The Kennedy Center

Alban Berg


The son of a merchant, Alban Berg was born in Vienna on February 9, 1885. As a child, he studied piano. During his teen years he started to compose. He began studying with Schoenberg in 1904. Those studies came to an end when Berg was 25. Thanks to an inheritance he received, Berg was able to devote the rest of his short life to composing.

Along with Anton Webern, another of Schoenberg's students, he deserves much of the credit for bringing to full fruition Schoenberg's Second Viennese School. Their works developed the principles of atonality, known also as 12-note music or serialism. As a result, their works heavily influenced classical music of the 20 th century.

Berg wrote two operas—Wozzeck and Lulu (which remained unfinished at his death). He began work on Wozzeck in 1917 and completed it in 1922. Inspired by a Buechner play, the opera is a study of insanity. In it Berg used a number of devices, including both atonal and tonal passages, to indicate the sense of alienation the central characters felt from the world they inhabited. The opera premiered in Berlin in 1925 and brought much acclaim and financial success to Berg.

Aside from the operas, Berg composed orchestral and chamber music, as well as a number of songs. He interrupted his work on Lulu to devote himself to two commissioned works—Der Wein (an orchestral aria based on poems by Baudelaire) and his Violin Concerto.

Berg died in a Vienna hospital on December 24, 1935. He suffered from an infection related to an insect bite on his back. He was 50 years old.
Alban Berg