Meter in Webern’s music has posed music analysts significant challenges, and his String Quartet, Op. 28 is no exception. I identify two such difficulties. The first is found in the second movement, well-known for the bizarre, nearly ametrical texture of its scherzo; indeed, Bailey (1995) devotes half of her examination of meter in Webern’s late works to this movement. While Webern’s considerable vacillation on the metrical disposition of this movement, which Bailey documents, would suggest the importance of meter, she reluctantly concedes its arbitrary nature. I disagree. Invoking evidence from the theoretical writings of his teacher, Arnold Schoenberg (1994), and drawing analogies with Webern’s views on pitch organizations as illuminated by Shreffler (1994), I describe a view of meter that both account for the metrical difficulties this movement presents and accords with Webern’s broader aesthetics and poetics.
The second problem is found in the first movement. In the longest extant analysis by the composer of one of his works (Roman, in Moldenhauer 1979), Webern describes relations between the piece’s form and its meter; in particular, the sixteenth bar of every variation “plays a different [metrical] role each time” (Moldenhauer 1979). Nevertheless, how this is the case defies meter as conventionally conceived and handled (Huron 2006, Lerdahl and Jackendoff 1983). I examine the various roles this final bar plays in each variation, and I propose several possible explanations for what Webern had in mind, relating this to his manipulation of row-forms based on formal analysis modeled by Kathryn Bailey (1991).