Alban Berg: Violin concerto

Alban Berg was Arnold Shoenberg’s student along with Anton Webern.  The three of them formed what was known as the Second Viennese School, which blew apart classical music and rejected emotional Romanticism for cold intellectual atonality and serialism.  They sounded like a real bunch of knee slapping guys.

Berg’s music is to me among the most accessible, though I used to love listening to Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunnaire because he managed to create non-musical singing.  I remember back in college listening to Berg’s opera, Woyzeck.  It is a stark piece, anti-militaristic and probably anti-religious, in which a barber, driven insane by an experiment a doctor is conducting on him, kills his prostitute wife and then himself (by accident), leaving his child to ride around on his hobby horse saying “hopp, hopp,” unaware of the death of his parents.

Beneath the Youtube video of his Violin Concerto here, there’s a great comment by a listener:  “My dad used to say that Berg’s music is like Schoenberg’s but beautiful.”

And, it is much more accessible than the 12 tonal and serial stuff that Schoenberg and his followers cranked out for the rest of the 20th Century.

Berg had a fixation on the number 23 based on having suffered an asthma attack on the 23 of the month and also his study of the work on biorythms, Wilhelm Fliess.  He died in 1935 at the age of 50 after getting blood poisoning from an insect sting on the back of his neck which went septic.

Webern stayed in Vienna and embraced Nazism.  There are a lot of apologists for him, because of the influence of his music on succeeding generations, who kind of say he was merely caught up in the Zeitgeist of the time and German nationalism.  Whatever.  He was shot at the end of World War II by an American soldier in occupied Austria when he stepped outside during curfew to enjoy a cigar given him by his son in law who was a smuggler.

Schoenberg moved to the United States in 1933, after escaping Nazi Germany which had labelled his music as decadent because he was a Jew.  He taught at UCLA and John Cage was one of his students.  Schoenberg was fixated on the number 13, having been born on the 13th of September and he regarded it an unlucky number.  When an astrologer told him on his turning 76, he would have a bad year because 6+7=13, he went into a deep depression and died on July 13, 1951.



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