I discovered Webern’s music as I entered into juvenility. I was about 12 years old —maybe 13— and his music represented a loss of innocence for me, a peering into not just adulthood or maturity, but also into a developmental stage where the rational ceased to exist —or ceased to be of significance. Temporality existed in Webern, but not as regular pulsations or as carefully metered out divisions and mensurations; while there was a deliberation to Webern’s music on a microcellular level, the bodily sensations his compositions invoked in me were abstract —both angular and obtuse emotional responses and non-responses to carefully crafted and executed musical ideations.
Frank Zappa once remarked that he could not believe anybody would ever attempt to write music like Webern's. My own impression was similar upon hearing the marcia funebre from his Opus 6. The material was quiet and lyrical but also emotionally muted. The opening bass drum rumble and the hypnotic urgency of the bells sounded almost like something from an alien culture out of science fiction. The delicate melodic fragments played by the woodwinds were light years ahead of what I later discovered Stravinsky to have composed during the same year in The Firebird. The movement’s culmination in a crescendo of percussion instruments —cymbal, bass drum, timpani— aesthetically traumatized me at the time and left me cold. All I could imagine were the tragedies and atrocities of the 20th century, almost as if Webern, who had written this piece in 1909, had somehow prophesied the wars and the cultural and technological revolutions that would lead to the decay of the late-20th century of my own childhood and adolescence.
One might say that Webern’s marcia funebre was the soundtrack to my growing awareness of the actuality of American culture at the time —a culture obsessed with its own illusory processes of intoxication, collapse and extinction— a culture which I have ultimately failed to come to any terms of reconciliation with as both an artist and composer.