Berg, Alban (Maria Johannes)

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Berg, Alban (Maria Johannes)

Berg, Alban (Maria Johannes), greatly significant Austrian composer whose music combined classical clarity of design and highly original melodic and harmonic techniques that became historically associated with the Second Viennese School; b. Vienna, Feb. 9, 1885; d. there, Dec. 24, 1935. He played piano as a boy and composed songs without formal training. He worked as a clerk in a government office in Lower Austria; in 1904 he met Schoenberg, who became his teacher, mentor, and close friend; he remained Schoen-berg’s pupil for six years. A fellow classmate was Webern; together they initiated the radical movement known to history as the New or Second Viennese School of composition. In Nov. 1918 Schoenberg organized in Vienna the Soc. for Private Musical Performances (Verein für Musikalische Privatauffuhrungen) with the purpose of performing works unacceptable to established musical society. So as to emphasize the independence of the new organization, music critics were excluded from attendance. The society was disbanded in 1922, having accomplished its purpose. In 1925 Berg joined the membership of the newly created ISCM, which continued in an open arena the promotion of fresh musical ideas.

Berg’s early works reflected the Romantic style of Wagner, Wolf, and Mahler; typical of this period were his Three Pieces for Orch. (1913–15). As early as 1917 Berg began work on his opera Wozzeck (after the romantic play by Büchner), which was to become his masterpiece. The score represents an ingenious synthesis of Classical forms and modern techniques; it is organized as a series of purely symphonic sections in traditional Baroque forms, among them a passacaglia with 21 variations, a dance suite, and a rhapsody, all cast in a setting marked by dissonant counterpoint. Its first production at the Berlin State Opera on Dec. 14, 1925, precipitated a storm of protests and press reviews of extreme violence; a similarly critical reception was accorded to Wozzeck in Prague on Nov. 11, 1926. Undismayed, Berg and his friends responded by publishing a brochure incorporating the most vehement of these reviews so as to shame and denounce the critics. Stokowski, ever eager to defy convention, gave the first U.S. performance of Wozzeck in Philadelphia on March 19, 1931; it aroused a great deal of interest and was received with cultured equanimity. Thereafter, performances of Wozzeck multiplied in Europe, and in due time the opera became recognized as a modern masterpiece. Shortly after the completion of Wozzeck, Berg wrote a Lyric Suite for String Quartet in six movements; it was first played in Vienna by the Kolisch Quartet on Jan. 8, 1927; in 1928 Berg arranged the second, third, and fourth movements for String Orch., which were performed in Berlin on Jan. 31, 1929. Rumors of a suppressed vocal part for the sixth movement of the suite, bespeaking Berg’s secret affection for a married woman, Hanna Fuchs- Robettin, impelled Douglas M. Greene to institute a search for the original score; he discovered it in 1976 and, with the help of George Perle, decoded the vocal line in an annotated copy of the score that Berg’s widow, understandably reluctant to perpetuate her husband’s emotional aberrations, turned over to a Vienna library. The text proved to be Stefan Georg’s rendition of Baudelaire’s De Pro-fundis clamavi from Les Fleurs du mal. Indeed, Berg inserted in the score all kinds of semiotical and numero-logical clues to his affection in a sort of symbolical synthesis. The Lyric Suite with its vocal finale was performed for the first time at Abraham Goodman House, N.Y., by the Columbia String Quartet and Katherine Ciesinski, mezzo-soprano, on Nov. 1, 1979.

Berg’s second opera, Lulu (1928–35), to a libretto derived from two plays by Wedekind, was left unfinished at the time of his death; two acts and music from the Symphonische Stücke aus der Oper Lulu of 1934 were performed posthumously in Zürich on June 2, 1937. Again, Berg’s widow intervened to forestall any attempt to have the work reconstituted by another musician. However, Berg’s publishers, asserting their legal rights, commissioned Friedrich Cerha to re-create the third act from materials available in other authentic sources, or used by Berg elsewhere; the task required 12 years (1962–74) for its completion. After Berg’s widow died in 1976, several opera houses openly competed for the Cerha version of the work; the premiere of the complete opera, incorporating this version, was first presented at the Paris Opéra on Feb. 24, 1979; the first U.S. performance followed in Santa Fe, N.Mex., on July 28, 1979. As in Wozzeck, so in Lulu, Berg organized the score in a series of classical forms; but while Wozzeck was written before Schoenberg’s formulation of the method of composition in 12 tones related solely to one another, Luluwas set in full-fledged dodecaphonic techniques; even so, Berg allowed himself frequent divagations, contrary to the dodecaphonic code, into triadic tonal harmonies.

Berg’s last completed work was a Violin Concerto commissioned by Louis Krasner, who gave its first performance at the Festival of the ISCM in Barcelona on April 19, 1936. The score bears the inscription “Dem Andenken eines Engels,” the angel being the daughter of Alma Mahler and Walter Gropius who died at an early age. The work is couched in the 12-tone technique, with free and frequent interludes of passing tonality.


Opera: Wozzeck, after Büchner, op.7 (1917–22; Berlin, Dec. 14, 1925, E. Kleiber conducting); Lulu, after Wede-kind (1928–35; Acts land 2 complete, with Act 3 in short score; Acts 1 and 2, with music from the Symphonische Stücke aus der Oper Lulu [1934] to accompany the Act 3 death of Lulu, Zürich, June 2, 1937; 2nd version, with Act 3 realized by Friedrich Cerha, Paris, Feb. 24, 1979, Boulez conducting). other works: 70 Heder, including settings of Ibsen, Goethe, Rückert, Heine, Burns, and Rilke (1900–05); 7 frühe Lieder for Voice and Piano (1905–08; rev. and orchestrated 1928; Vienna, Nov. 6, 1928); Variations on an Original Theme for Piano (Vienna, Nov. 6, 1928); Piano Sonata, op.l (1907–08; Vienna, April 24, 1911; rev. 1920); 4 Lieder for Medium Voice and Piano, op.2 (1908–09; rev. 1920); String Quartet, op.3 (1910; Vienna, April 24, 1911; rev. 1924); 5 Orchesterlieder nach Ansichtskartentexten von Peter Altenberg, op.4 (1912; 2 numbers perf. in Vienna, March 31, 1913, Schoenberg conducting; first complete perf., Rome, Jan. 24, 1953, Horen-stein conducting); 4 Stücke for Clarinet and Piano, op.5 (1913; Vienna, Oct. 17, 1919); 3 Stücke for Orch., op.6. (1913–15; rev. 1929; first complete perf., Oldenburg, April 14, 1930); 3 Bruch-stückefrom Wozzeck for Soprano and Orch., op.7 (1923; Frankfurt am Main, June 11, 1924, Scherchen conducting); Kammerkonzert for Piano, Violin, and 13 Wind Instruments (the thematic material based on letter-notes in the names of Schoenberg, Webern, and Berg; 1923–25; Berlin, March 27, 1927, Scherchen conducting; its Adagio, scored for Violin, Clarinet, and Piano, was arranged in 1934); Lyrische Suite for String Quartet (1925–26; Vienna, Jan. 8, 1927, Kolisch Quartet; movements 2–4 arranged for String Orch., 1928; Berlin, Jan. 31, 1929, Horenstein conducting; with newly discovered vocal finale, N.Y., Nov. 1, 1979, Columbia String Quartet, K. Ciesinski mezzo-soprano); Der Wein, concert aria for Soprano and Orch., after Baudelaire (1929; Kònigsberg, June 4, 1930); Symphonische Stücke aus der Oper Lulu or Lulu-Symphonie (Suite), in 5 movements, with soprano soloist in no. 3, Lied der Lulu (Berlin, Nov. 30, 1934, Kleiber conducting); Violin Concerto, Dem Andenken eines En-gels (1935; Barcelona, April 19, 1936; L. Krasner soloist, Scherchen conducting); also piano arrangements of Schreker’s Der feme Klang (1911) andSchoenberg’s Gurrelieder (1912), and the last 2 movements of the String Quartet, op. 10, for Voice and Piano. He also made an arrangement for chamber ensemble of J. Strauss’s waltz Wine, Women, and Song. A historical-critical complete edition of his works began publication in Vienna in 1995.


Berg contributed articles to many contemporary music journals; also wrote analyses for Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder, Kammersymphonie, and Pelleas und Melisande.


W. Reich, A. B.: Mit B.s eigenen Schriftem und Beitra-gen von Theodor Wiesengrund-Adorno und Ernst Kfenek (Vienna, 1937); R. Leibowitz, Schoenberg et son école (Paris, 1947; Eng. tr., 1949, as Schoenberg and His School); H. Redlich, A. B.: Versuch einer Würdigung (Vienna, 1957; abr. Eng. tr., 1957, as A. B.: The Man and His Music); W. Reich, ed., A. B.: Bildnis im Wort: Selbstzeugnisse und Aussagen der Freunde (Zürich, 1959); K. Vogelsang, A. B.: Leben und Werk (Berlin, 1959); W. Reich, A. B.: Leben und Werk (Zürich, 1963; Eng. tr., 1965, as The Life and Work of A. B.); H. Berg, ed., A. B.: Briefe an seine Frau (Vienna, 1965; Eng. tr., 1971, as A. B.: Letters to His Wife); T. Adorno, A. B., der Meister des Kleinsten Übergangs (Vienna, 1968; rev. ed., 1978); G. Ploebsch, A. B.s ’’Wozzeck”: Dramaturgie und Musikalischer Auf-bau (Strasbourg, 1968); K. Schweizer, Die Sonatensatzform im Schajfen A. B.s (Stuttgart, 1970); M. Carner, A. B.: The Man and the Work (London, 1975; 2nd éd., rev, 1983); E. Hilmar, Wozzeck von A. B. (Vienna, 1975); V. Scherleiss, A. B. (Hamburg, 1975); D. Jarman, The Music of A. B. (Berkeley, 1979); K. Monson, A. B. (Boston, 1979); F. Grasberger and R. Stephan, eds., Die Werke von A. B.: Handschriftenkatalog (Vienna, 1981); R. Klein, éd., A. B. Symposion, Wien 1980: Tagungsbericht (Vienna, 1981); G. Perle, The Operas of A. B. (2 vols., Berkeley, 1981, 1985); J. Schmalfeldt, B/s Wozzeck: Harmonic Language and Dramatic Design (London, 1983); E. Berg, Der unverbesserliche Romantiker: A. B., 1885–1935 (Vienna, 1985); R. Hilmar, éd., Katalog der Schriftstücke von der Hand A. B.s, derfremdschriftlichen und gedruckten Dokumente zur Lebensgeschichte und zu seinem Werk (Vienna, 1985); P. Petersen, A. B., Wozzeck: Eine semantische Analyse unter Einbeziehung der Skizzen und Dokumente aus dem Nachlass B.s (Munich, 1985); J. Brand, C. Hailey, and D. Harris, eds., The B.- Schonberg Correspondence (N.Y., 1986); S. Rode, A. B. und Karl Kraus: Zur geistigen Biographie des Komponisten der “Lulu” (Frankfurt am Main, 1988); P. Hall, A View of B/s Lulu Through the Autograph Sources (diss., Yale Univ., 1989); D. Jarman, A. B.: “Wozzeck” (Cambridge, 1989); idem éd., The B. Companion (Boston, 1990); H.-U. Fuss, Musikalisch-dramatische Prozesse in den Opern A. B.s (Hamburg, 1991); D. Gable and R. Morgan, eds., A. B.: Historical and Analytical Perspectives (Oxford, 1991); D. Jarman, A. B.: Lulu (Cambridge, 1991); R. Lorkovi, Das Violinkonzert von A. B.: Analysen, Textkorrekturen, Interpretationen (Winterthur, 1991); A. Pople, B.: Violin Concerto (Cambridge, 1991); C. Flores, A B.: Musik als Autobiographie (Wiesbaden, 1992); A. von Massow, Halbwelt, Kultur und Natur in A. B.s “Lulu” (Stuttgart, 1992); W. Gratzer, Zur “wunderlichen Mystik” A. B.s: Eine studie (Vienna, 1993); E. Buch, Histoire d’un secret: À propos de la Suite lyrique d’A. B. (Arles, 1995); S. Morgenstern, A.B. und seine Idole: Erinnerun-gen und Briefe (Luneburg, 1995); G. Perle, ”Style and Idea” in the Lyric Suite of A. B. (Stuyvesant, N.Y., 1995); M. von Borries, A. B.’s “Drei Orchesterstücke, op.6” als ein Meisterwerk atonaler Symphonik (Weimar, 1996); P. Hall, A View of B.’s Lulu Through the Autograph Sources (Berkeley, 1996); D. Headlam, The Music of A. B. (New Haven, 1996); U. Kràmer, A. B. ais Schüler Arnold schönbergs: Quellenstudien und Analysen zum Frühwerk (Vienna, 1996); J.-P. Olive, A. B., le tissage et le sens (Paris, 1997); A. Pople, ed., The Cambridge Companion to B. (Cambridge, 1997); S. Bruhn, éd., Encrypted Messages in A. B.’s Music (N.Y., 1998); B. Simms, ed., Schenberg, B., and Webern: A Companion to the Second Viennese School (Westport, Conn., 1999).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire

Alban Berg

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Alban Berg

The Austrian composer Alban Berg (1885-1935) adopted the revolutionary twelve-tone method, but he frequently combined it with tonality.

Alban Berg, Arnold Schoenberg, and Anton Webern have often been called the second Viennese school. (The first Viennese school included those classical composers of the 18th century who wrote many of their important works in Vienna; Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven are the most outstanding representatives.) Schoenberg, the great innovator, first transcended the limitations of traditional tonality and then organized his new sounds according to the twelve-tone method.

Schoenberg's principal European disciples, Berg and Webern, followed his ideas but developed them in quite different directions. Webern pushed many of Schoenberg's innovative concepts as far as was possible in the 1940s. In fact, Schoenberg even said on one occasion, "Webern always exaggerated!" But Berg always seemed to be linking Schoenbergian techniques with those of earlier music: sometimes he used baroque or classical forms (sonata, rondo, passacaglia, fugue); at other times he quoted older compositions within the framework of the twelve-tone method (Wagner's Tristan prelude, Bach's chorale Es ist genug, a Carinthian folksong). Such links with the familiar aided in winning acceptance for Berg's music and in preparing the ear to accept even more complex contemporary styles.

Berg was born on Feb. 9, 1885, in Vienna. His father was an export salesman; his mother the daughter of a court jeweler. At the age of 14 Berg began to develop an intense interest in music, and the following year he composed his first songs. He neglected his school studies and failed in his matriculation examinations. Sinking into a profound depression, which was intensified by an unhappy love affair, he attempted suicide in the fall of 1903. He overcame this spiritual crisis, and after his graduation in 1904 he took the job of unpaid accountant in a government office.

A decisive change in Berg's life soon took place. His brother, who had read one of Schoenberg's newspaper advertisements as teacher of theory and composition, secretly took some of Alban's songs to Schoenberg. Impressed with the talent they revealed, Schoenberg invited Berg to become his pupil, at first without fee, later at modest cost. Compositions written during the period of study with Schoenberg include the Seven Early Songs (1905-1907), the Piano Sonata, Op. 1 (1908), the Four Songs, Op. 2 (1908-1909), and the String Quartet, Op. 3 (completed in 1910). Berg married Helene Nahowska in 1911. The World War I years were difficult for Berg. At first enthusiastic about his military service, he soon suffered a physical breakdown caused largely by asthma, which had tormented him for years. He was transferred to office work in the Ministry of War and remained there until the war's end.

The Opera Wozzeck

Berg completed his first opera, Wozzeck, in 1921. He arranged his own libretto from a play by Georg Büchner. There are three acts of five scenes each. In Act I the protagonist is shown in his relation to the world around him; in Act II the drama develops; in Act III the catastrophe occurs, followed by an epilogue. Each act consists of a series of strict musical forms. The first act is composed of five character pieces; the second is a five movement symphony; and the third is made up of six "inventions" (the extra section being an elaborate orchestral interlude between the fourth and fifth scenes).

However, Berg did not want these forms to be obvious to the listener. He stated, "From the moment when the curtain rises until it descends for the last time there must not be anyone in the audience who notices anything of these various fugues and inventions, suite movements and sonata movements, variations and passacaglias. Nobody must be filled with anything else except the idea of the opera— which goes far beyond the fate of Wozzeck. And that—so I believe—I have achieved!" The continuing success of Wozzeck since its premiere in Berlin in 1925 proved that Berg was right.

Later Works

In the last 10 years of his life Berg turned to the twelvetone method. Works employing this method include the Chamber Concerto for violin, piano, and wind instruments (1923-1925); the Lyric Suite for string quartet (1925-1926); Der Wein, a concert aria for soprano and orchestra (1929; text by Baudelaire in the German translation of Stefan George); Lulu, a three-act opera (1928-1935; text by Frank Wedekind, last act unfinished); and the Violin Concerto (1935). In these compositions the twelve-tone method is treated in a free and personal manner. The Chamber Concerto is preceded by a musical motto including the letters of Schoenberg's, Berg's, and Webern's full names, insofar as these can be translated into musical notation. In the Lyric Suite strict twelve-tone movements alternate with those in which the tonal material is more freely treated. The Violin Concerto has a tone row made up almost entirely of triads, a procedure that most twelve-tone composers avoided.

Early in 1935 the American violinist Louis Krasner commissioned Berg to write a violin concerto. While he was thinking about the form the work should take, a tragedy occurred in his intimate circle: the death of Manon Gropius, the 19-year-old daughter of Alma Mahler. Berg quickly composed the concerto as a tribute to her memory. It was completed on Aug. 11, 1935. Ironically, it became his farewell to life. An insect bite led to general blood poisoning. On Dec. 24, 1935, he died, his thoughts preoccupied to the last with his unfinished opera Lulu.

Further Reading

Two good biographies of Berg are H. F. Redlich, Alban Berg: The Man and His Music (1957), and Willi Reich, The Life and Work of Alban Berg (1963; trans. 1965). Both contain important selections from Berg's writings. René Leibowitz, Schoenberg and His School (1947; trans. 1949; repr. 1970), has a section on Berg. Leibowitz is not always accurate in details, but he communicates his appreciation for Schoenberg and his followers.

Additional Sources

Carner, Mosco., Alban Berg: the man and the work, London: Duckworth, 1975; New York: Holmes & Meier Publishers, 1977, 1975, 1983.

Monson, Karen., Alban Berg, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1979.

Neighbour, O. W. (Oliver Wray), The New Grove Second Viennese School: Schoenberg, Webern, Berg, New York: Norton, 1983.

Reich, Willi, The life and work of Alban Berg, New York: DaCapo Press, 1981.

Simms, Bryan R., Alban Berg: a guide to research, New York: Garland Pub., 1996. □

Berg, Alban (Maria Johannes)

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Berg, Alban (Maria Johannes) (b Vienna, 1885; d Vienna, 1935). Austrian composer whose output, though small, is among the most influential and important of the 20th cent. One of four children of a well-to-do family, had little formal mus. education but comp. romantic songs when he was 15. In 1904 began private comp. lessons with Schoenberg and decided to devote his life to mus., giving up a job in the Civil Service. With his friend and fellow-pupil Webern, entered the avant-garde artistic life of Vienna—the Sezession artists, the poet Peter Altenberg, the painter Kokoschka—but the dominating figure was Mahler. Some of his songs were perf. at a concert by Schoenberg pupils in Vienna, Nov. 1907, the pf. variations a year later, and the str. qt. in 1911. When 2 of the 5 Altenberglieder with orch. were perf. in Vienna in Mar. 1913, cond. Schoenberg, the concert was continually interrupted and eventually abandoned. In May 1914 Berg attended a perf. of Büchner's play Woyzeck and determined to make an opera of it. Military service delayed work, but the mus. was eventually finished in 1922 and was perf. in Berlin, Dec. 1925. It caused a furore but its success with the public was never in doubt, despite critical polemics. In the next decade Berg's powers were at their height and he comp. the Chamber Conc. (1925), the Lyric Suite for str. qt. (1926), and the concert aria Der Wein (1929). In 1929 began adaptation of 2 Wedekind plays as an opera lib. called Lulu. By 1934 he had completed the mus. in short score and begun full instrumentation. In the spring of 1935 began vn. conc. commissioned by Louis Krasner. Impelled by news of the death of the beautiful 18-year-old Manon Gropius, daughter of Mahler's widow by her 2nd marriage, worked unwontedly quickly and finished the conc. in Aug. 1935, dedicating it ‘to the memory of an angel’. Four months later he too died, through blood poisoning from an insect-bite. It has recently been established that several of Berg's works, incl. the Lyric Suite, Lulu, and the Violin Concerto, contain mus. cryptograms referring to his love for Frau Hanna Fuchs-Robettin (and others).

Berg has become, to the general public, the most acceptable of the so-called ‘12-note’ or ‘dodecaphonic’ composers, probably because he never was an orthodox atonalist. His work is nearer to the Mahler idiom than to the Schoenbergian. In Wozzeck atonality is very freely used and applied to a highly formal structure, each scene being in a particular mus. form (variations, passacaglia, fugue, etc.). From the Lyric Suite onwards, Berg used 12-note procedures nearer to, but still significantly different from, the Schoenberg method. Technical methods notwithstanding, however, it is the emotional content of Berg's mus. which has awoken a ready response in listeners, particularly the Vn. Conc., which quotes the Bach chorale Es ist genug at its climax. Prin. comps.:OPERAS: Wozzeck (1914–22); Lulu (1929–35), Act 3 realized from short score by Cerha (1978–9).ORCH.: Three Pieces, Op.6 (1913–14); 3 movements from Lyric Suite arr. for str. orch. (1928); Chamber Concerto for pf., vn., and 14 wind instr. (1923–5); vn. conc. (1935).VOICE AND ORCH.: 7 Early Songs (1905–8, orch. 1928); 5 Altenberglieder (1912); 3 Fragments from Wozzeck, Op.7 (f.p. Frankfurt 1924); Der Wein (1929); Lulu-Symphonie (1934).CHAMBER MUSIC: Variations on an Original Theme for pf. (1908); pf. sonata (1907–8); str. qt., Op.3 (1910); 4 Pieces for cl. and pf. (1913); Lyric Suite for str. qt. (1925–6); Adagio from Chamber Concerto arr. for vn., cl., and pf. (1935).SONGS: 7 Early Songs (1905–8); 4 Songs, Op.2 (1909–10); and about 70 early songs.

Berg, Alban

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Berg, Alban (1885–1935) Austrian composer. A student of Arnold Schoenberg, he composed his later works in a complex, highly individualized style based on Schoenberg's twelve-tone music technique. His Wozzeck (1925) is regarded as one of the masterpieces of 20th-century opera. He also composed a fine violin concerto (1935). Another opera, Lulu, unfinished at his death, was completed by Friedrich Cerha.

Alban Berg Quartet

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Alban Berg Quartet. Austrian str. qt. founded in 1971. Gives annual series of concerts in Vienna. Salzburg Fest. début 1978. Present membership Gunter Pichler (vn.), Gerhard Schulz (vn.), Thomas Kaskuda (va.), Valentin Erben (vc.).

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