chapter
Alban Berg
Pages 11

Alban Berg’s name usually calls to mind two other composerswith whom he was closely associated: his teacher, ArnoldSchoenberg, and his friend and fellow student, Anton Webern. The trio has often been cited as the nucleus of a school of composers following Schoenberg’s twelve-tone row technique. This generalization has some basis in fact but is far too inclusive to accurately describe the works of Berg, who, during the last half of the 20th century, emerged as the most enduring (if not the most influential) of the three composers. His relatively short work list includes items written in a Romantic but still tonal idiom, others that are atonal, and later works that exploit the principles of twelve-tone music but with Berg’s individual application of that process. Within these traditions, his music expands on traditional forms adapted to his own individual stamp-symmetrical constructions; tone rows with common and familiar substructures; quotations; numerology; and various types of continuing variationsall underlying music that on the surface appears to carry a very different message. Berg’s works show a carefully executed development of musical ideas and principles of design. Nothing is done on impulse. Few passages give the impression of facile creativity, as musical operations are concentrated and distilled through slow and careful composition. Numerology and other references pervade his scores, presumably intended to offer a thread of comprehensibility at a time when musical styles in Vienna were in a great state of flux. These conditions have established for Berg’s works a fame based on their musical design and extramusical implications. His stature at the end of the 20th century

readily surpasses the considerable renown already accorded him at the time of his death in 1935.