Alban Berg

Profile

The Austrian composer Alban Berg (1885 – 1935) was, with Arnold Schoenberg and Anton Webern, a member of the Second Viennese School. He produced compositions that combined Mahlerian Romanticism with a personal adaptation of Schoenberg's twelve-tone technique. Today, Berg is seen as one of the most prominent and influential composers of the 20th century. Being more interested in literature in his younger years, Berg did not start to compose until he was fifteen years of age. He had had little formal music education before he became a student of Arnold Schoenberg in 1904, at the age of 19. He studied counterpoint, music theory and harmony at first, before moving onto his composition lessons a few years later, in 1907. His student compositions included five drafts of piano sonatas, which eventually culminated in his first Piano Sonata Op.1, one of the most formidable 'first' works ever written. Berg studied with Schoenberg for six years until 1911. In 1913, the premiere of two of Berg's five Altenberg Lieder, aphoristic poems by Peter Altenberg set to music, caused a complete scandal. After serving in the First World War between 1915 and 1918, he continued work on his first opera, Wozzeck, which was premiered in 1925 and brought him his first public success. Today, it's still seen as one of the 20th century's most important works. Other well-known Berg compositions include the Lyric Suite (1926), the Chamber Concerto (Kammerkonzert, 1923–25) for violin, piano, and 13 wind instruments, and perhaps his best known and most beloved work, the Violin Concerto dedicated to the memory of an angel from 1935. Berg completed the orchestration of only the first two acts of his three-act opera Lulu before he suddenly died of blood poisoning in 1937. Although he had also finished the third act in short score, his widow Helen Berg imposed a ban on any attempt to complete the final act for a full performance. When soon after Mrs. Berg's death the complete opera was finally performed under Pierre Boulez in 1979, Lulu rapidly entered the repertoire as one of the landmarks of twentieth century music.