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Alban Berg and His World

Alban Berg and His World

Edited by Christopher Hailey
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  • Book Info
    Alban Berg and His World
    Book Description:

    Alban Berg and His Worldis a collection of essays and source material that repositions Berg as the pivotal figure of Viennese musical modernism. His allegiance to the austere rigor of Arnold Schoenberg's musical revolution was balanced by a lifelong devotion to the warm sensuousness of Viennese musical tradition and a love of lyric utterance, the emotional intensity of opera, and the expressive nuance of late-Romantic tonal practice.

    The essays in this collection explore the specific qualities of Berg's brand of musical modernism, and present newly translated letters and documents that illuminate his relationship to the politics and culture of his era. Of particular significance are the first translations of Berg's newly discovered stage workNight (Nocturne), Hermann Watznauer's intimate account of Berg's early years, and the famous memorial issue of the music periodical 23. Contributors consider Berg's fascination with palindromes and mirror images and their relationship to notions of time and identity; the Viennese roots of his distinctive orchestral style; his links to such Viennese contemporaries as Alexander Zemlinsky, Franz Schreker, and Erich Wolfgang Korngold; and his attempts to maneuver through the perilous shoals of gender, race, and fascist politics.

    The contributors are Antony Beaumont, Leon Botstein, Regina Busch, Nicholas Chadwick, Mark DeVoto, Douglas Jarman, Sherry Lee, and Margaret Notley.

    Bard Music Festival:

    Berg and His WorldBard CollegeAnnandale-on-Hudson, New YorkAugust 13-15, 2010 and August 20-22, 2010

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3647-5
    Subjects: Music, History

Table of Contents

  1. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  2. Berg’s Worlds
    (pp. 3-32)

    Vienna is not the product of successive ages but a layered composite of itsaccumulatedpasts. Geography has made this place a natural crossroads, a point of cultural convergence for an array of political, economic, religious, and ethnic tributaries. By the mid-nineteenth century the city’s physical appearance and cultural characteristics, its customs and conventions, its art, architecture, and literature presented a collage of disparate historical elements. Gothic fervor and Renaissance pomp sternly held their ground against flights of rococo whimsy, and the hedonistic theatricality of the Catholic Baroque took the pious folk culture from Austria’s alpine provinces in worldly embrace....

  3. Hermann Watznauer’s Biography of Alban Berg
    (pp. 33-90)

    The biography of Alban Berg by Hermann Watznauer (1875–1939) is a unique record of the young composer written by someone who was virtually a member of the Berg household during Alban’s formative years. In particular, the first two parts capture with disarming, sometimes naïve, vividness a period of his life when he was still entirely unknown, living within the parameters of home, school, and summer holidays at the Berghof, the family estate on the Ossiacher See in Carinthia. Beginning with a portrait of the Berg household and an autobiographical sketch of the young Watznauer himself (who uses the pseudonym...

  4. A Descriptive Overview of Berg’s Night (Nocturne)
    (pp. 91-132)

    When in October 1912 Arnold Schönberg asked Berg about his compositional projects, he had unusually specific suggestions: “Have you ever thought of writing something for the theater? I sometimes think you would be good at that! In any case it could be very stimulating for you. Just see that you don’t take theDream Playsaway from me, for I’m considering them myself. But some other Strindberg work! I consider that very feasible!”² Berg was not entirely unprepared for the question and answered that after finishing theAltenberg Liederhe hoped to move right on to a stage project, “if...

  5. Berg and the Orchestra
    (pp. 133-162)

    The art of orchestration, in the sense that it concerns us here, dates back to the last decade or so of the seventeenth century, to the time when composers began assigning individual parts (other than the ground-bass) to specific instruments or instrumental groups. Despite a steady growth in contrapuntal and textural complexity, art music was still almost as close to nature as folk music, strings were still strings,¹ a trumpet just a trumpet.²

    During the Classical period, radical changes in texture and line went hand in hand with a sharper focus on orchestral brilliance, on virtuosity of the group rather...

  6. “ . . . deinen Wuchs wie Musik”: Portraits, Identities, and the Dynamics of Seeing in Berg’s Operatic Sphere
    (pp. 163-194)

    In the brief note above from Theodor Adorno to Alban Berg, which dates from 1931, the primacy accorded by the American magazine’s request for a painted portrait over a photographic likeness is striking.¹ True, a painted portrayal was still accorded something of an elite status over the wider public accessibility of the snapshot. Berg’s own work at the time testified to the continued artistic interest in portraiture: he was well into the composition of his last opera,Lulu, in which a portrait plays a key role. But by this date, the status of the painted portrait as a naturalistic likeness...

  7. “Remembrance of things that are to come”: Some Reflections on Berg’s Palindromes
    (pp. 195-222)

    The basic postulate of twelve-note technique—that having arranged the twelve notes of the chromatic scale in a particular order the composer is free to use this ordering in its original, its inverted, its retrograde, and its retrograde inverted forms—is now so generally known and accepted that those of us who listen to or think about this music rarely pause to question it.

    That a row can be inverted, that is turned upside down, is an understandable assumption: we are all familiar with thematic material being inverted in tonal music, although, given the nature of the diatonic scale and...

  8. 1934, Alban Berg, and the Shadow of Politics: Documents of a Troubled Year
    (pp. 223-268)

    Toward the end of 1934, Clemens Krauss was on his way out as director of the Vienna State Opera. Alban Berg was angling for Erich Kleiber, whose primary appointment was in Berlin, to succeed him. In a letter of 20 November to the latter conductor, Berg offered his thoughts on the possible candidates, including Kleiber himself:

    To be sure, I don’t know yet whether your membership in the N.S.D.A.P. is an obstacle or not. That must be carefully explored. But ultimately everyone concerned has some sort of snag [Haken].¹ Walter is a Jew, Busch is seen as red, Böhm may...

  9. Alban Berg zum Gedenken: The Berg Memorial Issue of 23: A Viennese Music Journal
    (pp. 269-298)

    The first issue of 23:Eine Wiener Musikzeitschriftappeared in Vienna with a date of January 1932. As its founding editor, Willi Reich (1898–1980), wrote later, its intent was to “sharply oppose” with well-aimed polemics “the corruption that was more and more out of control in Viennese musical life.” Reich had proposed the journal in a letter to Alban Berg, his teacher and friend, suggesting various possible titles likeAusbruch,Synkope, evenDer musikalische Beobachter(The musical observer)—a barely concealed reference toDer völkische Beobachter, the official newspaper of the increasingly powerful National Socialist Party in Germany. Berg...

  10. Alban Berg and the Memory of Modernism
    (pp. 299-344)

    Few modernist composers have been as posthumously privileged as Alban Berg. His music continues to find a substantial audience worldwide. His work and life have been subject to exhaustive, sympathetic scrutiny.¹Wozzeck’sexceptional success after its 1925 premiere led to widespread anticipation of a completedLulu, spurred somewhat by its “trailer,” the Symphonic Pieces fromLulu. Despite restrictions on performances of his music after the Nazi seizure of power and hesitancy among many musicians to perform modernist works, Berg’s untimely death in December 1935 was an international event. Where his mentor Schoenberg had only achieved notoriety, Berg had become a...

  11. Notes on the Contributors
    (pp. 359-362)