The name of Anton Webern for many is synonymous with music that is not altogether easy listening. There was a time when I too discounted his music as plinky plonky, inaccessible, atonal, Emperor's new clothes style nonsense, that my father would dismiss as 'racket'.
I studied the Second Viennese School composers at university and I was never moved by any of the music that was played as examples in our lectures, to the extent that I never felt any desire to explore their music further. To me it was academically clever, but ultimately soulless.
My opinion was irrevocably changed when I became acquainted with Schoenberg's Verklärte Nacht at college, and a year or so later Berg's Violin Concerto, and Webern's Im Sommerwind.
I was delighted to play Webern's Passacaglia at St David's Hall last Friday night, along with Im Sommerwind, the work that made me think there was definitely more to the Second Viennese crew than scary serialism.
Im Sommerwind is a tone poem for a large orchestra, composed in 1904, and was Webern's first foray into writing for orchestra. Written at the end of a family holiday, inspired by a poem by Bruno Wille, this work is joyous, romantic, and full of incredibly luxuriant sounds. The influence of Mahler and Strauss, Webern's early idols, is evident throughout.
Remarkably, only four years passed between the writing of Im Sommerwind and the Passacaglia. In the interim, Webern was studying intensely with Schoenberg, and the Passacaglia was, in essence, his graduation piece - it marked the end of his formal study, and his reincarnation as a composer in the 'new' style.
He number the Passacaglia his opus 1, forever distancing himself from his earlier compositions. In fact, Webern never even heard Im Sommerwind performed - a fact that I find very sad. The work was only discovered posthumously, and its premiere was given in the 1960s.
Undoubtedly, the Passacaglia is, in many ways, a world away from the indulgent romanticism of Im Sommerwind, but in spite of the modern musical language it employs, its genesis comes from one of the oldest musical devices known. A passacaglia is a short motif (often a bass line, though not exclusively), that undergoes a process of continuous development and evolution.
I think the Passacaglia is a great introductory work to Webern's music. It is so delicately crafted, and it is orchestrated exceptionally beautifully. The thematic developments follow each other seamlessly, like the chapters of a story, or as Friday's conductor, François-Xavier Roth describes them, as a series of different rooms.
Unlike some later Webern, there is plenty for the ear to 'latch onto', and I believe this to be a very accessible work.
I think we can often be turned off by the 'idea' of a composer's work before even giving it a chance. Just in the same way some people will never try sushi because the idea of raw fish is pretty disgusting, we can sometimes miss out on a real musical gem because we have a preconceived notion of how it will sound, and how we will react to it.
I'm glad I gave the gents of the Second Viennese School a second chance - these are now works that I can't imagine not knowing.
You can catch up with this concert on BBC iPlayer Radio until Friday.