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Alban Berg

Berg, Alban (älˈbän bĕrk) [key], 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 Schoenberg (see serial music), 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 Büchner; Berlin, 1925), written in a free atonal style (see atonality) 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 Wedekind; 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).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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