Alban Berg

Music as Autobiography. Translated by Ernest Bernhardt-Kabisch

by Constantin Floros (Author)
©2014 Monographs VII, 386 Pages


The central point of this book is the realization that the creative work of Alban Berg, which in recent years has moved to the forefront of scholarly interest, is largely rooted in autobiography, so that therefore one can gain access to the music by studying the inner biography of its creator. Accordingly, the first of the three parts of this volume outlines a character portrait of this great composer. Part two considers the conditions relevant to a deeper understanding of Berg and of the Second Viennese School generally. In part three, then, Berg’s key works will be analyzed and semantically deciphered in terms of his inner biography. The study is based not only on the sources in print but also on the rich unpublished material. Alban Berg was incapable of composing without a program. He needed an extra-musical stimulus. With him, personal experience was the indispensable condition of the creative process: the autobiographic reference was all-important for composing.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the Authors
  • About the Book
  • Advance Praise
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Foreword
  • 1 Part One: Personality Aspects
  • 1.1 Principles
  • 1.2 Creativity
  • 1.3 Asthma
  • 1.4 The “Godforsaken” City
  • 1.5 Composing in the Country
  • 1.6 The Insidiousness of Success
  • 1.7 Humanity
  • 1.8 Longing for Happiness or Deliverance through Art
  • 1.9 Fidelity
  • 1.10 From Goethe to Wedekind
  • 1.11 Irony and Skepticism
  • 1.12 Image of Woman
  • 1.13 Love of Nature
  • 1.14 Religiosity
  • 1.15 Faith, Love and Hope
  • 1.16 Commitment to Radical Modernism and German Music
  • 2 Part Two: Theoretical Presuppositions
  • 2.1 Questions Regarding the Psychology of Creation
  • 2.1.1 Inspiration as Gift from On High
  • 2.1.2 Experience as Condition of Creation
  • 2.2 Inward and Outward Nature
  • 2.3 From Overt to Covert Program Music
  • 2.3.1 Schönberg and Program Music
  • 2.3.2 Berg and Program Music
  • 2.4 Fate and Superstition
  • 2.5 Numerology
  • 2.5.1 Preliminaries
  • 2.5.2 Schönberg’s Number: The Ominous 13
  • 2.5.3 Berg’s Number: The Fateful 23
  • 2.5.4 Berg and Numbers
  • 2.6 Tone Ciphers
  • 2.7 Magic Music
  • 2.7.1 Doctor Faustus as Point of Departure
  • 2.7.2 Mirror Magic
  • 2.7.3 Magic Squares
  • 2.8 Symmetry and Palindrome
  • 2.8.1 The Idea of the Retrograde in Schönberg
  • 2.8.2 Parallelisms and Mirror-Symmetric Structures in Berg
  • 2.9 Tonality, Atonality and Dodecaphony: Transvaluation of All Values
  • 2.9.1 The Atonal Cosmos as Counter-Universe
  • 2.9.2 Embracing Complexity
  • 2.9.3 Berg’s Specialty: Tonal Elements in Dodecaphony
  • 2.9.4 Transvaluation of the Tritone
  • 2.9.5 The Tonal as Symbolizing the Abnormal and Trivial
  • 3 Part Three: Life and Work
  • 3.1 Helene and Alban: “The Story of a Great Love”
  • 3.2 The String Quartet for Helene
  • 3.2.1 The Autobiographical Background
  • 3.2.2 Genesis of the Work: From Tonality to Free Atonality
  • 3.2.3 Tectonics
  • 3.2.4 Semantics: Echoes of Schönberg’s George Lieder and Wagnerian Motifs
  • 3.3 March of an Asthmatic: The Third of the Orchesterstücke op. 6
  • 3.3.1 Genesis and Autobiographic Occasion
  • 3.3.2 Musico-Semantic Hints
  • 3.4 Wozzeck as a Message for Humanity
  • 3.4.1 An “Opera of Social Compassion”?
  • 3.4.2 The Characterization of Three Figures in the Opera: the Captain, the Doctor, and Wozzeck
  • 3.4.3 The “Epilogue” to the Opera as “Author’s Confession”
  • 3.4.4 Excursus: The Epilogue as “Invention on a Key”
  • 3.4.5 Wozzeck as a Parable
  • 3.4.6 Some Thoughts about Music between the Two World Wars
  • 3.5 Berg, Schönberg and Webern: Profiles of a Friendship
  • 3.6 The Chamber Concerto: Homage to Schönberg, Mathilde and the Schönberg Circle
  • 3.6.1 Genesis of the Work
  • 3.6.2 Three’s a Charm
  • 3.6.3 Tectonics and Number Symbolism: The Numbers Three and Five
  • 3.6.4 Thema scherzoso con variationi: “Freundschaft.” – The Schönberg Circle
  • 3.6.5 Adagio – Mathilde
  • 3.6.6 Introduzione: “Thunderstorm” – Grief at Mathilde’s Death
  • 3.6.7 Rondo Ritmico: the World as a Kaleidoscope
  • 3.7 From Helene to Hanna: The Two Versions of the Storm Lied Schließe mir die Augen beide
  • 3.7.1 Genesis
  • 3.7.2 Dodekaphonics: Fritz Heinrich Klein’s All-Interval Row and the Mutterakkord
  • 3.7.3 Comparison of the Two Versions
  • 3.8 String Quartet for Hanna: the Lyric Suite
  • 3.8.1 The State of Reseach
  • 3.8.2 Autobiographic Background: Sources and Documents
  • 3.8.3 Genesis and Overall Conception
  • 3.8.4 Berg’s Analysis of the Lyric Suite
  • 3.8.5 Allegro gioviale (giocoso): “Clinking of Cups”
  • 3.8.6 Andante amoroso: Hanna with her Children and with Alban
  • 3.8.7 Allegro misterioso: The Confession
  • 3.8.8 Adagio appassionato: Ardor, Passion, Explosion and Transfiguration
  • 3.8.9 Presto delirando: Terror and Torment after the Parting
  • 3.9 Largo desolato: Sleep and Death – Liebestod
  • 3.10 Aspects of Lulu
  • 3.10.1 Berg’s Reading of Wedekind’s Lulu Tragedy
  • 3.10.2 Lulu’s Rise and Fall
  • 3.10.3 Characterization of Persons, Passions and Ideas
  • 3.10.4 Musical Shaping
  • 3.10.5 Parallel Situations and their Musical Treatment
  • 3.10.6 Lulu’s Bond with Dr. Schön
  • 3.10.7 The Catastrophe Rhythm and the Fatal Five
  • 3.10.8 Persecution Mania
  • 3.10.9 Alwa = Alban?
  • 3.10.10 Music in Slow Motion
  • 3.10.11 From the Spoken to the Sung Word
  • 3.11 The Violin Concerto: Requiem for Manon and Berg’s “Farewell” to the World
  • 3.11.1 The Biographical Background: Manon Gropius and Alma Mahler
  • 3.11.2 A “Birthday Homage” for Alma: Willi Reich’s Hermeneutic “Paraphrase”
  • 3.11.3 In Berg’s Workshop
  • 3.11.4 Reconciliation of Opposites: Dodecaphony and Tonal Thinking
  • 3.11.5 Andante and Allegretto: Visions of a Winsome Girl
  • 3.11.6 Allegro and Adagio: Death and Transcendence
  • Afterword: Berg – a Janus Face
  • 4 Appendix
  • 4.1 Unpublished Aphorisms of the Young Berg
  • 4.2 Abbreviations
  • 4.3 Notes
  • 4.4 Selected Bibliography
  • 4.5 Index of names


The central point of this book is the realization that the creative work of Alban Berg, which in recent years has moved to the forefront of scholarly interest, is largely rooted in autobiography, so that therefore one can gain access to the music by studying the “inner biography” of its creator. Accordingly, the first of the three parts of this volume outlines a character portrait of this great composer. His music proves increasingly an image of his emotional and intellectual constitution. Part two considers the conditions relevant to a deeper understanding of Berg and of the Second Viennese School generally: questions of the psychology of creation, of art theory, of aesthetics, philosophy and weltanschauung, the concept of a magical music, the diverse artistic means by which Berg semanticizes his music, and the relations between tonality, atonality and dodecaphony. In part three, then, Berg’s key works will be analyzed and semantically deciphered in terms of his “inner biography.”

My study is based not only on the sources in print but also on the rich unpublished material: on the as yet unpublished correspondence between Berg, Schönberg and Webern (comprising some 3000 pages of typescript), and on Berg’s many notes (such as his collection of quotes), drafts of letters, personal copies of books and music autographs (sketches, particellos and clean copies), largely preserved in the Music Collection of the Austrian National Library. I have also repeatedly been able to view and study Berg’s library in his Viennese apartment in Trauttmannsdorffgasse 27, Hietzing, now the seat of the Alban Berg Foundation.

A passionate love of the music of Arnold Schönberg and Alban Berg has been with me since my youth, when it was awakened by Hans Swarowsky and Gottfried Kassowitz, my teachers in conducting at the Viennese Academy of Music from 1951 to 1953.

My initial interest was above all in Berg’s and Schönberg’s compositional techniques. I sought to track down the secret of their music’s expressive power. My first lecture courses as a young adjunct instructor (privatdozent) at the University of Hamburg fifty years ago (1961–62) dealt with Schönberg and Berg. Early in 1975, my treatise on the esoteric program of the Lyric Suite appeared – until then no one had talked about any covert programs in Bergs music. In 1979, I began to study Berg’s sketches to nearly all of his works systematically. In 1985, I received a lasting impression from the magnificent Berg exhibition in the sumptuous grand hall of the Austrian National Library ← 1 | 2 → at the Josefsplatz. Between then and 1992, I mostly worked on this book, published in that year in its original German version.

The book would not have been possible without the constant help and support of several institutions and individuals. My thanks go above all to the Music Collection of the Austrian National Library and their director, Hofrat Dr. Günter Brosche, the Alban Berg Foundation and its president, Professor Gottfried von Einem, and the Music Collection of the Viennese Municipal and State Library and its director, Dr. Ernst Hilmar. They gave me permission to study, excerpt and copy valuable “Bergiana” and put microfilms at my disposal.

The German edition of this study was published in Wiesbaden by Breitkopf & Härtel in 1992. In the same year, the Austrian National Library acquired the now famous annotated score of the Lyric Suite, as well as Berg’s secret letters to his “distant beloved” Hanna Fuchs, which I published in an annotated and commentated edition in 2001. In 2008, that edition appeared in English at Indiana University Press, Bloomington, under the title Alban Berg and Hanna Fuchs. The Story of a Love in Letters, translated by Professor Dr. Ernest Bernhardt-Kabisch, the translator also of the present text. The latter contains some fresh research results – inter alia about the biography of Hanna Fuchs and the „Carinthian Song“ – and has profited from numerous questions put to me by Professor Bernhardt during the translation process. My most heartfelt thanks go to him. I also owe a debt of gratitude to Professor Dr. Altug Ünlü for his formatting of the book, and to Michael Rücker and Thomas Papsdorf of the Peter Lang International Publishing House for harmonious collaboration.

Hamburg, February 2013

Constantin Floros ← 2 | 3 →

1Part One: Personality Aspects

“Man’s mind is his fate.” Herodotus

“A man’s life is his character.” Goethe, Italian Journey, Frascoli, October 2, 1787 (Quotation Collection No. 705)


“That is the rebus of Berg’s music. One could hardly characterize it more simply and accurately than by saying that it resembled himself.” Theodor W. Adorno.1

The prominent sociologist, philosopher and aesthetician Theodor W. Adorno did not think much of the Romantic notion of a unity of life and art, biography and creative work. He was skeptical of the view that experience was an indispensable precondition of artistic creation, asserting, on the contrary, a belief that the subjective conditions of the genesis of works of art, that is to say, everything personal and biographical, were irrelevant. In Adorno’s philosophy, the composer as a private person is of no interest whatever. Adorno saw in him merely the producing “instrument” – a “subordinate executive organ.”2

These reflections – evidently inspired by Hegel’s Phenomenology of the Spirit – crop up both in Adorno’s book on Mahler of 1960 and in that on Berg of 1968. A familiarity with them is needed if one wants to understand many a formulation of Adorno’s that otherwise will seem strange. Of Mahler’s symphonies, for example, he remarked that “their process toward externalization, toward totality” was little bound to the “private person,” which rather made itself an instrument for its [the totality’s) production.”3 And of Alban Berg, whose pupil in composition he became in 1925, he wrote in a similar vein: “In the eleven years during which I knew him I always sensed more or less clearly that the empirical person wasn’t quite involved, wasn’t quite in the game,” “His own person he treated at once cautiously and indifferently, like the musical instrument he was to himself.”

If one remembers that Adorno’s special domain was dialectics, one will understand why nevertheless the personality of the artist played a significant role in his aesthetics. Thus his entire book on the composer circles about the thesis that Berg’s music (“at once excessive and frail”) was Berg’s “mirror image.” Adorno thought he could see certain traits of Berg’s personality reflected in his music. Berg’s enormous sensitivity, his desire for happiness, his hedonism and his pessimism, the sternness of his convictions – all this, according to Adorno, gave Berg’s music its characteristic stamp. To illustrate ← 3 | 4 → with some quotes: “If Mahler once said about the landscape around Lake Attersee that he had wholly composed it away, Berg, in so many respects Mahler’s heir, could have said the same of his inner landscape.” “The specific sadness in his music is probably the negative of his desire for happiness, disillusion, a lament of the fact that the world did not answer to the utopian expectations his nature harbored.” “Something voluptuous, luxuriating, that is inseparable from his music and his orchestra also colored his desire for happiness.”4

The long and the short of these observations is that, despite Adorno’s reservations, the personality of the artist cannot be separated from his creative work. This is true especially of Arnold Schönberg, Alban Berg and Anton Webern, who, like the contemporary Expressionist poets and painters, had a strong need for expression and self-expression. Whether or not one adopts Adorno’s principles, it is certain that inquiring into Berg’s personality can contribute significantly to a deeper understanding of his music.

An inquiry of this kind must depend primarily on Berg’s written utterances, especially his correspondence with his wife and with his friends Arnold Schönberg and Anton Webern. These letters afford profound insights into Berg’s psyche, his way of thinking, his views about art, as well as his “inner” biography. Additional information can be derived from reminiscences and testimonies by persons who were close to him or at least knew him. Of special interest here, besides the comments of Helene Berg, are the reminiscences of the publisher Hans W. Heinsheimer, the writer Elias Canetti, and the musicologist Willi Reich, who had been a pupil of Berg’s, as well as those of Theodor W. Adorno, published originally in February of 1936 in the journal 23.5

The author not being a trained psychologist or psychoanalyst, rigorous psychological methods will not be applied in this book.6 The goal of his investigation will be attained if, based on the sources, he succeeds in drawing an authentic personality profile of Alban Berg. ← 4 | 5 →


“We have an obligation to write.” Webern to Berg, August 18, 1917

“Think of nothing but your work. That is what matters most.” Webern to Berg, September 19, 1921

“I have never been one of the fast workers.” Berg to Webern, July 26, 1920

Hans W. Heinsheimer, to whom we owe some solid character sketches of Berg, observed of him that there was a hardly another composer whose fame rests on so small a number of works. Berg’s reputation, he felt, depended on his two operas, Wozzeck and Lulu, on the Violin Concerto and the Lyric Suite. Beyond that, there was little, viewed objectively, that had really succeeded in gaining a broader audience.7

These remarks are apt. Berg’s oeuvre is undeniably smaller than that of Schönberg, and it is true that he produced very slowly and that he was aware of this peculiarity. After Wozzeck, which is marked opus 7, he stopped numbering his works because he was ashamed of their small number.

Several reasons can be cited for this slow production tempo: the asthma from which he suffered ever since his fifteenth year, and which at times rendered him unable to work; his extraordinarily deliberate mode of composing (conceiving, sketching, executing); the psychological inhibitions he had to overcome in working; personal and family-related difficulties that beset him; and, finally, the many “occupations” that kept him from composing. These included, inter alia, his many musicological publications, essays, analyses, guides (his collected writings add up to a sizable volume8); the piano scores he produced for works of Schubert and Franz Schreker;9 the voluminous and time-consuming correspondence he conducted with extreme conscientiousness; and, last but not least, the lessons he regularly gave. All in all, Berg was more industrious than appears; often, even, he did not feel up to his heavy work load.

Berg began to compose around 1901 – amateurishly, as he wrote to Schönberg nearly thirty years later. By the time he became Schönberg’s pupil, probably in October of 1904, he had already written more than thirty songs.10 During his long apprenticeship (from 1904 to 1911), he produced, besides several unpublished compositions, also the first published ones: the Piano Sonata op. 1 (1907/08), the Four Songs for Solo Voice and Piano op. 2 (1909/10), and the String Quartet op. 3 (1910). The first years after his marriage to Helene Nahowski (on May 3, 1911) were not particularly pro ← 5 | 6 → ductive. In 1912, the Orchestra Songs op. 4, after picture postcard texts by Peter Altenberg, were written, in 1913 he composed the Four Pieces for Clarinet and Piano op- 5, and in 1914 he worked on the Three Orchestra Pieces op. 6.

In the years 1913 to 1915, Schönberg on several occasions made it clear to Berg that he was not satisfied with his productivity and his lifestyle. He thought he observed a “reduction,” an “artistic diminishment,” spoke of a lack of “self-discipline,” criticized Berg’s compositions, reproached him with “poor time management,” urged him, among other things, to write short, merely informative and matter-of-fact letters, and admonished him to complete any work he had undertaken at all costs and not let himself be distracted by anything. Berg, who at that time was in an unimaginably close dependency relation to Schönberg, (one feels tempted to speak of downright minority), took these criticisms to heart and resolved to improve in every way. He outlined “a program of a lifestyle” according to which “all hitherto partly unconscious, partly inescapable deficiencies are to be rectified.”11 At times, of course, he felt deeply wounded by Schönberg’s criticism and could not hide his resentment.

In the long time span between 1917 and 1925, Berg completed only two works: Wozzeck and the Chamber Concerto. Until about 1923, he was hardly known as a composer, outside of a small circle of friends, colleagues and initiates. He had strong doubts whether he would manage to have a successful career as a composer. He therefore decided to devote himself to writing about music alongside his compositional work. He seems for some time to have regarded music journalism as a means of securing a living.

For this reason he accepted the offer from Universal Editions to become a contributor to the Musikblätter des Anbruch (Music Leaves of the Dawning).12 In early 1920, he wrote a brief guide to Schönberg’s symphonic poem Pelleas und Melisande, and in the spring of 1920, the polemic essay against Hans Pfitzner. On January 15, 1920, he told Schönberg: “Besides composing, I would rather do nothing but produce guides, analyses, essays about you and your work and make excerpts of your compositions.” In 1921, he worked intensively on a book about Schönberg, in which he hoped to do greater justice to the admired art of his teacher than Ego Wellesz had done in his book.13 He even considered writing a similar book about Alexander von Zemlinsky.14 These plans did not come to fruition, however, because composing was more important to Berg after all – because he felt he had to come up with a new musical work. To his teacher Schönberg, he confessed on July 9, 1920: “After an almost year-long pause, I have a feeling – I might ← 6 | 7 → almost call it a ‘sense of duty’ – to compose something. Since 1914, I have not produced a finished composition. First there were the five summers of war with their infrequent furloughs. 1919 [was] the first substantial summer, and now these six, seven weeks, which, if I had not, as I said, torn myself away, [I] would certainly fritter away in Vienna.” And on February 12, 1921, he wrote again to Schönberg: “You are quite right: I have to compose again. Even for reasons of my continued livelihood, I have to get another work done, and thus even relinquishing a source of income such as I would obtain from a book about Zemlinsky, and which I could certainly use, is not carelessness, no mere irresponsible yielding to my compositional inclinations.”

Not only Schönberg, but Webern, too, admonished Berg time and again not to neglect his compositional work. Webern, who was highly dissatisfied with his activities as a theater kapellmeister because it did not leave him enough time for composing, believed he had found in creativity the meaning of life and sought to convince his friend of the same. On August 18, 1917, he told Berg of a plan of Schönberg’s to establish an artist colony in the country (“in clean air, in direct contact with nature”), in which Schönberg, Webern and Berg would be engaged in creative work. In many of Webern’s letters, the thought recurs of creativity as a task for life, a duty and a mission. “That we others should do nothing but dwell in ourselves in order to produce one decent work after another”: these words of Goethe, addressed to Schiller, had impressed Webern deeply;15 he made them his own. He liked to compare human existence to that of a tree, which does nothing “but blossoming and bearing fruit: after all, that is what we are in the world for.”16 And on May 3, 1930, he confessed to Berg: “We really should speak of nothing but of our works and what is connected with them. That, after all, is the most important thing. Isn’t what the three of us achieve, and of course Kraus, the only reliable thing in our time? I believe that is the one thing that will last, and therefore also that we have a lofty mission.”

In 1923, Berg was able to register his first successes as a composer. Around this time he probably abandoned the idea of music journalism as a profession. In 1924 he nevertheless wrote the weighty and voluminous treatise Warum ist Schönbergs Musik so schwer verständlich? (Why is Schönberg’s Music so Difficult to Comprehend?), and even in the next several years he repeatedly came forward with articles, essays, texts, lectures and interviews. He commented on current issues in music production and musical life and elucidated some of his own works. Ever since the successful premiere of Wozzeck in Berlin in December 14 of 1925, however, his passion was exclusively one of composition. The editorial jobs he had to do from time to time became a ← 7 | 8 → burden. On August 10, 1927, he wrote to Webern: “I have a great deal to do here – all things that are connected with the Universal Edition, a ridiculous amount of professional correspondence; but all things that leave not the least feeling of satisfaction when they are done. By contrast: what euphoria after one successful measure – not to speak of the feeling after a happily completed movement – let alone after the final double bar.”

Schönberg alluded to the “psychological inhibitions” Berg had to overcome in composing. We can learn more about that from the correspondence. Like many other creative people, Berg had repeated doubts about his creative talent and the quality of his productions, especially as a young man. Above all, Schönberg’s criticisms were apt to make him unsure. To quote some instances from the letters: in early August of 1912, Berg completed the piano score of the third and fourth movement (Litany and Transport) of Schönberg’s second String quartet op. 10 and sent it to the Universal Edition. On August 5, he wrote to Webern; “I hope it [the piano score] is all right; as after every completed work, I have doubts about its quality.” In June of 1913, Berg visited his teacher Schönberg in Berlin. On June 14, he thanked him for the “reproach” he had received from him (!) and added: “for my doubts about myself are always so big that the least criticism on your uinquely authoritative part nearly robs me of all hope.” This letter demonstrates especially vividly how hard Berg could be hit by the criticism of his teacher. His self-confidence seems to have been severely shaken during his work on the Three Orchestra Pieces of 1914, as the following passage from a letter of July 20, 1914, to Schönberg reveals: “Otherwise my time of late has been spent working on the Orchestra Pieces, whose fate, of course, perpetually disquiets me. After all, I must ever ask myself whether what I am expressing – over whose measures I often sit brooding for days – is really better than the things I did last. And how am I to judge that? I hate the latter, so that I was already about to destroy them altogether, and about the former I have as yet no judgment because I am still in the middle of them.”

Berg’s self-confidence will certainly have become much stronger after the successful reception of Wozzeck on many European stages. Erich Alban Berg, the composer’s nephew, related numerous anecdotes and repeated many of his uncle’s statements that make it apparent that after 1921 Berg became increasingly aware of his artistic importance.17 But even in his late years Berg had occasional doubts of his creative potential. On May 18, 1930, he congratulated Schönberg on the completion of his film music Begleitmusik zu einer Lichtspielszene op. 34, reported his intention of dedicating himself altogether to ← 8 | 9 → the composition of Lulu, and added: “I hope I can still compose; these long pauses always generate agonizing doubts in me.”

Berg regarded the creative act as so lofty, and composing itself as so arduous a matter, that beginning a new work always caused him great anxiety, as is proven by several passages in his letters. On September 18, 1925, at a time when he was making plans to compose the Storm poem Schließe mir die Augen beide and the Lyrical Suite, he wrote to Webern: “And now, may I succeed with the most difficult of all leaps – the one into beginning a composition!” And in a letter to Schönberg of April 26, 1928, he similarly commented on his intention to set Gerhart Hauptmann’s glass works fairytale UndPippa Tanzt (Pippa Dances): “We already think a lot about going to the country, and I therefore of the new work, with all the fright that I have of every new work.”

While there are many “external” and “internal” reasons that can be cited for Berg’s relatively slender oeuvre and his low production tempo, the main cause is no doubt the extraordinarily deliberate manner of his working. As the often very extensive extant sketches show, he always approached his work with great caution. He tried out all the various solutions of a given compositional problem he had posed for himself, considered every possibility, made calculation about the extent and the proportions of the movements, sketched out themes, motifs and rhythmic events, scrutinized every detail and left nothing to chance. Ever since the Lyrical Suite, he used complicated tables and twelve-tone series, which he analyzed exhaustively. His entire oeuvre is characterized by a constructivist, quasi scientific quality – more precisely, a peculiar synthesis of spontaneity and calculation.

In April of 1930, Franz Schreker sent Berg an inquiry whether he would accept a teaching post for composition at the Berlin Academy of Music.18 This honorable offer touched Berg in his “innermost being.”19 In his thorough and cautious way, he weighed all the pros and cons of the call, but then, in a letter to Schreker dated May 8, declined with thanks. For reasons he cited the “uncommonly slow mode” of his “musical production” and the desire to bring to a conclusion the “hardly begun work” on his Lulu. ← 9 | 10 →


“But I am writing this while hardly able to breathe.” Berg to Webern, September 17, 1926

“I believe more and more that there are no diseases except mental ones.” Berg to Schönberg, July 9, 1928

“You are probably right in asserting that there are only ‘mental illnesses’: as long as I am working (composing), I am well; as soon as I am prevented, I get acid reflux, etc.” Webern to Berg, September 28, 1929


VII, 386
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2014 (June)
Programmmusik Semantik (Musik) Tonalität Zwölftonmusik Dodakaphonie Zweite Wiener Schule Atonality Atonalität Dodecaphony
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2014. VIII, 386 pp., 15 fig., 151 graphs

Biographical notes

Constantin Floros (Author)

Constantin Floros is professor emeritus of musicology at the University of Hamburg. Among his monographs are volumes on the origin of Gregorian neumes, about Gustav Mahler, Anton Bruckner, Johannes Brahms, Ludwig van Beethoven and György Ligeti. Ernest Bernhardt-Kabisch is professor emeritus of English and Comparative Literature at Indiana University. He has translated several books by Constantin Floros.


Title: Alban Berg
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