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Alban Berg's Violin Concerto was written in 1935 (the score is dated August 11, 1935). It is probably Berg's best-known and most frequently performed piece.

Contents

Conception and composition

Manon Gropius, Walter Gropius and Alma Mahler (1918)

The piece stemmed from a commission from the violinist Louis Krasner. When he first received the commission, Berg was working on his opera Lulu, and he did not begin work on the concerto for some months. The event that spurred him into writing was the death by polio of 18-year-old Manon Gropius, the daughter of Alma Mahler (once Gustav Mahler's wife) and Walter Gropius. Berg set Lulu to one side to write the concerto, which he dedicated "To the memory of an angel."

Berg worked on the piece very quickly, completing it within a few months; it is thought that his working on the concerto was largely responsible for his failing to complete Lulu before his death on December 24, 1935 (the violin concerto was the last work that Berg completed). The work was premiered after the composer's death, with Krasner playing the solo part, on April 19, 1936, in Palau de la Música Catalana, Barcelona.

Scoring

The concerto is scored for 2 flutes (both doubling as piccolo), 2 oboes, (one doubling as a cor anglais), alto saxophone, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, harp and strings.

The music

The concerto is structured in two movements, each further divided into two sections. The first movement begins with an Andante in classical sonata form, followed by the Allegretto, a dance-like section. The second movement starts with an Allegro largely based on a single recurring rhythmic cell; this section has been described as cadenza-like, with very difficult passages in the solo part. The orchestration becomes rather violent at its climax (which is literally marked in the score as "High point of the Allegro"); the fourth and final section, marked Adagio, is in a much calmer mood. The first two sections are meant to represent life, the last two death and transfiguration.

"lament" melody and its construction from the pitches of RI-5 and P-8[1]

Like a number of other works by Berg, the piece combines the twelve tone technique, typical of serialistic music learned from his teacher Arnold Schoenberg with passages written in a freer, more tonal style. The score integrates serialism and tonality in a remarkable fashion. Here is Berg's tone row:

G, B, D, F, A, C, E, G, B, C, E, F

Although this contains all twelve notes of the chromatic scale, there is a strong tonal undercurrent: the first three notes of the row make up a G minor triad; notes three to five are a D major triad; notes five to seven are an A minor triad; notes seven to nine are an E major triad; and the last four notes (B, C, E, F) and the first (G) together make up part of a whole tone scale. The roots of the four triads correspond to the open strings of the violin, which is highlighted in the opening passage of the piece. The resulting triads are thus fifth-related and form a cadence, which we hear directly before the row is played by the violin for the first time, in the way shown above (albeit with shorter values).

The last four notes of the row, ascending whole tones, are also the first four notes of the chorale melody, Es ist genug (It Is Enough). Berg quotes this chorale directly in the last movement of the piece, where the harmonisation by Johann Sebastian Bach is heard in the clarinets.

There is another directly quoted tonal passage in the work in the form of a Carinthian folk song in the second section of the first movement, which returns briefly before the coda in the second movement. This is perhaps the only section which does not derive its materials from the row.

Premieres

  • World premiere: April 19, 1936, Palau de la Música Catalana, Barcelona, at the ISCM Festival. Louis Krasner played the solo part, and the performance was conducted by Hermann Scherchen (Anton Webern was intended to be the conductor. Reports vary as to whether he was ill or was emotionally unable to cope with the subject matter of the music).
  • English premiere: May 1, 1936, London, at an invitation-only concert. Krasner was again the soloist, and Anton Webern conducted the BBC Symphony Orchestra. This performance was recorded on acetate discs, which survived in Krasner's collection and were later released on CD.[2]
  • English public premiere: December 9, 1936, London, at the Queen's Hall in a BBC concert. Krasner was again the soloist, and Sir Henry Wood conducted the BBC Symphony Orchestra.[3]

Notes

  1. ^ Whittall, Arnold. 2008. The Cambridge Introduction to Serialism. Cambridge Introductions to Music, p.84. New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-68200-8 (pbk).
  2. ^ The Gramophone
  3. ^ Kennedy, p.178

References

  • Pople, Anthony: Berg: Violin Concerto (Cambridge University Press, 1991) ISBN 0521399769
  • Kennedy, Michael: Adrian Boult, Hamish Hamilton, London, 1987 and Macmillan, London, 1989, ISBN 0-333-48752-4
  • The Gramophone, June 1991, review by Robert Layton

External links


Simple English

Alban Berg's Violin Concerto was written in 1935. It is one of the most famous concertos for the violin written in the 20th century. It is also probably Berg's best known and most often performed piece.

Composition of the work

Berg was asked to write a violin concerto for the violinist Louis Krasner. At the time he was working hard on his opera Lulu, which took him several years to write. He stopped working on the opera for four months in the summer of 1935 so that he could write the violin concerto. He had probably already started the concerto when he heard the sad news of the death of a girl called Manon Gropius, the daughter of Alma Mahler (who had once been Gustav Mahler's wife) and Walter Gropius. Berg decided to dedicate the concerto to Manon. He wrote at the top of the work: "To the memory of an angel."

When Berg died on 24 December 1935 he had not finished Lulu. It is possible he might have finished it if he had not spent time writing the violin concerto. The work was first performed after the composer's death, with Krasner playing the solo part, on 19 April 1936 in Barcelona.

The orchestra

The instruments in the orchestra for the Violin Concerto are: 2 flutes (both doubling as piccolo), 2 oboes, (one doubling as a cor anglais), alto saxophone (doubling as a clarinet), 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, harp piano and strings.

The music

The concerto has two movements. Each movement is also divided into two sections. The first movement begins with an Andante in classical sonata form, followed by the Allegretto, a dance-like section. The second movement starts with an Allegro which uses a small rhythmic idea. The solo part is very difficult to play here. The orchestra plays very loudly and comes to a big climax. The work ends quietly. The first two sections are meant to be about life, the last two sections are about death.

Berg composed music using the twelve tone technique that he had learned from his teacher Arnold Schoenberg, but his music also sounds at times as if it is an ordinary major or minor key. A piece of music using twelve tone technique starts with twelve notes in which each of the 12 pitches (C, C sharp, D etc) is used before it can be repeated.

Here is Berg's tone row in the Violin Concerto:

This tone row does not sound as random as many tone rows are because parts of it sound quite tonal. This is because the first three notes are a G minor triad; notes three to five are a D major triad; notes five to seven are an A minor triad; notes seven to nine are an E major triad; and the last four notes together make up part of a whole tone scale. The first notes of each group of triads together form G, D, A and E, which are the open strings of the violin. The opening of the concerto makes this very obvious.

The last four notes of the row, rising whole tones, are also the first four notes of the chorale melody, Es ist genug (It Is Enough). Berg quotes this chorale in the last movement of the piece, using the harmony composed by Johann Sebastian Bach.

There is also another quotation in the piece: a Carinthian folk song. It is unusual to have a simple folk song in the middle of a concerto. Berg wanted it to describe Manon Gropius, a simple young girl.

Many people find twelve tone music hard to listen to, but this concerto is easier than most serial works to understand. This is partly because some of the music is tonal, but also because of the programme: the idea behind the music (Manon, life and death).








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