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Viennese-born composer, pupil of Schoenberg, and a principal member of the so-called Second Viennese School.

Career summary

Berg became a pupil of Arnold Schoenberg’s in October 1904, having started to compose at the age of 15. After the performance of exercises in fugue and some songs at a concert of music by Schoenberg’s pupils in Vienna on November 7, 1907 he remained a student until 1911, by which time his musical language had advanced from the traditional late romanticism of the early Lieder to the extended tonality of the Piano Sonata, Op. 1 (1907‒08) and the post-tonal radicalism of the String Quartet, Op. 3 (1910).

Berg’s most celebrated later works, including the operas Wozzeck (1917‒22) and Lulu (1929‒35), the Lyric Suite (1925‒26) and the Violin Concerto (1935), are notable for their avoidance of out-and-out atonality in favor of a sophisticated fusion between post-tonal progressiveness (Berg adopted the twelve-tone method during the 1920s) and the kind of allusions to earlier music that are most explicit in the Violin Concerto's use of a Bach chorale harmonisation.

Berg and Schenker

Unlike Arnold Schoenberg, who was a constant object of Schenker's antagonism from at least 1910 onward, Berg is rarely mentioned in Schenker's diary or correspondence. Schenker was invited by Schoenberg to the concert of his pupils' music referred to above (OJ 14/45, [15]), but did not attend. On March 18, 1928, Schenker heard songs ‒ presumably the Altenberglieder of 1912 ‒ by Berg on the radio and commented in his diary "Berg: Lieder mit Orchesterbegleitung; sehr häufig Wendungen, die nicht nur tonal, sondern intonal-trivial sind" ("Berg: songs with orchestral accompaniment: very frequently turns of phrase that are not only tonal but [also] intonally trivial": OJ 4/1, pp. 3188‒3189) ‒ by which he probably meant that while working within tonality they managed only to make the tonal trivial ("intonal" is not a Schenkerian term, but presumably a deliberate neologism).

Berg must surely have been subject to Schenker's resentment that Schoenberg's pupils supported him so publicly, whereas his own did not (e.g. addressing his pupils rhetorically: "Were you the pupils of Schoenberg, or Schreker, or Busoni, [...] you would be standing on your heads, running into the streets, through every town and society, parting with your money in order to be with them and to support them; but so touched are you by the truth that you sleep and snore in the broadest daylight, as though I were giving you opium rather than the truth.": OJ 6/7, [6], July 20, 1923, to Violin).

A more remote point of contact between Berg's music and the Schenker circle is provided in Felix-Eberhard von Cube's Das Lehrbuch der musikalischen Kunstgesetze (1950s, unpublished): Urlinie analyses of Berg's two settings of "Schließe mir die Augen beide" ‒ the earlier (1907) deemed the work of a gifted musician, the later (1925) a counter-example showing what happens when a composer is corrupted by atonality.


No correspondence between Berg and Schenker is known to have occurred. Evidently Berg wrote to Anthony van Hoboken regarding the Photogrammarchiv, for Schenker records a letter to Hoboken in which he remarks: "I recommend him to interpret Alban Berg's letter as irony, since the Archive really is in a position to damage the reputation of the so-called 'new music,' albeit it pursues first and foremost only the goal of protecting the manuscripts from demise": OJ 4/1, p. 3154, December 17, 1927 [= OJ 89/1, [8]]).


  • Arnold Whittall, Ian Bent, William Drabkin

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