Composer of the Day!

Today's composer of the day is Alban Berg.

February 9, 1885 - December 24, 1935

(Photo: Alban Berg as played by Christopher Walken.)

Today would have been the 125th birthday for Mr. Berg, if he'd only had superhuman immortality. Berg represents Part II of our three part Composer of the Day! series on Second Viennese School composers. (see Part I here)

Berg was born into wealth, and died in poverty, the latter due to blacklisting by the Nazis. After knocking up one of his family's servants at age 17, Berg did the practical thing and got a job as a bookkeeper. By the age of 19, though, Berg did the unpractical thing and started to study composition with Arnold Schoenberg.

Berg is perhaps best known as the composer most-often cited by twelve-tone apologists and by haters of modernist music in need of some credibility. This is primarily due to Berg's reputation as a composer who successfully combined the musical sensibilities of Romanticism with Expressionist ideals and post-tonal musical languages.

Berg also ascribed to a system of composition that ventured to compose entire works of music from a single motive or musical gesture. This conservation of ideas manifests itself in many of his works, including the musicologist's wet-dream Lyric Suite, of which the first movement, for example, is derived entirely from a series of intervals in the very first bar. His most famous works are probably his Violin Concerto and his two operas, Wozzeck and Lulu. Both operas are touching stories of hope and the unwavering human spirit; the former about a soldier driven insane by doctors who then stabs his mistress, and the latter about a woman who kills her husband, kills her doctor, becomes a prostitute who is in turn killed by Jack the Ripper.

Here is a small bit from one of my favorite moments of Lulu:

Like his serialist comrade, Anton Webern, Berg suffered a rather tragic and gruesome death when he was (likely) bitten by an insect and died of blood poisoning, worsened by a little home surgery performed by his wife. He died on Christmas Eve, which, of course, totally sucks.

In the unlikely case that you haven't heard his music, please remedy that immediately. His music is a marvel of carefully executed musical architecture, and of lyrical and emotional depth.

Besides the already named works, his Chamber Concerto (1925) and Altenberg leider (1911-12) are amazing pieces more than worth the listen.

Chamber Concerto (1925), mvt. 1:

Five Orchestral Songs on Postcard Texts of Peter Altenberg, Op. 4 (1911-12):


"I think the origin of all this clamour for tonality is not so much the need to sense a relationship to the tonic, as a need for familiar chords: let us be frank and say "for the triad"; and I believe I have good reason to say that just so long as a certain kind of music contains enough such triads, it causes no offence, even if in other ways it most violently clashes with the sacred laws of tonality."
-- Alban Berg, quoted in Reich, Willi (1971). Schoenberg: A Critical Biography, p.34.


Sator Arepo said...

Very nice. Christopher Walken was a badass composer indeed.

Gustav said...

I almost went James Spader as Alan Shore as Alban Berg...but Christopher Walken is so consistent a fit looking at all the available photos of the guy.