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Alban Berg (Composer)

Berg was born inVienna, the third of four children of Johanna and Conrad Berg. His family lived comfortably until the death of his father in 1900.

He was more interested inliteraturethanmusicas a child and did not begin to compose until he was fifteen, when he started to teach himself music. In late February or early March 1902 he fathered a child with Marie Scheuchl, a servant girl in the Berg family household. His daughter, Albine, was born on December 4, 1902.

Berg had little formal music education before he became a student ofArnold Schoenbergin October 1904. With Schoenberg he studiedcounterpoint,music theory, andharmony. By 1906, he was studying music full-time; by 1907, he begancompositionlessons. His student compositions included five drafts forpiano sonatas. He also wrote songs, including hisSeven Early Songs(Sieben Frhe Lieder), three of which were Berg's first publicly performed work in a concert that featured the music of Schoenberg's pupils in Vienna that year. The early sonata sketches eventually culminated in Berg'sPiano Sonata(Op. 1) (19071908); it is one of the most formidable "first" works ever written.

Berg studied with Schoenberg for six years until 1911. Berg admired him as a composer and mentor, and they remained close lifelong friends. Berg may have seen the older composer as a father figure, as Berg's father had died when he was only 15.

Among Schoenberg's teaching was the idea that the unity of a musical composition depends upon all its aspects being derived from a single basic idea; this idea was later known asdeveloping variation. Berg passed this on to his students, one of whom,Theodor Adorno, stated: "The main principle he conveyed was that of variation: everything was supposed to develop out of something else and yet be intrinsically different".The Piano Sonata is an examplethe whole composition is derived from the work's openingquartalgesture and its opening phrase.

Berg was a part of Vienna's cultural elite during the headyfin de sicleperiod. His circle included the musiciansAlexander von ZemlinskyandFranz Schreker, the painterGustav Klimt, the writer and satiristKarl Kraus, the architectAdolf Loos, and the poetPeter Altenberg. In 1906, Berg met the singerHelene Nahowski, daughter of a wealthy family (said by some to be in fact the illegitimate daughter of EmperorFranz Joseph I of Austriafrom his liaison with Anna Nahowski);despite the outward hostility of her family, the two were married on May 3, 1911.

In 1913, two of Berg'sFive Songs on Picture Postcard Texts by Peter Altenberg(1912) were premired in Vienna,conductedby Schoenberg. Settings of aphoristic utterances, the songs are accompanied by a very large orchestra. The performance caused a riot, and had to be halted; the work was not performed in full until 1952 (and its full score remained unpublished until 1966).

From 1915 to 1918, Berg served in theAustrianArmy and during a period of leave in 1917 he began work on his firstopera,Wozzeck. After the end ofWorld War I, he settled again in Vienna where he taught private pupils. He also helped Schoenberg run hisSociety for Private Musical Performances, which sought to create the ideal environment for the exploration and appreciation of unfamiliar new music by means of open rehearsals, repeat performances, and the exclusion of professional critics.

Three excerpts fromWozzeckwere performed in 1924, and this brought Berg his first public success. The opera, which Berg completed in 1922, was not performed in its entirety until December 14, 1925, whenErich Kleiberdirected a performance inBerlin. TodayWozzeckis seen as one of Berg's most important works. Berg completed only the first two acts of his later opera, the critically acclaimedLulu, before he died.

Berg's best-known piece is his elegiacViolin Concerto. Like much of his mature work, it employs a personal adaptation of Schoenberg'stwelve tone techniquethat enables the composer to combine frankatonalitywith passages that use more traditional tonal harmonies; additionally, Berg incorporates quotations from historical tonal music, including aBachchorale and aCarinthianfolk song. The Violin Concerto was dedicated to Manon, the deceased daughter of architectWalter GropiusandAlma Mahler.

Other well known Berg compositions include theLyric Suite(seemingly a significant influence on the String Quartet No. 3 ofBla Bartk),Three Pieces for Orchestraand theChamberConcertoforviolin,pianoand 13windinstruments.

Berg died in Vienna, on Christmas Eve 1935, apparently fromblood poisoningcaused by an insect bite. He was 50 years old.

Douglas Jarman writes in theNew Grove: "As the 20th century closed, the 'backward-looking' Berg suddenly came asPerleremarked, to look like its most forward-looking composer."





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