Alban Berg

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Alban Berg (portrayed by Emil Stumpp , 1927)

Alban Berg (born February 9, 1885 in Vienna ; † December 24, 1935 there ) was an Austrian composer of the Second Vienna School . He was baptized on March 1, 1885 in the parish church of St. Peter in the name of Albano Maria Johannes Berg. The "o" in Albano was only on the baptismal certificate and never reappeared.


Bust of Alban Berg in front of the municipal office in Schiefling am Wörthersee in Carinthia

Alban Berg was born as the third of four children of the wealthy business and export merchant Conrad Berg and his wife Johanna in Vienna. When Alban was 15 years old, his father died and his mother continued her husband's devotional business. Versatile, he was equally interested in literature and music as a student; Together with his sister Smaragda, who was one year younger than him, he received piano lessons and at the age of 16 began to compose songs that were sung by his older brother Charly - who was already a businessman - and Smaragda.

At the age of 17, Alban Berg fell in love with the kitchen maid Marie Scheuchl, who worked in his parents' household. On December 4, 1902, Marie Scheuchl gave birth to his illegitimate daughter Albine († 1954), whose fatherhood Alban Berg declared in writing on December 8, 1903.

In October 1904, the Neue Musikalische Presse announced a composition course by the 30-year-old composer Arnold Schönberg . Without Alban's knowledge, Charly Berg presented him with songs by his brother, and Schoenberg agreed to include the young man in his course. After the end of the course, Schönberg Alban continued to teach privately free of charge, because as an unpaid accounting intern for the Lower Austrian provincial government, he had no income and his mother earned too little to enable him to train as a composer. In the following year, after the death of her sister, Johanna Berg received a rich inheritance, which gave her the opportunity to support her two sons for years with a generous allowance.

At the end of 1906, the young composer met Helene Nahowska , who was of the same age . She was considered the daughter of the wealthy privateer Franz Nahowski and his wife Anna , but was possibly the daughter of Emperor Franz Joseph I. In any case, Mr. Nahowski opposed a union of the two for years until he reluctantly agreed to the wedding in 1911. From then on, Alban and Helene often spent their summer vacations at the house of their in-laws in Trahütten , a high-altitude village in Styria, more rarely on Johanna Berg's property, the "Berghof", on Lake Ossiach in Carinthia.

In 1912 he composed the five orchestral songs based on postcard texts by Peter Altenberg, Op. 4. Two of these songs, numbers 2 and 3, were premiered by Arnold Schönberg as part of the infamous scandal concert of 1913 . These two songs led to that famous uproar, as a result of which the concert had to be broken off.

Arnold Schönberg celebrated his 40th birthday on September 13, 1914. Alban Berg honored his almost completed Three Orchestral Pieces, op. 6; However, they could not be performed because the First World War had started two months earlier.

From August 1915 to November 1918 Berg served in the Austrian army, because of his asthma, not at the front, but as a clerk in the War Ministry in Vienna. By 1915 he was working on the text version of his first opera Wozzeck , which he in 1917, based closely on Georg Büchner's drama Woyzeck , graduated. He began to compose in the last two years of the war - mostly during hard-won "vacations" - in the less starving Trahütten.

After the First World War, Alban Berg taught composition and supported Arnold Schönberg in the management of the association for private musical performances . Wozzeck's composition was completed in 1921, and the self-published piano reduction was published the next year.

In June 1923, two of the three orchestral pieces from 1914 were performed as part of the Austrian Music Week in Berlin; in August, Alban Berg's first string quartet, which he had composed for his wife Helene 12 years earlier, was performed with great success at the International Chamber Music Festival in Salzburg.

In June 1924, the conductor led Hermann Scherchen Three Fragments from the opera Wozzeck at the gala concert of the Allgemeiner Deutscher Musikverein in Frankfurt, Alban Berg was awarded the art prize of the city of Vienna in Austria and for the year 1925 was the premiere of his opera Wozzeck by Erich Kleiber in Berlin done deal.

In the period from 15 to 20 May 1925 an International Music Festival was held in Prague, where the Three Fragments from the opera Wozzeck by Alexander Zemlinsky were put on the program. At the instigation of Franz Werfels , Alma Mahler's friend , his sister Hanna Fuchs-Robettin Alban Berg invited to this event. For a whole week Alban lived in contact with Hanna, her two children and her husband. During this time a love affair arose between Alban and Hanna, which lasted until the world premiere of Wozzeck at the end of the year in Berlin. Alban Berg's second string quartet, the Lyrische Suite , which was completed the next year , depicts the deep impression this turning point made in his life not only through the music but also in the written word. If everything that was composed was previously composed with the focus on Helene, this has now changed to Hanna Fuchs, symbolized by the tones "H" and "F".

At the end of 1927 Berg concretized a new opera plan: from two dramas by Frank Wedekind , Erdgeist and Pandora's Box , he created the libretto for a three-act work, for the opera Lulu . The Universal Edition , his music publisher, was very interested in the realization of this composition.

In the following years, Alban Berg's Wozzeck achieved great success, both on the stages in Germany and in the Soviet Union (1927 St. Petersburg) and in the USA (1931 Philadelphia). He was a sought-after juror and a frequent guest at the premieres of his opera, for example in 1930 in Vienna, a year later in Zurich and in 1932 in Brussels, where he had a love affair with Anny Askenase, the wife of one of his hosts. In the same year the composer bought a house in Auen (municipality of Schiefling am Wörthersee ) in Carinthia, the "Waldhaus", in which he lived for most of the year and was able to work in peace.

In 1933, after Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany, Arnold Schönberg emigrated to America, and Alban Berg's music was also defamed as "Jewish". Many theaters no longer dared to perform his opera Wozzeck , and as a result, revenues fell dramatically. He now lived on a monthly resource that the Universal Edition had given him until the completion of his opera Lulu . His physical condition deteriorated, asthma and the susceptibility to boils increased.

In February 1935 Alban Berg began to compose a violin concerto , a composition commissioned by the American violinist Louis Krasner , which brought him urgently needed money and was ready in August.

The obituary in the NFP

As with his opera Wozzeck , Alban Berg put together parts of his opera already composed under the title Symphonic Pieces from the Opera Lulu into a suite of five pieces, which premiered in November 1934 in Berlin under Erich Kleiber and also performed in December 1935 in Vienna Performance came. A few days after the Vienna performance, the composer was hospitalized with severe furunculosis and died of sepsis on the night of December 24th to 25th.

According to the published memoirs of Soma Morgenstern , Alban Berg's early death was caused by his wife Helene, who, out of thrift, improperly cut open a boil for her husband and thus caused the blood poisoning.

Anna Mahler took Berg's death mask off.


Alban Berg Monument in front of the Vienna State Opera

He rests in an honorary grave in the Hietzinger Friedhof (group 49, number 24 F). In 1969 the Alban-Berg-Weg in Vienna- Hietzing was named after him. In Trahütten the Alban-Berg-Weg reminds of him, on which the Alban-Berg-Villa is located. In 2016, a monument created by Wolf D. Prix was unveiled in front of the Vienna State Opera . In 1990 the asteroid (4528) mountain was named after him. The Alban Berg Quartet was founded in 1971 and was one of the world's leading string quartets until it was dissolved in 2008 .


His work combines influences from Mahler's late romanticism with Arnold Schönberg's free tonality - not atonality - and later the twelve-tone technique . Although Berg always saw himself as a "natural continuation of a correctly understood, good, old tradition", he is one of the great innovators of the music of the 20th century. His work, once fiercely controversial, has long been a part of classical modernism and continues to fascinate with a characteristic combination of constructive rigor and personal sensory expression.

Opera works


Wozzeck is an opera in three acts based on the dramatic fragment Woyzeck by Georg Büchner. Berg had already finished working on the opera in 1921. A performance of three excerpts in 1924 brought him his first public success. In the following year, Erich Kleiber , the new young general music director of the Berlin State Opera , premiered the work after 137 rehearsals on December 14, 1925. The Wozzeck is now considered a milestone in the history of opera and one of the most important works of the 20th century, especially since the work achieved international fame after 1945. Important conductors advocated this work, especially Karl Böhm , who directed it for decades at the Vienna State Opera and found in Walter Berry a protagonist who was perceived by critics and the public as ideal. But Claudio Abbado and Pierre Boulez also created live performances and recordings that were important in terms of reception history. Major directors, such as Oscar Fritz Schuh , Luca Ronconi or Patrice Chéreau , created highly acclaimed productions. Franz Grundträger is considered to be the most important Wozzeck interpreter at the end of the 20th and beginning of the 21st century.


Lulu is an unfinished opera in three acts based on the dramas Erdgeist and Pandora's Box by Frank Wedekind . The unfinished work was premiered in Zurich in 1937 (two acts plus the two last movements of the symphonic pieces ). The completion of the third act - the musical structure was almost completely preserved, but only “sketchily” - was what Helene Berg hoped would be from Arnold Schönberg, who, like Webern and Zemlinsky later, declined. Probably without her knowledge - as a commissioned work for Universal Edition - Friedrich Cerha finally completed the third act from 1962. The completed piece in three acts was premiered three years after Helene Berg's death (1976) on February 24, 1979 at the Opéra nationale de Paris.

Orchestral works

Other important works are the Three Orchestral Pieces (op. 6) from 1914, the chamber concerto for piano, violin and 13 wind instruments, the concert aria Der Wein ( Le Vin ) based on texts by Charles Baudelaire and the violin concerto.

The best-known work by Berg besides Wozzeck is probably his Violin Concerto (1935). In autumn 1934, the American violinist Louis Krasner commissioned a violin concerto. At the end of April 1935, Alban Berg received news of the death of 18-year-old Manon Gropius , who was suffering from polio , the daughter of Alma Mahler-Werfels from her marriage to the architect Walter Gropius . In order to declare his solidarity with Alma Mahler-Gropius-Werfel, the work is subtitled “In memory of an angel”. The first performance of the violin concerto took place posthumously on April 19, 1936 with Louis Krasner under the direction of Hermann Scherchen at the music festival in Barcelona . It became his own requiem.

List of works

  • Youth songs (1903-1908). Edited by Christopher Hailey, Universal Edition Vienna 1985/1987
  • Seven early songs for a voice with piano based on poems by Johannes Schlaf , Theodor Storm , Otto Erich Hartleben , Rainer Maria Rilke , Paul Hohenberg , Carl Hauptmann and Nikolaus Lenau (1905–1908, revised and orchestrated 1928)
  • op. 1 piano sonata (1907/1908, revised 1920)
  • op. 2 Four songs for a voice with piano from "The Pain His Right" by Friedrich Hebbel and from "Der Glühende" by Alfred Mombert (1908/1909, revised 1920)
  • op. 3 string quartet (1910, revised 1924)
  • op.4 orchestral songs based on postcards by Peter Altenberg (5 songs) (1912)
  • op.5 Four pieces for clarinet and piano (1913)
  • op.6 Three orchestral pieces (1914)
  • op. 7 Wozzeck , opera in 3 acts (15 scenes) based on Georg Büchner's Woyzeck (1917–1922, world premiere on December 14, 1925 in Berlin), concert version: Three fragments from the opera “Wozzeck” (1924)
  • Chamber concerto for piano, violin with thirteen wind instruments (1923–1925), arrangement of the 2nd movement as a trio for violin, clarinet and piano (1935)
  • Close my eyes both, two settings of a poem by Theodor Storm for voice and piano (1907 and 1925)
  • Lyrical suite for string quartet (1925–1926), arrangement of movements 2, 3 and 4 for string orchestra (1928)
  • The wine, concert aria with orchestra after the eponymous cycle of poems from Les fleurs du times of Baudelaire in the German transfer of Stefan George (1929)
  • Lulu , opera in 3 acts based on the tragedies Erdgeist and Pandora's Box by Frank Wedekind (1929–1935 von Berg not completed, reconstruction of the third act by Friedrich Cerha 1962–1978), concert version: Symphonic pieces from the opera “Lulu” (Rondo, Ostinato, Lied der Lulu, Variationen, Adagio) (1934)
  • Violin Concerto ("In Memory of an Angel") (1935)

Since 1984 the Alban Berg Foundation has published a complete edition of Alban Berg, which is designed as a historically critical edition . For the first time, all of the traditional sources are used.


Berg wrote a number of essays, including for the music magazines Anbruch (whose editor he almost became) and 23 - Eine Wiener Musikzeitschrift .

  • List of fonts at Wikisource.
  • What is atonal? - A radio dialogue , 1930

Letter issues

  • Letters to his wife / Alban Berg . Edited, translated and commented on by Bernard Grun, Faber and Faber, London 1971, ISBN 0-571-08395-1 .
  • Alban Berg. [569] Letters to his wife [Helene Berg] [1907–1935] , Langen Müller, Munich 1965.
  • Th. W. Adorno - Alban Berg. Correspondence 1925–35 , edited by Henri Lonitz, Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt 1997.
  • Herwig Knaus (Ed.): Alban Berg. Handwritten letters, draft letters and notes. Florian Noetzel Verlag, Wilhelmshaven 2004, ISBN 3-7959-0839-6 .
  • Herwig Knaus, Thomas Leibnitz (Ed.): Alban Berg. Typewritten and handwritten letters, draft letters, sketches and notes. Florian Noetzel Verlag, Wilhelmshaven 2005, ISBN 3-7959-0857-4 .
  • Herwig Knaus, Thomas Leibnitz (Ed.): Alban Berg. Draft letters, records, family letters. The mine. Florian Noetzel Verlag, Wilhelmshaven 2006, ISBN 3-7959-0873-6 .
  • Correspondence between Arnold Schönberg and Alban Berg 1906–1935 , (= Correspondence of the Vienna School, Volume 3), edited by Juliane Brand, Christopher Hailey and Andreas Meyer, Schott, Mainz 2007
  • Herwig Knaus, Thomas Leibnitz (ed.): Altenberg to Zuckerkandl. Letters to Alban Berg. Love letters from Alban Berg. Erhard Löcker, Vienna 2012, ISBN 978-3-85409-470-8 .
  • Herwig Knaus, Thomas Leibnitz (ed.): Correspondence between Alban Berg and Helene Berg. Complete edition. Florian Noetzel Verlag, Wilhelmshaven 2012/2014, part I. ISBN 978-3-7959-0951-2 , part II. 978-3-7959-0953-6, part III. 978-3-7959-0955-0.
  • Herwig Knaus, (Eds.) Alban and Helene. An exchange of letters. Paperback books on musicology Vol. 165. Florian Noetzel Verlag, Wilhelmshaven 2015, ISBN 978-3-7959-0981-9 .



  • Matthias Schmidt: Berg, Alban Maria Johannes. In: Oesterreichisches Musiklexikon . Online edition, Vienna 2002 ff., ISBN 3-7001-3077-5 ; Print edition: Volume 1, Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Vienna 2002, ISBN 3-7001-3043-0 .
  • Hans-Heinz DrägerBerg, Alban. In: New German Biography (NDB). Volume 2, Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 1955, ISBN 3-428-00183-4 , p. 73 ( digitized version ).
  • Alban Berg. In: Austrian Biographical Lexicon 1815–1950 (ÖBL). Volume 1, Publishing House of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna 1957, p. 71 f. (Direct links on p. 71 , p. 72 ).
  • Willi Reich : Alban Berg - Life and Work , first edition: Atlantis Verlag AG, Zurich 1963; New edition: Piper, Munich 1985.
  • Theodor W. Adorno : Berg. The master of the smallest transition , 1968; New edition: Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1982, ISBN 3-518-01575-3 .
  • Werner König : Tonality structures in Alban Berg's opera “Wozzeck” . Schneider, Tutzing 1974, ISBN 3-7952-0131-4 .
  • Erich Alban Berg: Alban Berg - life and work in data and images . Insel Verlag Frankfurt am Main 1976, ISBN 3-458-01894-8 .
  • 50 years of Wozzeck von Alban Berg (= studies on valuation research. Volume 10). Edited by Otto Kolleritsch. Universal Edition, Vienna 1978, ISBN 3-7024-0130-X .
  • Alban Berg Chamber Music I. , (= music concepts. 4). Edited by Heinz-Klaus Metzger and Rainer Riehn. Edition text + criticism, Munich 1978, ISBN 3-921402-66-2 .
  • Alban Berg Chamber Music II. , (= Music concepts. 9). Edited by Heinz-Klaus Metzger and Rainer Riehn. Edition Text + Critique, Munich 1979, ISBN 3-88377-015-9 .
  • Alban Berg Studies Volume 2 (= Alban Berg Symposion 1980). Universal Edition, Vienna 1981, ISBN 3-7024-0158-X .
  • Anton Fuchs: In their footsteps in Carinthia - Alban Berg, Gustav Mahler, Johannes Brahms, Hugo Wolf, Anton Webern . Carinthia Verlag, Klagenfurt 1982, ISBN 3-85378-601-4 .
  • Peter Petersen : Alban Berg: Wozzeck. A semantic analysis including the sketches and documents from Berg's estate (= music concepts. Special volume). Edited by Heinz-Klaus Metzger and Rainer Riehn. Edition Text + Critique, Munich 1985, ISBN 3-88377-214-3 .
  • Siglind Bruhn : The musical representation of psychological reality in Alban Berg's Wozzeck. Peter Lang, Frankfurt 1986, ISBN 3-8204-8951-7 .
  • Constantin Floros : Alban Berg - Music as an autobiography. 1992, ISBN 3-7651-0290-3 , ISBN 978-3-7651-0290-5 .
  • Melchior von Borries : Alban Berg's "Three orchestral pieces op.6" as a masterpiece of atonal symphonies , publishing house and database for the humanities, Weimar 1996, ISBN 3-929742-91-8
  • Soma Morgenstern : Alban Berg and his idols . Structure, Berlin 1999, ISBN 3-7466-1455-4 .
  • Constantin Floros: Alban Berg and Hanna Fuchs . Zurich-Hamburg 2001
  • Cordula Knaus: Tamed Lulu: Alban Berg's Wedekind setting in the field of tension between literary ambition, opera convention andabsolute music ” (= Rombach Sciences: Series Cultura. Volume 38). Freiburg i. Br. 2004.
  • Ingo Müller: Influences of cinematography on the dramaturgy of Alban Berg's "Lulu". In: Nils Grosch (Hrsg.): Aspects of modern music theater in the Weimar Republic. Münster 2004, pp. 335-369.
  • Armin Lücke (Eds.): Franz Grundheber and Wozzeck . Matergloriosa publishing house, Trier 2008, ISBN 978-3-940760-05-0 .
  • Brian R. Simms: Alban Berg: a research and information guide. Routledge, New York et al. 2009, ISBN 978-0-415-99462-0 .
  • Herwig Knaus, Wilhelm Sinkovicz : Alban Berg. Circumstances of the time - lifelines. Residenz-Verlag, Salzburg 2009.
  • Christopher Hailey (Ed.): Alban Berg and his world. Princeton Univ. Press, Princeton, NJ et al. 2010, ISBN 978-0-691-14856-4 .
  • Ingo Müller: Lulu. Literature processing and opera dramaturgy: A comparative analysis of Frank Wedekind's Lulu dramas and Alban Berg's opera Lulu in the light of genre-theoretical reflections (= Rombach Sciences: Litterae series. Volume 177). Freiburg i. Br. 2010.
  • Barbara Meier: Alban Berg: Biography , Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, [2018], ISBN 978-3-8260-6391-6

Web links

Wikisource: Alban Berg  - Sources and full texts
Commons : Alban Berg  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Berg, Helene (ed.): Alban Berg. Letters to his wife. Munich, Vienna: Langen / Müller, 1965, p. 5.
  2. Erich Alban Berg: Alban Berg , 1976, p. 244.
  3. Minor Planet Circ. 16886
  4. Deutschlandfunk Kultur, concert Gewandhaus Leipzig, recording from February 22, 2018, broadcast on March 11, 2018.
  5. Number 4 printed as a music supplement in: Kandinsky, Franz Marc: Der Blaue Reiter. Piper, Munich 1912 (reprint: Piper Verlag, Munich 2004, ISBN 3-492-24121-2 ).
  6. What is atonal? at Wikisource : full text of the radio dialog.