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Alban Berg

Alban Maria Johannes Berg (February 9, 1885 – December 24, 1935) was an Austrian composer. He was a member of the Second Viennese School with Arnold Schoenberg and Anton Webern, and produced compositions that combined Mahlerian Romanticism with a personal adaptation of Schoenberg's twelve-tone technique.


Early life[edit]

Berg was born in Vienna, the third of four children of Johanna and Conrad Berg. His family lived comfortably until the death of his father in 1900.


He was more interested in literature than music as a child and did not begin to compose until he was fifteen, when he started to teach himself music. In late February or early March 1902 he fathered a child with Marie Scheuchl, a servant girl in the Berg family household. His daughter, Albine, was born on December 4, 1902.

Berg had little formal music education before he became a student of Arnold Schoenberg in October 1904. With Schoenberg he studied counterpoint, music theory, and harmony.[1] By 1906, he was studying music full-time; by 1907, he began composition lessons. His student compositions included five drafts for piano sonatas. He also wrote songs, including his Seven Early Songs (Sieben Frühe Lieder), three of which were Berg's first publicly performed work in a concert that featured the music of Schoenberg's pupils in Vienna that year. The early sonata sketches eventually culminated in Berg's Piano Sonata, Op. 1 (1907–1908); it is one of the most formidable "first" works ever written.[2]

Berg studied with Schoenberg for six years until 1911. Berg admired him as a composer and mentor, and they remained close lifelong friends.

Among Schoenberg's teaching was the idea that the unity of a musical composition depends upon all its aspects being derived from a single basic idea; this idea was later known as developing variation. Berg passed this on to his students, one of whom, Theodor W. Adorno, stated: "The main principle he conveyed was that of variation: everything was supposed to develop out of something else and yet be intrinsically different".[3] The Piano Sonata is an example—the whole composition is derived from the work's opening quartal gesture and its opening phrase.


Berg was a part of Vienna's cultural elite during the heady fin de siècle period. His circle included the musicians Alexander von Zemlinsky and Franz Schreker, the painter Gustav Klimt, the writer and satirist Karl Kraus, the architect Adolf Loos, and the poet Peter Altenberg. In 1906, Berg met the singer Helene Nahowski, daughter of a wealthy family (said by some to be in fact the illegitimate daughter of Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria from his liaison with Anna Nahowski);[4] despite the outward hostility of her family, the two were married on May 3, 1911.

Watschenkonzert, caricature in Die Zeit of April 6, 1913

In 1913, two of Berg's Five Songs on Picture Postcard Texts by Peter Altenberg (1912) were premièred in Vienna, conducted by Schoenberg in the infamous Skandalkonzert. Settings of aphoristic poetic utterances, the songs are accompanied by a very large orchestra. The performance caused a riot, and had to be halted. This was a crippling blow to Berg's self-confidence: he effectively withdrew the work, which is surely[original research?] one of the most innovative and assured first orchestral compositions in the literature, and it was not performed in full until 1952. The full score remained unpublished until 1966.

From 1915 to 1918, Berg served in the Austro-Hungarian Army and during a period of leave in 1917 he accelerated work on his first opera, Wozzeck. After the end of World War I, he settled again in Vienna where he taught private pupils. He also helped Schoenberg run his Society for Private Musical Performances, which sought to create the ideal environment for the exploration and appreciation of unfamiliar new music by means of open rehearsals, repeat performances, and the exclusion of professional critics.

Berg had a particular interest in the number 23, using it to structure several works. Various suggestions have been made as to the reason for this interest: that he took it from the Biorhythms theory of Wilhelm Fliess, in which a 23 day cycle is considered significant,[5] or because he first suffered an asthma attack on 23rd of the month.[6]

Success of Wozzeck[edit]

Three excerpts from Wozzeck were performed in 1924, and this brought Berg his first public success. The opera, which Berg completed in 1922, was first performed on December 14, 1925, when Erich Kleiber directed the first performance in Berlin. Today Wozzeck is seen as one of the century's most important works. Berg completed the orchestration of only the first two acts of his later three-act opera Lulu, before he died. The first two acts were successfully premièred in Zürich in 1937, but for personal reasons Helene Berg subsequently imposed a ban on any attempt to "complete" the final act, which Berg had in fact completed in particell (short score) format. An orchestration was therefore commissioned in secret from Friedrich Cerha and premièred in Paris (under Pierre Boulez) only in 1979, soon after Helene Berg's own death. The complete opera has rapidly entered the repertoire as one of the landmarks of contemporary music and, like Wozzeck, remains a consistent audience draw.

Berg had interrupted the orchestration of Lulu because of an unexpected (and financially much-needed) commission from the Russian-American violinist Louis Krasner for a Violin Concerto (1935). This profoundly elegiac work, composed at unaccustomed speed and posthumously premièred, has become Berg's best-known and beloved composition. Like much of his mature work, it employs an idiosyncratic adaptation of Schoenberg's twelve-tone technique that enables the composer to produce passages openly evoking tonality, including quotations from historical tonal music, such as a Bach chorale and a Carinthian folk song. The Violin Concerto was dedicated "to the memory of an Angel", Manon Gropius, the deceased daughter of architect Walter Gropius and Alma Mahler.

Other well-known Berg compositions include the Lyric Suite (1926), which was later shown to employ elaborate cyphers to document a secret love affair; the post-Mahlerian Three Pieces for Orchestra (completed in 1915 but not performed until after Wozzeck); and the Chamber Concerto (Kammerkonzert, 1923–25) for violin, piano, and 13 wind instruments: this latter is written so conscientiously that Pierre Boulez has called it "Berg's strictest composition" and it, too, is permeated by cyphers and posthumously disclosed hidden programs.


Berg died in Vienna, on Christmas Eve 1935, from blood poisoning apparently caused by an insect-sting-induced carbuncle on his back. He was 50 years old.


Berg is remembered as one of the most important composers of the 20th century and to date is the most widely performed opera composer among the Second Viennese School.[7] He is considered to have brought more human values to the twelve-tone system, his works seen as more emotional than Schoenberg's.[8] Critically he is seen to have preserved the Viennese tradition in his music.[9][verification needed] His popularity has been more easily secured than many other Modernists since he plausibly combined both Romantic and Expressionist idioms. Though Berg's Romanticism at one time seemed a drawback for some more modernist composers,[weasel words] the Berg scholar Douglas Jarman writes in the New Grove: "As the 20th century closed, the 'backward-looking' Berg suddenly came as [George] Perle remarked, to look like its most forward-looking composer."[10]

Major compositions[edit]








  1. ^ Schoenberg, Arnold. Trans. Joe Monzo. "Schoenberg's Harmonielehre", Sonic Arts at the Wayback Machine (archived April 5, 2012)
  2. ^ Lauder (1986)
  3. ^ Adorno, p. 33
  4. ^ Georg Markus, Der Kaiser Franz Joseph I.: Bilder und Dokumente; Anna Nahowski and Friedrich Saathen, Anna Nahowski und Kaiser Franz Joseph : Aufzeichnungen / erstmalig herausgegeben und kommentiert von Friedrich Saathen, Böhlau, 1986.
  5. ^ Jarman, D. (1983). Alban Berg, Wilhelm Fliess and the Secret Programme of the Violin Concerto. The Musical Times Vol. 124, No. 1682 (Apr. 1983), pp. 218-223
  6. ^ Jarman, D. (1985). The Music of Alban Berg. Berkeley: University of California Press, pp. 228-230
  7. ^ Jarman, Grove
  8. ^ The Complete Book of 20th Century Music, pg.20, by David Ewen, Prentice-Hall Inc. 1963
  9. ^ The Grove Encyclopedia of Music and Musicians, pg.638, St. Martin's Press, Inc. 1961
  10. ^ Jarman, Grove


  • Adorno, Theodor W. Alban Berg: Master of the Smallest Link. Trans. Juliane Brand and Christopher Hailey. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991.
  • Jarman, Douglas. "Alban Berg", Grove Music Online, ed. L. Macy (Accessed April 9, 2007), (subscription access)
  • Warrack, John and Ewan West. The Oxford Dictionary of Opera, 1992. ISBN 0-19-869164-5

Analytical writings[edit]

  • Adorno, Theodor W. Alban Berg: Master of the Smallest Link. Trans. Juliane Brand and Christopher Hailey. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991.
  • Bruhn, Siglind, ed. Encrypted Messages in Alban Berg’s Music. New York: Garland Publishing, 1998.
  • Headlam, Dave. The Music of Alban Berg. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996.
  • Jarman, Douglas. Dr. Schon's Five-Strophe Aria: Some Notes on Tonality and Pitch Association in Berg's Lulu. Perspectives of New Music 8/2 (Spring/Summer 1970).
  • Jarman, Douglas. Some Rhythmic and Metric Techniques in Alban Berg's Lulu. Musical Quarterly 56/3 (July 1970).
  • Jarman, Douglas. Lulu: The Sketches. International Alban Berg Society Newsletter, 6 (June 1978).
  • Jarman, Douglas. The Music of Alban Berg. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979.
  • Jarman, Douglas. Countess Geschwitz's Series: A Controversy Resolved?. Proceedings of the Royal Musical Association 107 (1980/81).
  • Jarman, Douglas. Some Observations on Rhythm, Meter and Tempo in Lulu. In Alban Berg Studien. Ed. Rudolf Klein. Vienna: Universal Edition, 1981.
  • Jarman, Douglas. Lulu: The Musical and Dramatic Structure. Royal Opera House Covent Garden program notes, 1981.
  • Jarman, Douglas. The 'Lost' Score of the 'Symphonic Pieces from Lulu'. International Alban Berg Society Newsletter 12 (Fall/Winter 1982).
  • Lauder, Robert Neil. Two Early Piano Works of Alban Berg: A Stylistic and Structural Analysis. Thesis. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 1986.
  • Perle, George. The Operas of Alban Berg. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980.
  • Schmalfeldt, Janet. "Berg’s Path to Atonality: The Piano Sonata, Op. 1". Alban Berg: Historical and Analytical Perspectives. Eds. David Gable and Robert P. Morgan, pp. 79–110. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.
  • Schweizer, Klaus. Die Sonatensatzform im Schaffen Alban Bergs. Stuttgart: Satz und Druck, 1970.
  • Wilkey, Jay Weldon. Certain Aspects of Form in the Vocal Music of Alban Berg. Ph.D. thesis. Ann Arbor: Indiana University, 1965.

Biographical writings[edit]

  • Brand, Juliane, Christopher Hailey and Donald Harris, eds. The Berg-Schoenberg Correspondence: Selected Letters. New York: Norton, 1987.
  • Grun, Bernard, ed. Alban Berg: Letters to his Wife. London: Faber and Faber, 1971.
  • Floros, Contantin. Trans. by Ernest Bernhardt-Kabisch. Alban Berg and Hanna Fuchs. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2007.
  • Redlich, H.F. Alban Berg, the Man and His Music. London: John Calder, 1957.
  • Reich, Willi. The life and work of Alban Berg. Trans. Cornelius Cardew. New York : Da Capo Press, 1982.
  • Monson, Karen. Alban Berg: a biography. London: Macdonald and Jane's, 1979.
  • Carner, Mosco. Alban Berg: the man and the work. London: Duckworth, 1975.
  • Redlich, Hans Ferdinand. Alban Berg, the man and his music. London: J. Calder, 1957.
  • Leibowitz, René. Schoenberg and his school; the contemporary stage of the language of music. Trans. Dika Newlin. New York: Philosophical Library, 1949.

External links[edit]

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alban_Berg — Please support Wikipedia.
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249 news items


Sat, 23 Aug 2014 14:13:49 -0700

I realized that he was very much into 20th century music, and certain music in particular: Schoenberg, [Anton] Webern, Alban Berg — what they call the Second Viennese School of composition. And I realized that his aesthetic was, he was not really into ...

Milwaukee Magazine

Milwaukee Magazine
Mon, 25 Aug 2014 12:10:05 -0700

Richard Strauss' “Death and Transfiguration” pays tribute to one of the giants of Western music on the 150th anniversary of his birth. And Alban Berg's “Seven Early Songs” are surprisingly lush for a composer known best for the dense and jagged. Nov ...
Deutsche Welle
Fri, 08 Aug 2014 07:43:15 -0700

As early as 1914, he had written to Alban Berg - another Schönberg studen and member of the "Second Viennese School" of composition - "I must go to war. I must. I cannot stand it anymore." In the course of his service, in which he trained recruits far ...
Los Angeles Times
Tue, 12 Aug 2014 05:32:43 -0700

Such well-known non-Jews as Anton Webern, Alban Berg, Béla Bartók and Paul Hindemith were trapped in the "decadent" net along with a long list of Jewish composers that included Arnold Schoenberg, Ernst Toch, Kurt Weill and Hanns Eisler.
Deutsche Welle
Thu, 14 Aug 2014 03:30:03 -0700

Many musicians agreed with Anton Webern, who wrote to his friend Alban Berg in early August 1914 that he simply had to join the war effort - "This massive battle. My God, we must win." The appeal of being drawn into an epoch-making event drew composers ...
Tue, 12 Aug 2014 01:03:45 -0700

Dadaist artists such as Marcel Duchamp and Hans Richter turned out jarring, surreal works that mirrored their feelings about the war, while composers such as Arnold Schoenberg and Alban Berg produced disjointed, "atonal" works. "War proved that ...
Valley News
Wed, 13 Aug 2014 21:18:45 -0700

Street Scene shows what can happen when you take a European like Weill, who'd grown up in a culture listening to the later works of Gustav Mahler, and the atonal modernism of Alban Berg and Arnold Schoenberg, and plunge him into the American ...

Houston Chronicle

Houston Chronicle
Thu, 07 Aug 2014 11:22:30 -0700

Da Camera: Pianist Jonathan Biss in works by Ludwig van Beethoven, Robert Schumann, Alban Berg and Thomas Adés. 8 p.m. Alice Pratt Brown Hall. 21 Houston Chamber Choir: "Baltic Sea Change," works by Arvo Pärt and other composers from the Baltic ...

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