Waart, Edo de. 56 Wachmann, Eduard 56

Weber, Ben (William Jennings Bryan)

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Weber, Ben (William Jennings Bryan)

(b St Louis, 23 July 1916; d New York, 16 June 1979). American composer. His only musical training consisted of piano and singing lessons (the latter during his time at DePaul University, where he briefly studied medicine); as a composer he was self-taught. His early pieces were performed by a circle of composers in Chicago that included Perle; in 1945 he moved to New York, where his works began to be played frequently. A superlative copyist, from 1946 he supported himself by copying for Thomson and Schnabel, among others. For many years he was active in the ISCM and ACA, of which he was elected president in 1959. His music was highly regarded by such composers as Copland, Thomson, Carter, Cage, Babbitt and Diamond, and his honours included two Guggenheim fellowships (1950, 1953), an award and citation from the National Institute of Arts and Letters (1960), two awards from the Fromm Foundation, and the first Phoebe Ketchum Thorne Music Fund Award (1965–8). He was one of two American representatives to the Convegno Musicale in Rome in 1954, and was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1971. His Piano Concerto, first performed on 24 March 1961 by Masselos and the New York PO under Bernstein, was commissioned by the Ford Foundation.

From 1938 Weber used 12-note techniques to create music at once piquant and transcendental. His piano and violin music is cast in a virtuoso Romantic style, and a dark wit flashes through such chamber works as the Consort of Winds and the Serenade. All his music has a vocal quality that reflects his training as a singer and is most in evidence in the Concert Aria after Solomon, the Symphony on Poems of William Blake, and the Three Songs. Weber often composed works as gifts to friends: the Webernian Five Pieces op.13 began a series of works for the cellist Seymour Barab that continued throughout Weber's life; the Piano Fantasy and Three Pieces as well as the Piano Concerto were composed for Masselos; and the Violin Concerto and Dramatic Piece for Joseph Fuchs.

An inventive, magnetic, witty man, Weber was a polymath whose interests ranged from philosophy and the natural sciences to gourmet cooking. His musical tastes favoured German and French music up to 1930, and his aesthetic was exemplified by his heroes Busoni, Schoenberg and Schnabel. Excerpts from Weber's memoir, How I Took 63 Years to Commit Suicide (written in 1979), were published in the Brooklyn Literary Review (ii, 1981).



Piece for Ob and Orch, op.22, 1943–4; Sinfonia, vc, orch, 1945–6, arr. vc, pf; 2 Pieces, str orch, op.34, 1950; Vn Conc., op.41, 1954; Prelude and Passacaglia, op.42, 1954; Rhapsodie concertante, op.47, va, small orch, 1957; Pf Conc., op.52, 1961; Dolmen, op.58, wind, str, 1964; Dramatic Piece, op.61, vn, orch, 1970; Sinfonia Clarion, op.62, small orch, 1973


Intermezzo, op.1/1, cl, pf, ?1935–6; 2 pieces, op.1/2–3, cl, pf, 1939; Pastorale, op.3, wind qnt, 1939; Scherzino, op.3a, wind qt, 1939; Vn Sonata no.1, op.5, 1939; Fantasie, op.4, vn, pf [orig. op.9], 1939–40, rev. with Pastorale, 1941; Lyric Piece, op.7, str qt, 1940; Variations, op.11, cl, vn, vc, pf, 1941; Concertino, op.11a, cl, vn, vc, 1941; Str Qt, op.12, 1942; 5 Pieces, op.13, vc, pf, 1941; Divertimento, op.14, 2 vc, 1941

Vn Sonata no.2, op.16, 1942, rev. 1943; Rhapsodie, op.17, vc, wind qnt, 1942; Ballade, vc, pf, 1943, orchd as op.18, 1945; Pf Trio, op.19, inc.; Ob Qnt, op.22, destroyed; The Pool of Darkness, op.26, fl, tpt, bn, vn, vc, pf, 1939; Dance, op.28, vc, 1948; Sonata da camera, op.30, vn, pf, 1950; Dance no.2, op.31, vc, 1949; Conc., op.32, pf, vc, wind qnt, 1950; Str Qt no.2, op.35, 1951; Colloquy, op.37, 2 tpt, 2 hn, 2 trbn, tuba, 1955

Serenade, op.39 (hpd, fl, ob, vc)/(hpd, vn, va, vc), ?1953; Concertino, op.45, fl, ob, cl, str qt, 1956; Serenade, op.46, str qt, db, 1956; Str Qt no.3, op.50, 1959, inc.; Chamber fantasie, op.51, 2 cl, b cl, hp, vn, 2 vc, db, 1959; Duo, cl, vc, 1960; Prelude and Nocturne, op.55, fl, cel, vc, 1965; Consort of Winds, op.66, wind qnt, 1974; Capriccio, op.67, vc, pf, 1977


8 Songs (Weber, R.H. Rilke, R. Browning and others), op.6, 1v, pf, 1935–40; Song of the Idiot (Rilke), S, orch, 1941; 5 Songs (A. Crapsey), op.15, S, pf, 1941; [untitled] song (F. Ilmer), op.20, 1v, pf, 1944; Concert Aria after Solomon (Bible: Song of Solomon), op.29, S, fl, ob, cl, hn, bn, vn, vc, pf, 1949; Sym. on Poems of William Blake, op.33, Bar, chbr orch, 1950; 4 Songs (E. Pound, Emperor Hadrian, Euenus, Bhasa), op.40, S/T, vc; Ah, dear heart (madrigal, J. Donne), op.43/1, SATB; Sonnet to Orpheus (Rilke), op.43/2, SATB, 1949; [untitled] song (F. O'Hara), op.44, 1v, pf, 1955; 3 Songs (S. George, Rilke, R. Dehuel), op.48, S, str qt/str orch, 1958; 2 Songs (J, Dowland, Decimus Magnus Ansonius) op.53; The Ways (song cycle, P. Hanson), S/T, pf, op.54, 1961; A bird came down the walk (E. Dickinson), op.57, S, pf, 1963; 4 Songs, op.59, 1966; Fugue and Finale (J.W. von Goethe: Der Zauberlehrling), op.60, S, 2 vn, tpt, 2 bn, 2 hp; 2 Songs (J. Mayhall), op.63, medium v, pf, 1972


5 Bagatelles, op.2, pf, 1939; Pf Suite, op.8, 1940–41; 3 Pieces, op.23, pf; Fantasy (Variations), op.25, pf, 1946; Episodes, op.26a, pf, rev. 1957; Pf Suite no.2, op.27, 1948; Stoplight, op.28a, pf; Closing Piece, op.36, org, 1951; Ballade, op.38, 2 pf, inc.; Little Pf Piece, op.40a; New Adventures, op.44a, pf, 1956; Humoresque, op.49, pf, 1958; Suite, op.56, pf 4 hands, 1964; Pf Sonata, 1970, inc.; Intermezzo, op.64, pf, 1972; Variazioni quasi una fantasia, op.65, hpd, 1974; Ciaconna, Capriccio, op.68, pf, 1979, inc.; Partita, hpd, inc.


Orchestrations of works by other composers

Many other frags. and inc., withdrawn and destroyed works


MSS in US-Wc

Principal publishers: ACA, Associated, Boosey & Hawkes, Gould, Marks, Merion, New Music Edition



F. O'Hara: ‘About Ben Weber’, American Composers Alliance Bulletin, v/2 (1955), 3–5; list of works 5–9

J. Edmunds and G. Boelzner: Some Twentieth Century American Composers: a Selective Bibliography, ii (New York, 1960)

Compositores de América/Composers of the Americas, ed. Pan American Union, ix (Washington DC, 1963), 180–87

M. Babbitt: ‘Ben Weber (1919[sic]–79)’, PNM, xvii/2 (1978–9), 11–13

B. Weber: ‘A Memory of Chester Kallman’, Brooklyn College Alumni Literary Review, ii (1981–2), 50–56

N. Rorem: ‘Thinking of Ben’, Setting the Tone (New York, 1983), 153–9


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