Berg

Full Name:Alban Maria (!) Johanne Berg
Pronunciation: Burg
Era: Modern/Atonal
Years active: 1885-1935

Number of compositions: ~20
Number of symphonies: 0
Number of concertos: 1
Number of string quartets: 1.5

Style: Moody and atonal, but with a tonal flavor.

Atonal music? Is that like music without any music in it? Well, to make a long story short and slightly incorrect, its when instead of playing music using keys such as C Major, or G# Minor which use only a subset of all the available notes, you use every note equally. This style of music cropped up in about the year 1900 as a natural but kind of hardcore extension to all the dissonance that composers were putting into music to give it more flavor.

So Bergs music is atonal? Mostly. You see the thing is that even if you insist on using all of the available notes, you can still group them in ways that sound fairly tonal. Thats exactly what Berg was into. He applied some of the ultra-strict mathematical rules used to generate atonal music, but cleverly did it so that the end product actually sounded pleasant. The horror!

I dont know if Id call it pleasant, exactly. Well it does takes some getting used to. It still has some of that weird, cold atonal atmosphere to it. Since almost every other piece of music you have experienced is in a key, its not too surprising that this sounds a bit alien. Its an even more acquired taste then most classical music, but of all the atonal composers Berg is the easiest to understand.

Violin Concerto, 1st Movement

This is without a doubt Bergs most famous piece, and it is doubly tragic: it was composed in memory of the death of 17 year old Manon Gropius, one of Bergs close friends daughters, but Berg himself died immediately after finishing it. Its a great example of how he manages to pack seriously intense emotions into the sterile rules of atonality.

Try Anne-Sophie Mutter, Chicago Symphony Orchestra & James Levine – Berg: Violin Concerto – Rihm: Time Chant

Lyric Suite (arranged for orchestra)

This is another one of Bergs most famous pieces, although to be honest there isnt much to pick from. The atonal composers were into making things short and sweet. They generally composed far fewer pieces then average, and many of them are really short. This piece is a bit more strident and obviously atonal than the violin concerto.

Try New Zealand Quartet – Berg: String Quartet, Lyric Suite – Wolf: Italian Serenade

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