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Alban Berg

(1885—1935) Austrian composer


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(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 Lyric Suite

, Op.6 (1913–14); 3 movements from arr. for str. orch. (1928);

[...]

Subjects: Music.


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