Academic journal article Music Theory Online

Review of Bryan R. Simms, Ed., Pro Mundo, Pro Domo: The Writings of Alban Berg (Oxford, 2014)

Academic journal article Music Theory Online

Review of Bryan R. Simms, Ed., Pro Mundo, Pro Domo: The Writings of Alban Berg (Oxford, 2014)

Article excerpt

[1] In addition to his compositions, Alban Berg (1885-1935) was also a writer and editor of letters, analyses, polemical tracts, commentaries, tributes, and editorials. Indeed, much of what we know of his music has been guided by Berg's own words, transmitted directly or through his pupils, in particular Willi Reich and Theodor W. Adorno. Berg's writings have appeared in various collections, but only partially-and in scattered sources-in English translation.(1) With this new volume, containing Bryan Simms's translations of and informative commentaries on forty-seven items from Berg's writings, we have the opportunity to expand our knowledge of Berg's career, and to reconsider his legacy in both its musical and written aspects.

[2] The title, "Pro Mundo, Pro Domo," roughly "for the world, for one's own house," is taken from the subtitles to Berg's essay "The 'Problem of Opera'"; Berg was influenced by Viennese author Karl Kraus's use of the terms in his journal Die Fackel and a collection of aphorisms Pro Domo et Mundo (1912). Simms's collection, presented as six sections, each ending with commentary, reflects this division of perspectives in Berg's writings. The first five sections move from external, public topics to personal, private concerns with the sixth section a mix of the two:

1. "The Schoenberg Guides": four items written 1913-20, consisting of analyses of Gurrelieder, the Chamber Symphony op. 9, and Pelleas und Melisande

2. "Essays, Lectures, and Analyses": fifteen items including "What is Atonal?", "Why is Schoenberg's Music So Difficult to Understand," and several items on Wozzeck

3. "Tributes": eight items on musical and non-musical individuals(2)

4. "Interviews": seven items, mostly on the topic of Wozzeck

5. "Fictional Works": three items written 1903-04 and 1918, including an early text entitled "Hanna"

6. "Miscellaneous Writings": nine items, all on musical topics

[3] In his Introduction, Simms notes Berg's lifelong love of literature, drama, and philosophy, and his early aspirations to be a writer. From about 1920-26, Berg sought employment as an editor and essayist, and was for a time editor of the journal Musikblätter des Anbruch. After the success of Wozzeck, however, his focus was on composing, and his writing shifted to shorter forms, such as lectures, tributes, interviews, and commentaries. From 1932-37 Berg's writings were initially published in various formats by his pupil Willi Reich, including a book (Reich 1937); Hans Redlich later listed 28 written items in a book on Berg's music (Redlich 1957a). Translations of Berg's writings into English appear in Redlich's English-version book (Redlich 1957b) and Cornelius Cardew's translation of some eight items from the 1963 abridged version of Reich's original collection (Reich 1965). Simms observes that with the research and publication of critical editions and texts from the Alban Berg Stiftung and Universal Edition, new works and writings are coming to light; the current volume represents only what was known at the time of publication (8).

[4] With regard to this volume, Simms writes that "For the sake of consistency in English-language readings, new translations by the editor of this volume have been used" (9); among existing translations, Simms re-uses only Mark DeVoto's translation (DeVoto 1993) of Berg's analytical guides to Schoenberg's pieces (ix).(3) Helpfully, a companion website supplies the original German-language texts for comparison and study.(4) The various formats of these originals are informative, ranging from the original published versions to typed and handwritten copies, and they contain notes and revisions by Berg, and even voice-inflection markings for speeches. Simms writes that for his translations he started from "a single best source" (9) for each item, with clarification on the criteria for "best" given in the commentaries. For instance, the lecture on Wozzeck has at least seven extant versions; the one chosen for translation is the "most complete" and the one "read in Vienna on May 15, 1930" (294-99). …

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