Recording by Anne-Sophie Mutter of Berg’s Violin Concerto
February 9, 2020
Alban Berg composed with the 12-tone system, in which all the notes within an octave were equally distributed within a melody – no one note repeated more than another – resulting in the reign of atonality (meaning, a non-easily identifiable key that is definitely not “hummable”). Berg found a mentor and champion in Arnold Schoenberg, the innovator behind the 12-tone method. Up until then, he was composing in the style of Brahms and Mahler. Berg went from someone who dabbled in composition to becoming a true master. He composed the first atonal opera, Wozzeck, based on the play he saw in 1914. During the war, all creative activity was on hold, and Berg placed on desk duty because of his delicate health.
His legacy is impressive, given how relatively few works he left behind – others include his other opera, Lulu, the Altenberg Lieder (Altenberg is a city, “lieder” means “songs”), the Lyric Suite, and his Violin Concerto.
Berg’s Violin Concerto was commissioned by violinist Louis Krasner and is the last work Berg completed before his death at 50. Here’s the second (and last) movement, as played by Anne-Sophie Mutter. It’s not easy listening at first; it’s as far away from Mozart as you can get. But let it roll for a few minutes, and see what you think. Sometimes it’s good to challenge your musical boundaries now and then.
Alban Berg was born February 9, 1885 in Vienna, Austria, and died December 24, 1935 in Vienna.