landscape.

The scion of an old but minor Austrian noble family, Anton von Webern (as he was known before 1918) showed an early interest in music and played piano and cello. Despite his father’s desire for him to study agriculture, Webern pursued music history at university in Vienna. At 21, he composed Im Sommerwind (In the Summer Wind) while staying at his family’s estate in Carinthia. The work was inspired by both his idyllic surroundings and a poem of the same name by Bruno Wille, a contemporary German writer and philosopher. Wille’s rhapsodic verse revels in the beauties of an alpine landscape, extolling its power to heal the soul. Webern’s music unfolds in waves that roughly correspond to the stanzas of the poem:

Stylistically, it shows the influence of composers such as Wagner, Strauss, and Mahler (The first movement of Mahler’s First Symphony comes to mind). Careful listeners may notice a web of leitmotifs that develop throughout the piece: a high violin melody emerges after the atmospheric introduction and seems linked with “the mild summer air”; soon after, a solo oboe introduces another motif, “a smile on the free, sunny world.” The music builds to a powerful climactic passage: “O you rushing, roaring wind! Like the thirst for freedom, like an organ choir, you rush around my thirsty ear […]” The piece ends by fading away, finding “Peace, peace in the lark song, in the waves of wind, in the waves of grass! Unending calm in heaven’s expanse!”

Here is a rough prose translation of Wille’s poem:

In the Summer Wind

The mild summer air sways. Juniper bushes, blackberry tendrils and eagle ferns nod and tremble. The shaggy pine heads sway; fawn-brown branches creak. From her delicate, slender, light green wombs, descends the resinous scent, and the soft air flows as if deafened.

Suddenly there is a smile on the free sunny world: afar the blinding blue of the sky; afar bright clouds; afar the fields of wheat and green, green meadows … here at the border of the pine forest, I want to linger, I want to look under a delicate acacia tree that shakes sweet clusters of flowers jostled by the awakened wind.

O rye blades bent back and forth! How softly they whisper, how they waved endlessly to the blue blur in the distance! Already bending and bearing seeds much more silver-green. Others bloom, fragrant like fresh bread. Between glowing poppies, flame red with dark blue cyan …

And up there, blue clouds churn through the light like mountains, half golden and half gray. The Sun sends her rays of silver silk down to earth; then she emerges again from snowy cloud cover with dazzling limbs, sparkling and scattering coruscating golden glitter on meadows where forget-me-nots and yellow ranunculus and brick-red sorrel bloom…

O you rushing, roaring wind! Like thirst for freedom, like organ choir, you roar around my thirsty ear; you cool my head, wash around my clothing, like the foaming surf on the rocky coast. O you swirling, billowing wind! Now you ebb, so soft, so mild a whisper, gently fanning me. Did the sun’s smile knit you? Your whisper also dies; then quiet silence. Only the cricket still chirps in the alder bushes, where the water dreams, surrounded by yellow lilies. Lost in the blue, the lark fervently whirs with delight to the clouds and sun and sings and sings.

That makes me light, as light as a feather; the dull old fear gives way. All my restlessness, all confused thoughts have drowned in the lark song, in the sweet sea of ​​jubilation. Sunken is the rabble of humanity; entombed is the dross, buried deep behind a blue hill, where swing the busy mill’s swift wings…

Peace, peace in the lark song, in the waves of wind, in the waves of grass! Unending calm in heaven’s expanse!

Do you know, pondering soul, what makes you happy? Unending calm! Now you have awoken to clear, joyful wisdom. Yesterday a worm was eating your heart, and today your free heart laughs in the summer storm …

Peace, peace in the lark song, in the waves of wind, in the waves of grass! Unending calm in heaven’s expanse!

—Calvin Dotsey

Don’t miss Webern’s Im Sommerwind March 26, 28, and 29! Learn more and get tickets.


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