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It is with Four Pieces for violin and piano op. 7 that Anton Webern began his experiments on extreme concentration of form and sound material he then continued in his later opuses, such as his Six Bagatelles for string quartet op. 9 or Five Pieces for orchestra op. 10. Their style, usually defined as aphoristic, was quite unheard-of in the music of earlier epochs, since some of the pieces lasted for less than ten bars or less than a minute.
The cycle of Four pieces op. 7 has been symmetrically constituted in contrasts of tempo, dynamics, and expressive character. The odd pieces are maintained in very slow tempo and subdued dynamics; this is the case in No. 3, for instance, where a triple pianissimo comes with an additional comment of “kaum hörbar” (barely audible). The use, in both these pieces, of a mute, and the special articulation achieved by playing with the wood of the bow, make the violin sound peculiarly ethereal. In the rapid Nos. 2 and 4, the full dynamic scale is used, with abrupt changes; instrumental texture is highly differentiated and the nervous and broken narration clearly exhibits expressionist features. No. 4 begins with a dramatic violin motif in fortissimo, which dwindles after a sudden arrest after only two bars. In the finale, a semiquaver violin figure, falling from a high register, is played at the soundpost, in a murmur-like whisper, or ”wie ein Hauch,” as indicated by the composer. It brings to mind Schönberg’s well-known dictum of a novel expressed in a single sigh.
Four Pieces op. 7 were created in 1910. The first was published in March 1912 in a supplement to Der Ruf, an irregular magazine published by an academic literary and musical association. It was the first piece by Webern ever printed.