Alban Berg

Alban Berg (äl´bän bĕrk), 1885–1935, Austrian composer. In his youth he taught himself music but in 1904 he became the pupil and close friend of Arnold Schoenberg. Later Berg himself taught privately in Vienna. He adopted atonality and later the twelve-tone technique of Schoenberg (see serial music), although he tempered it with the lyric and dramatic qualities of the Viennese romantic tradition. His masterpiece, the opera Wozzeck (based on the play Woyzeck by Georg Büchner; Berlin, 1925), written in a free atonal style (see atonality) with occasional intrusions of tonality, aroused strenuous protest, but it has since been acclaimed as a major work of the 20th-century musical stage. His Chamber Concerto (1927) marked a turn to twelve-tone composition, but it is in his Lyric Suite (1927) for string quartet and his opera Lulu (based on two plays by Wedekind; Zürich, 1937) that the mature twelve-tone style is manifested with great technical intricacy yet richly expressionistic. Though Lulu was left incomplete in its orchestration, it was completed by Friedrich Cerha. His Violin Concerto (Barcelona, 1936), his last completed work, written as an elegy on the death of Alma Mahler's 18-year old daughter, combines eloquent lyricism with the rigors the twelve-tone technique and of the classical form. He also wrote songs and chamber music.

See his letters to his wife, ed. and tr. by B. Grun (1971); G. Perle, The Operas of Alban Berg (2 vol., 1980–85); biographical studies by W. Reich (tr. 1965) and D. Jarman (1979).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2013, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Alban Berg and His World
Christopher Hailey.
Princeton University Press, 2010
Berg's Femmes Fatales
Coleman, Alexander.
New Criterion, Vol. 19, No. 10, June 2001
Musical Trends in the 20th Century
Norman Demuth.
Rockliff Publishing, 1975
Librarian’s tip: Chap. Twenty "Alban Berg (1885-1935)"
Smart Jews: The Construction of the Image of Jewish Superior Intelligence
Sander L. Gilman.
University of Nebraska Press, 1997
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 5 "Alban Berg, the Jews, and the Anxiety of Genius"
A History of Modern Music
Paul Collaer; Sally Abeles.
World, 1961
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 2 "Arnold Schoenberg, Anton Webern, Alban Berg"
European Music in the Twentieth Century
Howard Hartog.
Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1957
Librarian’s tip: "Alban Berg and Anton Webern" begins on p. 94
Viva La Liberta! Politics in Opera
Anthony Arblaster.
Verso, 1992
Librarian’s tip: "Wozzeck and Its Impact" begins on p. 270
The Modern Age, 1890-1960
Martin Cooper.
Oxford University Press, 1974
Librarian’s tip: "Alban Berg and Anton Webern" begins on p. 362
Twentieth Century Music: How it Developed, How to Listen to It
Marion Bauer.
G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1933
Librarian’s tip: Chap. XVI "The New Opera: Berg, Hindemith, Weill, Krenek, Honeggar, Milhaud, Gruenberg, etc."
Music of the Twentieth-Century Avant-Garde: A Biocritical Sourcebook
Larry Sitsky.
Greenwood Press, 2002
Librarian’s tip: "Alban Berg (1885-1935)" begins on p. 50
Twentieth-Century Music: A History of Musical Style in Modern Europe and America
Robert P. Morgan.
W. W. Norton, 1991
Librarian’s tip: Discussion of Alban Berg begins on p. 84 and on p. 210
Twentieth-Century Chamber Music
James McCalla.
Routledge, 2003
Librarian’s tip: "Narrative and Temporal Programs: Berg and Carter" begins on p. 35
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