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Alban Berg

Music as Autobiography- Translated by Ernest Bernhardt-Kabisch

Constantin Floros

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 The study is based not only on the sources in print but also on the rich unpublished material.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.
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1 Part One: Personality Aspects


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...

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