A composer's children; Text and picture from "Anton von Webern: A Chronicle of His Life and Work," by Hans Moldenhauer and Rosaleen Moldenhauer, published in 1979 by Alfred A. Knoph, New York.
Webern's display of affection towards his four children was pronounced. Although his attention was bestowed equally on all of them, the first-born, Amalie, was his favourite. She was the only one to finish the Gymnasium and enter the University. With fatherly pride, Webern recorded in his diary her achievements during the final Gymnasium examinations, which she passed "with brilliant succes." He listed every grade in her closing report card, underscoring the best marks. he noted each party with which the graduates celebrated the end of their school days. The various stations of the journey to Holland taken by the class as a group, were enumerated as if he himself had made the trip. Always including family news in his letters to Schoenberg, Webern reported on 1 July 1930: "Mali will prepare herself at the university to become a teacher of gymnastics and sports (secondary subject English). For four years: gymnastics, skiing, tennis, ice-skating, mountaineering, swimming, etc., in other words, everything that has always represented the 'ideal' of her father." That dream was soon dashed, however, since Webern had to record in his diary that Mali "was not accepted -- reasons were not given." To Schoenberg he speculated on 12 November that "the main reason probably was that she does not wear pigtails or 'Schwesternschuhe' [nurses' tie shoes] and the like." Amalie, then nineteen, was very attractive, vivacious, and fun-loving. Webern took pleasure in being seen with her at concerts. He beamed with delight when on one occasion she was mistaken for his wife and addressed as Frau Doktor.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Possessed by an extreme sense of orderliness, Webern was quite pedantic about every detail of his domestic life, from the arrangement of the furniture down to the placement of household utensils such as the bread basket or the water jug. His study was the inner sanctum of the apartment. It was at the end of the corridor to ensure the greatest possible quiet. Except for his wife, only Mali was permitted there, since only she was considered reliable enough to preserve her father's concept of punctilious order. According to her, the pencils lay on his desk aligned according to length and colour, and when sharpening them she had to be careful to put them back into the same position. Webern's desk, incidentally, was left unpolished. Loving things in their natural state, he enjoyed seeing the original grain of the wood.
Webern's second daughter, Maria, two years younger than Amalie, resembled her father in appearance and her mother in temperament. Like [her mother] Wilhelmine , she was very quiet and reserved. Although very intelligent, she did not pursue an academic career, but choose the profession of kindergarten teacher, specializing in gymnastics. Fond of adventure sports, she ran the white rapids of alpine streams in a kayak and ascended mountains like the Dachstein and Grossglockner. . . .
Although Webern appears to have been an indulgent, even doting father, it was he, rather than the mother, who disciplined the children. That discipline could be quite strict. For instance, in order to correct his son's slouching posture, Webern made him hold a cane across his back on their Sunday walks. . . .
Family life, from all accounts of the children, was close and idyllic. Virtually every Sunday was given over to outings and picnics in the neighbouring woods. Webern was a model father. For instance, when the children were small, he sang them to sleep with a lullaby, and for many years he read to them at bedtime. He played pranks on them and amused them with his imitation of a village band, simulating drum and trumpet. . . .
Having definite concepts of the correct interpretation of his music, the composer could not help being exasperated by any rendition diverging from his own intentions. He was convinced that if his music were correctly projected it would elicit favourable response from the audience, and he felt that it was unnecessary for the listener to have prior knowledge in order to understand his music. This belief was expressed on 14 January 1937 in a litter to Nicolas Slonimsky, who had recently published the diminutive fourth movement from the Five pieces for Orchestra, Op. 10, on the Children's Page of The Christian Science Monitor. Delighted, Webern wrote: "I am deeply touched that my music appears on the Children's Page. If only grown-ups were like children, free from prejudice against everything new!"