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Kammerkonzert for piano, violin and thirteen wind instruments by ALBAN BERG (Austria, 1885 – 1935)

[#243] March 18, 2024

1923/25 | Piano, Violin, Wind Ensemble | Grade 6 | 35’ – 40’ | Solo work

ustrian composer Alban Berg

Kammerkonzert (Chamber concerto), for piano, violin and thirteen wind instruments by Austrian composer Alban Berg is our Composition of the Week.

The work is dedicated to Arnold Schoenberg on the occasion of his 50th anniversary. It was written between 1923-1924, that is, during the period following the completion of the opera Wozzeck, which was not premiered until 1925. It was a happy time for Berg, who was finally becoming aware of his genius and beginning to be relatively recognized by the Viennese public.


Chamber Concerto was premiered on March 20, 1927, in Berlin, Germany, conducted by Hermann Scherchen, with Eduard Steuermann on piano, and Rüdolf Kolisch on violin.

It is structured in three movements:


I.Tema scherzoso con variazioni


III.Rondo ritmico con introduzione (cadenza)


And has a duration of 36 minutes. It is scored for the following instrumentation:


soloists: piano, violin

piccolo flute, flute, oboe, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, bassoon, contrabassoon, trumpet, 2 horns, trombone.


The Concerto is also a testimony to his unfailing friendship with Schoenberg and Anton Webern. All three names are given in the first movement, in their musical form (according to German alphabetical notation). ArnolD SCHoenBErG is represented by: A-D-E-flat-C-B-B-flat-E-G; Anton wEBErn by A-E-B-flat-E; and Berg's first name, AlBAn, by A-B-flat-A.

The number three also plays an important role in the work.

Other well-known Berg composition is the Lyric Suite (1926), which was later shown to employ elaborate cyphers to document a secret love affair, as he did with this Concerto.

It was written so conscientiously that Pierre Boulez has called it "Berg's strictest composition".


Alban Berg was a member of the Second Viennese School with Arnold Schoenberg and Anton Webern, and produced compositions that combined Mahlerian Romanticism with a personal adaptation of Schoenberg's twelve-tone technique.


Berg was more interested in literature than music as a child and did not begin to compose until he was fifteen, as an autodidact. Berg had little formal music education before he became a student of Arnold Schoenberg in October 1904. With Schoenberg he studied counterpoint, music theory, and harmony. By 1906, he was studying music full time; by 1907, he began composition lessons. His early compositions included five drafts for piano sonatas. He also wrote songs, including his Seven Early Songs (Sieben Frühe Lieder), three of which were Berg's first publicly performed work in a concert that featured the music of Schoenberg's pupils in Vienna that year. The early sonata sketches eventually culminated in Berg's Piano Sonata, Op. 1 (1907–1908); it is one of the most formidable "first" works ever written.


Berg studied with Schoenberg for six years until 1911. He admired him as a composer and mentor, and they remained close lifelong friends. Among Schoenberg's teaching was the idea that the unity of a musical composition depends upon all its aspects being derived from a single basic idea; this idea was later known as developing variation. Berg passed this on to his students, one of whom, Theodor W. Adorno, stated: "The main principle he conveyed was that of variation: everything was supposed to develop out of something else and yet be intrinsically different". The Piano Sonata is an example—the whole composition is derived from the work's opening quartal gesture and its opening phrase.


Berg was a part of Vienna's cultural elite. His circle included the musicians Alexander von Zemlinsky and Franz Schreker, the painter Gustav Klimt, the writer and satirist Karl Kraus, the architect Adolf Loos, and the poet Peter Altenberg.


In 1913, two of Berg's “Five Songs on Picture Postcard Texts” by Peter Altenberg (1912) were premièred in Vienna, conducted by Schoenberg in the infamous “Skandalkonzert”. Settings of aphoristic poetic utterances, the songs are accompanied by a very large orchestra. The performance caused a riot and had to be halted. This was a crippling blow to Berg's self-confidence: he effectively withdrew the work, which is surely one of the most innovative and assured first orchestral compositions in the literature, and it was not performed in full until 1952. The full score remained unpublished until 1966.


From 1915 to 1918, Berg served in the Austro-Hungarian Army and during a period of leave in 1917 he accelerated work on his first opera, Wozzeck. After the end of World War I, he settled again in Vienna, where he taught private pupils. He also helped Schoenberg run his Society for Private Musical Performances, which sought to create the ideal environment for the exploration and appreciation of unfamiliar new music by means of open rehearsals, repeat performances, and the exclusion of professional critics.


Three excerpts from Wozzeck were performed in 1924, and this brought Berg his first public success. The opera, which Berg completed in 1922, was first performed on December 14, 1925, when Erich Kleiber conducted the first performance in Berlin. Today Wozzeck is seen as one of the century's most important works.


Berg is remembered as one of the most important composers of the 20th century and to date is the most widely performed opera composer among the Second Viennese School. He is considered to have brought more human values to the twelve-tone system; his works seen as more emotional than Schoenberg's. His popularity has been more easily secured than many other Modernists since he plausibly combined both Romantic and Expressionist idioms.






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