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Narratives of Identity in Alban Berg's "Lulu"

Narratives of Identity in Alban Berg's "Lulu"

Silvio J. dos Santos
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 238
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  • Book Info
    Narratives of Identity in Alban Berg's "Lulu"
    Book Description:

    Exploring the crossroads between autobiographical narrative and musical composition, this book examines Berg's transformation of Frank Wedekind's Erdgeist (1895) and Die Büchse der Pandora/ (1904) -- the plays used in the formation of the libretto for Lulu -- according to notions of gender identity, social customs, and the aesthetics of modernity in Vienna of the 1920s and 1930s. While Berg modernized several aspects of the plays by Wedekind and incorporated serial techniques of composition from Arnold Schoenberg, he never let go of the idealistic Wagnerian perspectives of his youth. In fact, he went as far as reconfiguring aspects of Richard Wagner's life as an ideal identity to be played out in the compositional process. In the process of composing the opera, Berg also reflected on the most important cultural figures in fin-de-siècle Vienna that affected his worldview, including Karl Kraus, Emil Lucka, Otto Weininger, and others. Adopting an approach that combines a systematic analysis of Berg's numerous sketches for Lulu, correspondence, and the finished work with interpretive models drawn from cultural studies and philosophy, this book elucidates the ways in which Berg grappled with his self-image as an "incorrigible romantic" (unverbesserliche Romantiker) at the end of his life, explaining aspects of his musical language that have been considered strange or anomalous in the scholarship. Silvio J. dos Santos is assistant professor of musicology at the University of Florida.

    eISBN: 978-1-58046-849-7
    Subjects: Music, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Note on Terminology
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    In 1955, around the twentieth anniversary of Berg’s death, Theodor Adorno felt compelled to restore what he regarded as Berg’s rightful place in the history of musical aesthetics, as well as his legacy as a composer.¹ One of Adorno’s chief complaints was related to the changing perception of Berg’s music: “During his lifetime he was a leading member of the avant-garde and would have never felt himself to be anything else. He now finds himself lumped together with others under the label of ‘modern classics,’ a label from which he would have recoiled.”²

    Referring to audiences of the 1920s as...

  6. Part One: Berg’s Ideal Identities

    • Chapter One Between Schoenberg and Wagner
      (pp. 13-24)

      The image of Alban Berg as a member of the Second Viennese School and a devoted student of Arnold Schoenberg, even in his mature years, pervades our understanding of the composer.¹ This image is derived, as Joseph Auner has demonstrated, from a historical narrative that turned the notion of a Second Viennese School of composers into a concept—a concept in which important critics such as René Leibowitz went so far as rendering Schoenberg as the sole leading genius, leaving Berg and Webern as mere derivatives whose existence as composers would have been “inconceivable” without Schoenberg’s teaching.² Obviously, we have...

    • Chapter Two Berg as Wagner: In Pursuit of an Ideal Identity
      (pp. 25-42)

      By establishing a principle of identity between Berg and Wagner, this chapter is bound to cause suspicion, as it could rightly be argued that a person’s identity is formed by a multitude of factors—including the appropriation of historical or fictional narratives—by which the individual and collective identities are in a constant process of reconfiguration. To single out one element asthemost important factor in the formation of one’s identity would seem to establish a rather rigid category that overlooks other relational properties in identity formation. To be sure, as is well-known, Berg identified himself overtly with an...

    • Chapter Three Refiguring Tristan
      (pp. 43-76)

      Berg’s fixation on constructing narratives of identity is reflected most overtly in his rendering of the character of Alwa, who is transformed into an opera composer, the “WozzeckKomponist” (composer ofWozzeck),¹ from the original playwright in Wedekind’s play. This sort of self-identification was not unusual within his Viennese circle of friends; perhaps the closest model is Schoenberg’s identification with Moses in his operaMoses und Aron.² Yet Berg complicates his self-identification with Alwa because, as Patricia Hall has rightly argued, “many sketches for the Rondo suggest that on some level Berg associated the character of Alwa with Tristan from...

  7. Part Two: Personal and Cultural Identities

    • Chapter Four The Bild Motif and Lulu’s Identity
      (pp. 79-116)

      As is well-known and has been discussed in previous chapters, Karl Kraus’s introductory lecture to the 1905 private performance of Frank Wedekind’sDie Büchse der Pandorain Vienna left a lasting impression on Berg. This impression lay dormant until 1928, when he settled on Wedekind’sLuluplays,ErdgeistandDie Büchse der Pandora, for his second opera after considering and eventually rejecting Gerhart Hauptmann’sUnd Pippa tanzt!¹ Kraus’s lecture was extensive and addressed several issues, including the perception of womanhood and the typological roles of some characters, all of which he related to the moral message of the play. The...

    • Chapter Five Marriage as Prostitution
      (pp. 117-149)

      When Berg explained his progress with composingLuluin a letter to Schoenberg on August 7, 1930, he had already set his mind on one of the most important distinctions between his new opera and the plays by Frank Wedekind on which the libretto was based: namely, the return of Lulu’s “victims” (her husbands) as her clients in the final scene. After describing the role of the orchestral interlude between the first and second scenes of act 2 as the “focal point for the whole tragedy,” Berg added this parenthetical comment: “(Incidentally: the 4 men [actually three] who visit Lulu...

    • Chapter Six Masculine, Feminine, and “In-between”: Geschwitz as neue Frau
      (pp. 150-182)

      In the conclusion ofLuluthe audience is left with the dying Geschwitz, a lesbian character whose devoted, self-sacrificing love for Lulu and eventual decision to pursue a law degree and fight for women’s rights is cut short by her fateful encounter with Jack the Ripper. Perhaps the most significant aspect of this ending is that Berg places Lulu’s death offstage; the only victim onstage, and therefore seen and heard by the audience, is Geschwitz. Berg even considered, at some point during the compositional process, leaving Lulu alive, making Geschwitz the only fatal victim of Jack the Ripper.¹ This subtle...

  8. Conclusion: Berg’s Wagnerism
    (pp. 183-186)

    Berg’s fascination with Wagner,Tristanin particular, complicates our understanding of his music because it underlies not only his creative identity and actions but also some principles behind his musical compositions. In his writings, Adorno often tries to draw a distinction between Berg and Wagner, but his explanations, while illuminating, only contribute to the problem. In his reevaluation of Berg, written about twenty years after Berg’s death, Adorno recognizes the “autonomy” of Berg’s works but points to a peculiar sort of metaphysics in which Berg’s music would emerge from underneath the music drama. In other words, Adorno draws a distinction...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 187-206)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 207-220)
  11. Index
    (pp. 221-226)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 227-227)