Alban Berg

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Berg, Alban

(äl`bän bĕrk), 1885–1935, Austrian composer. In his youth he taught himself music but in 1904 he became the pupil and close friend of Arnold Schoenberg. Later Berg himself taught privately in Vienna. He adopted atonality and later the twelve-tone technique of SchoenbergSchoenberg, Arnold
, 1874–1951, Austrian composer, b. Vienna. Before he became a U.S. citizen in 1941 he spelled his name Schönberg. He revolutionized modern music by abandoning tonality and developing a twelve-tone, "serial" technique of composition (see serial
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 (see serial musicserial music,
the body of compositions whose fundamental syntactical reference is a particular ordering (called series or row) of the twelve pitch classes—C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A#, B—that constitute the equal-tempered scale.
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), although he tempered it with the lyric and dramatic qualities of the Viennese romantic tradition. His masterpiece, the opera Wozzeck (based on the play Woyzeck by Georg BüchnerBüchner, Georg
, 1813–37, German dramatist. He was a student of medicine and a political agitator. He died at the age of 24, leaving a powerful drama, Danton's Death (1835, tr.
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; Berlin, 1925), written in a free atonal style (see atonalityatonality
, in music, systematic avoidance of harmonic or melodic reference to tonal centers (see key). The term is used to designate a method of composition in which the composer has deliberately rejected the principle of tonality.
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) with occasional intrusions of tonality, aroused strenuous protest, but it has since been acclaimed as a major work of the 20th-century musical stage. His Chamber Concerto (1927) marked a turn to twelve-tone composition, but it is in his Lyric Suite (1927) for string quartet and his opera Lulu (based on two plays by WedekindWedekind, Frank
, 1864–1918, German dramatist. He was also a journalist and publicist, and he worked on the staff of Simplicissimus. A forerunner of the expressionists, he employed grotesque fantasy and unconventional characters in order to attack the bourgeois
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; Zürich, 1937) that the mature twelve-tone style is manifested with great technical intricacy yet richly expressionistic. Though Lulu was left incomplete in its orchestration, it was completed by Friedrich Cerha. His Violin Concerto (Barcelona, 1936), his last completed work, written as an elegy on the death of Alma Mahler's 18-year old daughter, combines eloquent lyricism with the rigors the twelve-tone technique and of the classical form. He also wrote songs and chamber music.


See his letters to his wife, ed. and tr. by B. Grun (1971); G. Perle, The Operas of Alban Berg (2 vol., 1980–85); biographical studies by W. Reich (tr. 1965) and D. Jarman (1979).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Berg, Alban


Born Feb. 9,1885, in Vienna; died there on Dec. 24, 1935. Austrian composer. One of the most prominent representatives of expressionism in music.

Berg studied composition under A. Schönberg, who was an important influence in the formation of Berg’s creative principles. Berg’s first works were written in the early 1900’s, but he became widely known for his opera Wozzeck (based on G. Büchner’s play; composed, 1917–21; produced in 1925 in Berlin and in Leningrad in 1927). This opera partly reflected the composer’s personal experiences in the army during World War I (1914–18). Social criticism and antimilitaristic tendencies are expressed in Wozzeck. The opera’s music is distinguished by its great dramatic force and depth. At the same time, Wozzeck is marked by a mystical, fatalistic concept of the world that is characteristic of expressionism.

Other very important works by Berg include a chamber concerto (1923–25), a lyric suite for string quartet (1925–26), and a concerto for violin and orchestra (1935). The opera Lulu (based on F. Wedekind’s plays The Earth Spirit and Pandora’s Box) was not completed by Berg (but it was staged in 1937).


Votstsek A. Berga: Sb. statei. Leningrad, 1927.
Keldysh, Iu. ”Votstsek i muzykal’nyi ekspressionism.” Sovetskaia muzyka, 1965, no. 3.
Kremlev, Iu. “Etika i estetika opery ’Votstsek.’ “ In the collection Voprosy teorii i estetiki muzyki, vol. 5. Leningrad, 1967.
Reich, W.Alban Berg. Vienna, 1937. (Supplement contains articles by Berg.)
Reich, W. A. Berg: Leben und Werk. Zürich, 1963.
Redlich, H. F. Alban Berg. New York, 1957.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.