Alban Maria Johannes Berg (/ˈɑːlbɑːn bɛərɡ/; German:
[ˈbɛɐ̯k]; 9 February 1885 – 24 December 1935) was an Austrian
composer of the Second Viennese School. His compositional style
combined Romantic lyricism with twelve-tone technique.
1.1 Early life
1.3 Success of
Wozzeck and inception of Lulu (1924–29)
1.4 Final years (1930–35)
3 Major compositions
5.1 Analytical writings
5.1.1 Douglas Jarman
5.2 Biographical writings
6 External links
Berg was born in Vienna, the third of four children of Johanna and
Konrad Berg. His family lived comfortably until the death of his
father in 1900.
Berg 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. With Marie Scheuchl, a maid fifteen years his senior in
the Berg family household, he fathered a daughter, Albine, born 4
Portrait of Alban Berg, 1909
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. 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
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. Berg studied with Schoenberg for six years
until 1911. 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". 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
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); despite the outward hostility of her family, the two
were married on 3 May 1911.
Watschenkonzert, caricature in Die Zeit, 6 April 1913
In 1913, two of Berg's
Altenberg Lieder (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. He effectively withdrew the work, and it was not performed in
full until 1952. The full score remained unpublished until 1966.
From 1915–18, 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, or
because he first suffered an asthma attack on the 23rd of the
Wozzeck and inception of Lulu (1924–29)
In 1924, three excerpts from
Wozzeck were performed, which brought
Berg his first public success. The opera, which Berg completed in
1922, was first performed on December 14, 1925, when Erich Kleiber
conducted the first performance in Berlin. Today,
Wozzeck is seen as
one of the century's most important works. Berg made a start on his
second opera, the three-act Lulu, in 1928 but interrupted the work in
1929 for the concert aria
Der Wein which he completed that summer. Der
Wein presaged Lulu in a number of ways, including vocal style,
orchestration, design and text.
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
Final years (1930–35)
Life for the musical world was becoming increasingly difficult in the
1930s both in
Vienna and Germany due to the rising tide of
antisemitism and the
Nazi cultural ideology that denounced modernity.
Even to have an association with someone who was Jewish could lead to
denunciation, and Berg's "crime" was to have studied with the Jewish
composer Arnold Schoenberg. Berg found that opportunities for his work
to be performed in Germany were becoming rare, and eventually his
music was proscribed and placed on the list of degenerate music.
In 1932, Berg and his wife acquired an isolated lodge, the Waldhaus on
the southern shore of the Wörthersee, near
Schiefling am See
Schiefling am See in
Carinthia, where he was able to work in seclusion, mainly on Lulu and
the Violin Concerto. At the end of 1934, Berg became involved in
the political intrigues around finding a replacement for Clemens
Krauss as director of the
Vienna State Opera.
As more of the performances of his work in Germany were cancelled by
the Nazis, who had come to power in early 1933, he needed to ensure
the new director would be an advocate for modernist music. Originally,
the premiere of Lulu had been planned for the
Berlin State Opera,
Erich Kleiber continued to champion his music and had conducted
the premiere of
Wozzeck in 1925, but now this was looking increasingly
uncertain, and Lulu was rejected by the
Berlin authorities in the
spring of 1934. Kleiber's production of the Lulu symphonic suite on 30
November 1934 in
Berlin was also the occasion of his resignation in
protest at the extent of conflation of culture with politics. Even in
Vienna, the opportunities for the
Vienna School of musicians was
Berg had interrupted the orchestration of Lulu because of an
unexpected (and financially much-needed) commission from the
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 "dodecaphonic" or
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.
Berg died aged 50 in Vienna, on Christmas Eve 1935, from blood
poisoning apparently caused by an insect-sting-induced carbuncle on
his back that occurred in November.
Before he died, Berg had completed the orchestration of only the first
two of the three acts of Lulu. These completed 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 short score. 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.
Alban Berg at Schiefling on the lake, Klagenfurt-Land
District, Carinthia, Austria
Berg is remembered as one of the most important composers of the 20th
century and the most widely performed opera composer among the Second
Viennese School. He is said to have brought more "human values" to
the twelve-tone system, his works seen as more "emotional" than
Schoenberg's. Critically, he is seen as having preserved the
Viennese tradition in his music.[verification needed]
Berg scholar Douglas Jarman writes in the New Grove Dictionary of
Music and Musicians that "[a]s the 20th century closed, the
'backward-looking' Berg suddenly came as [George] Perle remarked, to
look like its most forward-looking composer."
4528 Berg is named after him.
See also: List of compositions by Alban Berg
Piano Sonata, Op. 1
String Quartet, Op. 3
Four Pieces for Clarinet and Piano, Op. 5
Chamber Concerto (1925) for piano, violin and 13 wind instruments
Three Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 6
Seven Early Songs
Vier Lieder (Four Songs), Op. 2
Five Orchestral Songs on Postcard Texts of Peter Altenberg, Op. 4
Schliesse mir die Augen beide
Wozzeck, Op. 7 (1925)
^ "Berg, Alban". Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary.
^ John H. Baron (10 June 2010). Chamber Music: A Research and
Information Guide. Routledge. pp. 301–.
^ Jarman, Douglas (1990). The Berg Companion. Boston: Northeastern
University Press. p. 190. ISBN 1555530680.
^ Schoenberg, Arnold. Trans. Joe Monzo.""Schoenberg's Harmonielehre"".
Archived from the original on 27 September 2003. Retrieved 1 July
^ Lauder (1986)
^ Adorno, p. 33
^ 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.
^ Taruskin, Richard (2010).
Music in the Early Twentieth Century. New
York: Oxford University Press. p. 196. ISBN 0195384849.
^ 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
^ Jarman, D. (1985). The
Music of Alban Berg. Berkeley: University of
California Press, pp. 228–30.
^ Elliott 2014, p. 55.
^ a b Notley 2010.
^ Hailey 2010a.
^ Pople, Anthony (1991). Berg: Violin Concerto. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press. p. 28. ISBN 0521399769.
^ "Alban Berg". musicacademyonline.com. Retrieved 17 September
^ Jarman, Douglas (1991). Alban Berg: Lulu. Cambridge [England]:
Cambridge University Press. p. 46. ISBN 0521284805.
^ a b Jarman, Grove
^ The Complete Book of 20th Century Music, p. 20, by David Ewen,
Prentice-Hall Inc. 1963.
^ The Grove Encyclopedia of
Music and Musicians, p. 638, St. Martin's
Press, Inc. 1961
^ Schmadel, Lutz D. (2012). Dictionary of Minor Planet Names. Volume 2
(6th ed.). Springer. p. 367.
Warrack, John and Ewan West. The Oxford Dictionary of Opera, 1992.
Jarman, Douglas. Dr. Schon's Five-Strophe Aria: Some Notes on Tonality
and Pitch Association in Berg's Lulu. Perspectives of New
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 (1985) . The
Alban Berg (Revised ed.).
Berkeley: University of California Press.
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.
Alban Berg Studien. Ed. Rudolf Klein. Vienna: Universal Edition,
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'.
Alban Berg Society Newsletter 12 (Fall/Winter 1982).
Jarman, Douglas (1989). Alban Berg, Wozzeck. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press. ISBN 9780521284813.
Jarman, Douglas (1991). Alban Berg: Lulu. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press. ISBN 9780521284806.
Bruhn, Siglind, ed. Encrypted Messages in Alban Berg’s Music. New
York: Garland Publishing, 1998.
dos Santos, Silvio J. Narratives of Identity in Alban Berg's 'Lulu'.
Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2014.
Elliott, Antokoletz (2014). A History of Twentieth-Century
Music in a
Theoretic-Analytical Context. Hoboken: Taylor and Francis.
Headlam, Dave. The
Music of Alban Berg. New Haven: Yale University
Lauder, Robert Neil. Two Early Piano Works of Alban Berg: A Stylistic
and Structural Analysis. Thesis. Chapel Hill: University of North
Perle, George (1977). Twelve-tone tonality. Berkeley: University of
California Press. ISBN 9780520033870.
Perle, George (1995). The right notes: twenty-three selected essays on
twentieth-century music. Stuyvesant, NY: Pendragon Press.
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
Alban Berg. Ph.D. thesis. Ann Arbor: Indiana University, 1965.
Whittall, Arnold (2008). The Cambridge introduction to serialism. New
York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521863414.
Adorno, Theodor W.; Berg, Alban (2005) . Lonitz, Henri, ed.
Briefwechsel 1925–1935 [Correspondence 1925–1935]. Hoban, Wieland
- translator, originally published by Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt.
Cambridge: Polity. ISBN 9780745694962.
Adorno, Theodor W. Alban Berg: Master of the Smallest Link. Trans.
Juliane Brand and Christopher Hailey. New York: Cambridge University
Brand, Juliane, Christopher Hailey and Donald Harris, eds. The
Berg-Schoenberg Correspondence: Selected Letters. New York: Norton,
Carner, Mosco. Alban Berg: the man and the work. London: Duckworth,
Floros, Contantin. Trans. by Ernest Bernhardt-Kabisch.
Alban Berg and
Hanna Fuchs. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2007.
Grun, Bernard, ed. Alban Berg: Letters to his Wife. London: Faber and
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(Accessed April 9, 2007) (subscription required)
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the language of music. Trans. Dika Newlin. New York: Philosophical
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Monson, Karen. Alban Berg: a biography. London: Macdonald and Jane's,
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John Calder, 1957.
Reich, Willi. The life and work of Alban Berg. Trans. Cornelius
Cardew. New York : Da Capo Press, 1982.
Simms, Bryan R. (2013) .
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and Francis. ISBN 9781135846749.
Walton, Chris (2014). Lies and epiphanies: composers and their
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Hailey, Christopher (2010a). Berg's Worlds. pp. 3–32. , in
Notley, Margaret (2010). 1934, Alban Berg, and the shadow of politics:
documents of a troubled year. pp. 223–268. , in Hailey
Hailey, Christopher, ed. (2010).
Alban Berg and his world. Princeton,
N.J.: Princeton University Press. ISBN 9781400836475.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Alban Berg.
Wikiquote has quotations related to: Alban Berg
Alban Berg at Encyclopædia Britannica
Alban Berg biography and works on the UE website (publisher)
Vocal texts used by
Alban Berg with translations to various languages
at the LiederNet Archive.
Free scores by
Alban Berg at the International
Music Score Library
Alban Berg discography at MusicBrainz
Alban Berg at Pytheas Center for Contemporary Music
albanberg.resampled.de The most comprehensive acoustic representation
of Alban Bergs Works in digital realisations.
Excerpts from sound archives of Berg's works.
Free scores by
Alban Berg in the Open
Three Pieces for Orchestra
Seven Early Songs
Schliesse mir die Augen beide
List of works
Second Viennese School
Hans Werner Henze
John J. Becker
Ruth Crawford Seeger
Mozart Camargo Guarnieri
Modes of limited transposition
Quartal and quintal harmony
See also: Modernist composers
Second Viennese School
Altenberg Lieder (1912)
Lyric Suite (1926)
Violin Concerto (1935)
Chamber Symphony No. 1 (1906)
Variations for Orchestra (1928)
Concerto for Nine Instruments (1934)
Variations for piano (1936)
String Quartet (1937–38)
Theodor W. Adorno
Twelve-tone and serial composers
Hans Erich Apostel
Kees van Baaren
Josef Matthias Hauer
Gottfried Michael Koenig
Juan Carlos Paz
Second Viennese School
ISNI: 0000 0001 2095 9444
BNF: cb13891383d (data)