Composer Profile: Alban Berg, Master of 12-Tone Opera

By David Salazar

Alban Berg, born on Feb. 9, 1885, is one of the most prevalent composers of 12-tone music.

He grew up in Vienna and showed more interest in literature than music from an early age. However, he would start teaching himself to compose at the age of 15 and eventually started studying under Arnold Schoenberg in 1904. His entire compositional style would be influenced by Schoenberg and he would soon become part of Viennese culture and his profile as a composer grew in the early 1900s.

Between 1915-18 he served in the Austro-Hungarian Army but after the first World War he returned to Vienna and started teaching. He also aided Schoenberg run Society for Private Musical Performances and by 1924, the first performance of excerpts from “Wozzeck” brought him his first major success. The opera then had its world premiere in 1925 and from there he set out to take on “Lulu.”

Unfortunately, Nazi Germany began posing a problem for his continued growth; having studied with Schoenberg, he was associated with a Jew, which was considered a crime. This resulted in interrupted premieres of major works, including “Lulu,” in Germany.

On Dec. 24, 1935, he died from blood poisoning.

Major Works

Berg only composed two operas in his lifetime – “Wozzeck” and “Lulu.” Both of them are fixtures of the standard repertory with “Wozzeck” often cited as one of the greatest operas ever written. Berg only completed orchestration on two of the three acts in “Lulu” and it was only completed after the death of his wife Helene.

Read More on Berg

Here is a quiz testing your knowledge of “Wozzeck”

Read More on Wozzeck

Read on Famed “Lulu” Interpreter Teresa Stratas

Watch and Listen

Here is a film version of “Wozzeck.”

And here is a recording of “Lulu.”


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