ALBAN BERG, whose opera Wozzeck has made him world-famous as one of the most original and revolutionary composers of our time, was born in Vienna on February 9, 1885. His father, a merchant, realized that the boy had talent for music, and so from the very first he encouraged him in his musical studies. Music, however, was for a long time hardly more than an avocation in Berg's life. In 1905, he became an Austrian government official in Vienna, devoting only leisure moments to musical composition and study. It was not until two years later that he definitely decided to surrender all other pursuits, and devote himself entirely to music. Transferring to Berlin, he became a pupil of Arnold Schönberg, who was to become the greatest single influence in the artistic career of the composer. It was not until Berg absorbed Schönberg's teaching that his individual personality, which has so electrified the music world, manifested itself in his music. Profoundly influenced by his teacher, whom he worshipped, Berg's style not only became as fiercely atonal and dissonant as his teacher's but in his compositions he began to utilize extensively the Schönberg "twelve-tone system." Inevitably, all of Berg's early works in his new idiom (a string quartet, a piano sonata and several songs) reflected the manners of his teacher, but, as Paul Rosenfeld points out, "we gather that Berg is a more romantic nature than Schönberg's, and that there is an elegance to his music that at times threatens to become precious. . . . The Kammersinfonie, a later work, shows this slight fault remedied."
Since 1910, Berg has been teaching theory and composition in Vienna. His compositions have been few and far between because Berg has worked slowly and painfully upon each creation. Between 1910 and 1914, Berg composed Five Songs with Orchestra, Four Sketches for Clarinet and Three Orchestral Pieces in which he was slowly freeing himself from imitating Schönberg too rigidly, and in which his own vitriolic style was rapidly asserting itself.
These works of Berg are "symphonic in character," Erwin Stein tells us. "They consist of generally extended movements, where the thematic material is developed polyphonically, and in very free variation. This explains, at the same time, their form, which is created by uniformity of themes, and clarity of cohesion. Thus, in his Orchestral Prelude, nearly all the manifold occurrences are evolved from a motive of three notes. . . . Contrasts, which in older music, create a sense of symmetry, of expression and form in large spaces, are here given a new function: the fact that they appear simultaneously--that is to say polyphonically--or nearly so, imports a variety and an extent to the expression within which, as in the human soul, there is room for contradictory notions."
The War interrupted Berg's musical activity, and for three years, while serving in the Austrian army, he composed nothing. It was not until the war had ended that Berg picked up his pen once again, this time to outline and sketch an opera on a subject which had for a long time been fascinating him: Büchner's expressionistic drama, Wozzeck.
"I wanted to compose good music," Berg explains concerning the composition of Wozzeck, "to develop musically the contents of Büchner's immortal drama; to translate his poetic language