Austrian composer. He studied under Arnold Schoenberg and developed a personal 12-tone idiom of great emotional and stylistic versatility. His relatively small output includes two operas – Wozzeck (1914–20), a grim story of working-class life, and the unfinished Lulu (1929–35) – and chamber music incorporating coded references to friends and family.
His music is emotionally expressive, and sometimes anguished, but it can also be lyrical, as in the violin concerto (1935).
Berg was self-taught from the age of 15, and a pupil of Arnold Schoenberg in 1904–10. Schoenberg's influence on him was profound, and may be measured as Berg moved from the extended tonality of his early works to atonality and, later, serialism. He uses serial technique differently to other composers in that he does not avoid tonal references (as, for example, in the violin concerto). As a result, he remains the most accessible member of the Second Viennese School. In 1911 he married Helene Nahowski. His first major work, the string quartet Op. 3, dates from the same year.
His music was known only to a small circle until the 1925 production of Wozzeck. The Chamber Concerto and Lyric Suite, written in 1923–24, use complex formal patterns, numerical puzzles, and autobiographical references. He was a friend of Alma Mahler and the death of her daughter, Manon, inspired his last completed work, the violin concerto. Dedicated ‘To the Memory of an Angel’, Berg wrote the concerto as a Requiem for Manon, yet in its passionate lyricism, quoting the Bach chorale Es ist Genug/It is Enough, it is the composer's own last testament. His second opera, Lulu, was begun in 1929 but left unfinished after his death and not performed in the full, three-act version until 1979.
WorksOperaWozzeck (after Georg Büchner; 1914–20, produced Berlin, 1925), Lulu (after Frank Wedekind; 1929–35, two acts produced Zürich, 1937, act 3 realized by F Cerha, first performance Paris, 1979).
Songs and voice with orchestra 70 early Lieder; Seven Early Songs for voice and piano (1905–08, orchestral version 1928); Five Altenberglieder for voice and orchestra (1912, first performance Rome, 1953); Lulu-Symphonie for soprano and orchestra (1934).
OrchestralThree Pieces, Op. 6 (1914–15, revised 1929); Chamber Concerto for piano, violin, and 13 wind instruments (1923–24; first performance Berlin, 1927); violin concerto (1935; first performance Barcelona, 1936).
Chamber piano sonata Op. 1 (1907–08); Four Pieces for clarinet and piano (1913); Lyric Suite for string quartet (1925–26); adagio from Chamber Concerto arranged for violin, clarinet, and piano (1935).
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