Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Alban Berg's Lulu: Up Close & Maybe Too Personal (Part 3)

Continuation of Alban Berg's Lulu: Lulu Under Lock and Key.

In Frank Wedekind's original plays which Berg based his opera on, the character Alwa is a writer. Berg turns him into a composer. In fact, when he introduces Alwa as a composer, Berg quotes the opening of his own opera, Wozzeck, as a kind of inside joke.

Inside joke or an autobiographical clue?

In the third scene of Act One, Alwa gazes on Lulu, thinking she could become the subject of an interesting opera.

Considering how long it took the complete opera to see the light of day – from Berg's death in 1935 to the premiere of the three-act version in 1979 – the saga of the opera itself could make “an interesting opera.”

Perhaps it could be called, with an ironic bow to Franz Lehár, “The Jealous Widow.”

Helene and Alban Berg had what most of their friends would have agreed was “the perfect marriage.”

Berg met her in 1906 – a year after he'd first seen Wedekind's Lulu plays – but they were not married until 1911.

She was a singer, the daughter of a wealthy family though it was rumored she was the illegitimate daughter of the emperor. Perle, in quoting the letters Berg wrote when he was kept apart from her “by the implacable opposition of her adoptive father,” notes how he “facetiously describes himself as a 'writer' whose daily letters to her are 'chapters of a vast novel entitled HELENE AND ALBAN: The Story of a Great Love.” Berg even suggested taking 70 or 80 of these letters and turning them into a “nice book” they could present to her “old man” that “could even convert him!”

In 1907, the year he officially concluded his studies with Schoenberg, Berg composed a setting of a poem by Theodor Storm, “Schliesse mir die Augen beide” which he dedicated to Helene (you can hear it sung here by Hermann Prey). It sounds more like Schumann than what we might expect from the composer who would later write Wozzeck but Berg was 22 then and it would be another seven years before he would begin work on what became his first opera, completed in 1922 when he was 37 and which wasn't premiered until three years later.

When they were (finally) married – on May 3rd, 1911 – Alban and Helene Berg were considered “the perfect couple.” One friend wrote “The Bergs were a most devoted couple. Indeed, their union seems to have been that rare thing – an ideal marriage.”

In a posthumous biography of the composer, their friend Wili Reich wrote of this relationship,

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“Beyond her delightful relationship to the man, Helene not only accompanied her husband on most of his journeys, but – with her finely cultivated heart and spirit – became the critical advisor of the composer in his work. Her presence gave the artist the peace and comfort of a relaxed home life, and the quiet necessary for undisturbed creative work. After Berg's death [in 1935] his widow was the most faithful guardian of his works.”
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Then, in 1925 – the year of Wozzeck's premiere which made him a world renowned composer – Berg wrote a second setting of Storm's poem, “Schliesse mir die Augen beide” which can be considered his first attempt to write a serial composition.

(Wozzeck is 'atonal.' Schoenberg, when he was teaching Berg and Webern, was still writing in a highly chromatic style like Verklärte Nacht or Gurrelieder that was gradually working its way toward his first atonal works around 1908, including his 2nd String Quartet. His concepts of “composing with twelve inwardly related tones” which later came to be known as serialism did not begin to evolve until the 1920s.)

You can hear a recording of the song here – quite different, by comparison to the song dedicated to Helene, but then what a difference 18 years can make.

What happened in those years is anybody's guess, but when he was in Prague for a performance of "Three Excerpts from Wozzeck" in May, 1925, he stayed at the home of the brother-in-law of Franz Werfel, husband of an old friend, Alma Mahler, widow of composer Gustav Mahler. It was there Berg met Werfels' sister, Hanna Fuchs-Robettin. They met again when he stopped in Prague on his way to Berlin for Wozzeck's premiere.

At this point, you could say the “idyllic domestic life” of the Bergs became a pretense.

It is interesting that both composer and wife worked hard to maintain the exterior appearance of a happily-married life. Helene may not have known (or understood) the full details of the affair – or, if she did, she worked very hard to give the impression she did not.

What must she have felt like if she had known that two people who were go-betweens for her husband and his mistress were two of her best friends, Alma Mahler and her husband, Franz Werfel? Did she suspect that Mrs. Fuchs-Robettin was something more than Werfel's sister and a friend of Alban's? Did Berg maintain the affair as a romantic fantasy that could not have succeeded any other way? Did he meet her and think she would make an interesting opera?

When Berg wrote the second setting of “Schliesse mir die Augen beide,” it was ostensibly dedicated to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of Universal Edition, his publisher. There is no small irony in the fact the song is full of musical symbolism representing Hanna Fuchs-Robettin – musical cells based on her initials, phrase lengths based on “her number” (Berg was very much into numerology and astrology: her number was 10, his was 23). And yet it's the same poem he had set to music and dedicated to his wife during their courtship!

The brief poem is ostensibly a funeral poem – closing the eyes of the deceased was the role of the grieving spouse or lover – and concludes with the lines, “As the last blow falls / you fill my whole heart.”

Though there is nothing extant to prove he wrote it for her or with her in mind, what is more significant – at least musically speaking – is that this song, or rather the serial “row” on which it's based, became a preliminary study for a six-movement work for string quartet he composed next, his “Lyric Suite.”

This work was dedicated to his friend Alexander von Zemlinsky, the composer of the “Lyric Symphony” from which Berg took a musical quote and incorporated into his string quartet. Incidentally, the music is associated with the words, “You are my own.” There is also a musical quotation from Wagner's Tristan und Isolde – from the “Love Potion” Music – which, in case anybody's forgotten, aside from being one of the most pivotal works of the mid-19th Century and considered the seed from which atonality and serialism grew, was also a story about a man in love with another man's wife.

Though Berg himself wrote about the technical aspects of the suite for the general public, he gave Hanna her own private copy of the score in which he marked certain things in different colored inks that unfolded an involved secret program:

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It has also, my Hanna, allowed me other freedoms! For example, that of secretly inserting our initials, HF and AB, into the music, and relating every movement and every section of every movement to our numbers, 10 and 23. I have written these, and much that has other meanings, into the score for you. ...May it be a small monument to a great love.
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The score is marked “for whom and only for whom – in spite of the official dedication... every note of this work was written.” Berg combines her initials H.F. (translated into German musical notation as B.F. - the same way Bach's name becomes B-flat – A – C – B-natural) with his A.B. (which becomes A – B-flat) to form a melodic germinal motive of four pitches that generates most of the material on which the piece is based.

He also points out various uses of their “secret numbers,” 10 and 23, which pervade many proportional relationships within the entire piece: the way he changes tempo from one to the next is usually through some multiple of either number or how a section where the tempo is ♩ = 100 lasts for 69 bars (the tempo is her number x 10, the length is his number x 3).

He described the movement entitled Andante amoroso as “the most beautiful music I have ever written” and in a letter before the work was performed, told her,

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“Even an unsuspecting listener will feel, I believe, something of the loveliness that hovered before me, and that still does, when I think of you, dearest.”
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Most surprisingly was the inclusion of a secret song embedded in the string parts. In their private score, Berg highlights the notes of the “implied” vocal line and superimposes the words of Baudelaire's “De profundis clamavi” (Out of the depths I cry), a private message shared only between the composer and the work's secret dedicatee.

Friends of Berg's had unknowingly described the suite as “a latent opera” or as having an “underlying inner programme” suggested by the literal quotations from Zemlinsky and Wagner, that the headings of each movement – like Adagio appasionato or Largo desolato – are “clearly the psychographic curve of a singularly powerful emotional experience.”

Little did they know!

In the summer of 1976, American musicologist Douglass Green – he taught a form and analysis class at Eastman which I took during the course of my doctoral studies there in 1973-74 – discovered a manuscript draft of the finale to the Lyric Suite in the Austrian National Library in Vienna. Over the notes were superimposed a cryptic shorthand text. Actually, another musicologist, Douglas Jarman, had already seen this but could make no sense out of it. Green succeeded in deciphering it, discovering it was Stefan George's translation of Baudelaire's “De profundis clamavi” which proved to be “nothing less than a libretto for the last act of what Theodor Adorno had called 'a latent opera.'”

Not long after that – January 24th, 1977 – George Perle discovered Berg's annotated copy of the score that put all these questions into focus and proved there was indeed a secret programme behind this intensely personal music.

Helene Berg who had played the part of the Grieving Widow since her husband's death in 1935 died at the age of 91 on August 30th, 1976, just before all this “unpleasantness” came to light.

And suddenly there is a different light, then, on the question why she suppressed the third act of Lulu and forbid anyone even to look at it in the years following her husband's death (see the second post in this series).

She knew the original manuscript score of the Lyric Suite was in the possession of Hanna Fuchs-Robettin, though she told one biographer it had been given to its official dedicatee, Alexander von Zemlinsky and was presumably in the hands of his heirs. When confronted with word from Zemlinsky's widow that they had never had the manuscript copy, Helene became greatly upset that it must have become lost. But at the time, it was already in her possession: she had her friend Alma Mahler prevail upon her sister-in-law to return it to her. But apparently Helene was unaware of the existence of the annotated score.

Curiously, it was this fabrication that led Perle to interview Zemlinsky's widow about the score. It's from her he discovered the real relationship of Alban Berg to Hanna Fuchs-Robettin which then led to the discovery of 14 of Berg's letters and the annotated score now in the possession of Hanna's daughter. Had this come out before, who knows what affect it may have had on Helene Berg?

(see right: Alban & Helene Berg motoring with Franz & Alma Mahler Werfel)

She also indicated that one of Alban's possessions was a gold fountain pen he liked very much and with which he composed all of Lulu as well as his next work, the Violin Concerto. It was, she wrote, “a gift from Franz Werfel.” What she didn't know or wasn't letting on she knew was the gift was actually from Hanna Fuchs-Robettin: Werfel was only the person who presented it to him, acting as his sister's agent.

Berg knew very well where this pen originated from. In one of his letters that Perle quotes, Berg writes to her, describing the difference between his 'play-acting' self, the exterior person, as opposed to his inner person:

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“In the frame of this life everything takes place that a normal life brings with it: vexation and joy, ill-humor and gaiety, interst and indifrerence, business and pleasure, art and nature – But believe me, Hanna (and now I can finally address you properly: one and only eternal love), all this pertains only to this exterior person, the one I have been forced to present myself as to my fellow human beings, one whom you (thank God) have never known, and who (only in ordert o chacractersize him in some way) might for a time be fulfilled with the joys of motoring, but could never be able to compose Lulu. That I am, however, doing this may be proof to you that the other person (and now I can speak again in the first person), that I still exist! When I work and take hold of your pen, at that moment I am here, and am also with you, as I am with myself when I am with you in thought.”
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That was written to Hanna in October, 1931. When he wrote down the final measures of Lulu three years later (though the ending may have been sketched long in advance of that event), the words he set for Countess Géschwitz to sing are

“Ich bin dir nah! Bleibe dir nah, in Ewigkeit!”
(I am near you. I remain near you, in eternity!)

The final chord progression consists of three chords – an A major triad over an F in the bass; an A minor triad over an F in the bass; and then an E-A-B over an F in the bass. These are all based on various “tropes” of the main 12-note 'set' from which most of the opera's musical material is derived. The first chord is derived from a trope associated with Dr. Schön, the second chord from one associated with his son, Alwa, and the third chord from one associated with the Countess.

These are the three characters who have been so tragically affected by their association with Lulu throughout the opera.

The first chord ends Act One, after Lulu has coerced Dr. Schön into renouncing his fiancé and marrying her instead. It is also the chord that opens Act Two, when Dr. Schön is now Lulu's husband.

The second chord ends Act Two, after Lulu has returned from prison and Alwa describes her body in musical terms in what is a markedly one-sided love duet. This is also the chord that opens Act Three, where Alwa has run off to Paris with Lulu to escape the Viennese police.

The third chord ends Act Three, in which the Countess has given up her peaceful existence in Vienna to be near Lulu in what is clearly an unrequited relationship in the midst of the squalor of her life in a London slum, dying not far from where Alwa's body lays, in the room next to where Lulu's body lay, murdered by the man who (according to Berg's stage directions) is to be sung by the same man who sang the role of Dr. Schön.

The final chord of the opera – the resolution of all three of these chords – has a B (or an H) in the upper voice and an F in the bass.

B – F, Berg's musical motive for Hanna Fuchs-Robettin.

While there are lots of B-F relationships in Wozzeck, written before he ever met Hanna Fuchs-Robettin – he thought it was prophetic that he met her in the course of traveling to hear performances of the opera – the specific use of the B-F idea is definitely not a coincidence in the Lyric Suite. And though it has less significance in Lulu, is there perhaps some secret going on beneath the surface of this over-heated tale about love and its tragic consequences?

Given Berg's intense analytical approach to his composing process and his preference for such musical symbolism, it is probably not a coincidence in Lulu. But here, it is less overt: since Berg identifies Alwa as a composer (introduced by the quote from Wozzeck), does he really see Hanna as Lulu? Not likely – it is the power of Lulu as a kind of Eternal Feminine, perhaps, that attracts Berg here more than the opportunity to write something that makes Lulu a “female Rake's Progress.”

There's no suggestion Hanna was ever involved in the death of any husband – in fact, after Berg's death and the later takeover of Prague by the Nazis, Fuchs-Robettin and his wife fled to America where he died in New York City in 1949, presumably of natural causes; Hanna died in 1964.

So far, I haven't seen Perle or anyone else come up with any convincing argument about Hanna and Lulu – at least, not to the extent of her involvement in the Lyric Suite.

Perle even proposes the theory that the Violin Concerto may have a secret program that is not associated with its outward dedication “to the memory of an Angel,” inspired as it was by the death in the spring of 1935 of Manon Gropius, the 18-year-old daughter of Alma Mahler.

He points out there are sketches to the Violin Concerto which include marginal configurations of various combinations of the numbers 10 and 23 – again relating to tempos, structure and phrasing of the music – but which nobody would have understood until the “secret score” of the Lyric Suite came to light in 1976 and realized the significance of those numbers. Was the relationship between Hanna Fuchs-Robettin and the composer really behind the Violin Concerto as well?

Perle mentions his idea – that Berg wrote it as a Requiem for himself – which seems only to be conjecture but one based plausibly on the other “secret programs” Berg incorporated into the music of the last ten years of his life.

But Berg wasn't ill when he wrote the concerto – though his health was never robust, between asthma and allergies, that came almost immediately after he completed the concerto. There is a story that Berg, a notoriously slow and pains-taking composer, was working so hard on this concerto, Helene had begged him to slow down and he responded “I cannot – I don't have time.”

One thing is easy to see – at the risk of seeing Hanna in every statement of the notes B and F – is that the row Berg chose for the concerto ends with four notes of a whole-tone scale which also, fortuitously or not, are the opening notes of the chorale “Es ist genug,” a very unusual melodic pattern for the 18th Century when that interval, F to B-natural, the tritone (“three whole-tones”) was a.k.a. “The Devil in Music.”

Which came first, Hanna or the chorale?

As Berg uses the chorale tune, even quoting Bach's harmonization of it at one point, he also quotes a Carinthian dance-tune. (You can hear it here, at the beginning of this clip, played by Louis Krasner who commissioned the concerto and premiered it in 1936 with Anton Webern scheduled to conduct!) It's interesting to point out that Berg's country home, which he called Waldhaus (“Woods House”), was on the Worthersee (Lake Worth) in the Austrian province of Carinthia and on the opposite shore of this lake is the town of Portschach where Brahms, who said the melodies abounded there so much one had to be careful not to step on them, wrote his 2nd Symphony and his own Violin Concerto almost sixty summers earlier.

But it wasn't until 1982 that scholar Douglas Jarman identified the dance tune that Berg quoted – and it had a decidedly vulgar and totally inappropriate text given the context of the concerto. It was about sleeping with a girl named Mizzi who is Catholic (the narrator of the song is Protestant) but who will no doubt put away the rosary in bed.

Okay... given Berg's predilection for quotes obvious and otherwise, is it likely he chose this tune just because it was a nice tune (which it is)? What about the coincidence of the girl's name Mizzi to the nickname given to Manon Gropius – Muzzi?

Is Berg so juvenile he would actually include something like this as a smarmy innuendo that, he figured, no one would “get”? Is it meant as an aspersion on Manon's character? A hint that Berg himself would have liked to... well, let's not go there...

Or is there another meaning? Mizzi is also a nickname for any girl named Marie. As Perle points out, in the opera Wozzeck, Marie had an illegitimate child by Wozzeck (with whom Berg identified himself, following his unfortunate experiences in the Austrian military during World War I). And when Berg was 17, he fathered a daughter with one of the household servants, Marie Schuechl, a daughter he acknowledged but of whom neither he nor Helene openly mentioned.

Perle also says there is a 23-page letter Berg wrote to Hanna during the last year of his life – don't you love it? even the letter reflects “his number” – that he was not allowed to see. If Berg confided in Hanna about the program for the Lyric Suite and had written to her how writing Lulu with the pen she'd given him (wouldn't Freud have a field-day with that symbolism?) made him feel closer to her, couldn't he have done the same thing, telling her about what's going on behind the public veneer of the Violin Concerto?

The composer may have thought, “they will never know.” And perhaps it would be better that way.

Are things like this “insights”... or gossip?

Probably both, since they affect the lives and minds of the creative artist and have some bearing, however tangential, on the works they create.

(For another example of something very personal possibly reflected in a musical quotation, read my post from last summer about Arnold Schoenberg and his 2nd String Quartet.)

I'm reminded, now, of a comment I'd heard when I was a student – perhaps in Douglass Green's class at Eastman, before he uncovered the key that eventually unlocked all this mess about the Lyric Suite – that Helene Berg, usually viewed in a nasty light by fans of her husband's music, especially of Lulu, suppressed the last act of the opera “because of that woman.”

I'm not sure this was a quote from Mrs. Berg's letters or the opinion of whoever said this, but the implication was Helene Berg didn't like Lulu because she was this unprincipled, immoral creature – Wedekind even introduces her as a snake (the symbol of evil and biblical temptation) in the circus-like prologue (and it just occurred to me that, while her name is Lulu, only Schigolch calls her that: the Painter calls her Eva).

In her letter to Alma Mahler written after the premiere of the first two acts of Lulu, Mrs. Berg admits her opposition to the Wedekind plays as the source of a libretto, but after hearing the music, she changed her mind and called upon her publishers to immediately bring out what music her husband had completed of the opera before he too became one of Lulu's victims.

But perhaps "that woman" was not Lulu but Hanna Fuchs-Robettin, whose greater involvement in her husband's life she was just beginning to comprehend? And she chose not to allow her to have the last word in her husband's musical after-life?

There are letters to Alma Mahler that refer obliquely to Hanna, always mentioned in the third person or collectively as “those people in Prague” which doesn't always imply anything more than she didn't like them (a different economic class who wouldn't understand the financial burdens placed on Berg's preferred life-style when the ban on his music in Germany reduced his income considerably) but that would be naïve.

Two months after Berg's death, she wrote to Alma, discussing how people thought she never left him alone, always traveling with him, going to concerts and dinners with him and so on, that

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“...there remains but one explanation: Alban invented an excuse to keep his poetic passion within those boundaries which he himself desired. He himself constructed obstacles and thereby created the romanticism which he required. Perhaps it was also unconscious caution: he didn't want too close an association with this woman, as he imagined her in the unheard-of florescence of his artist's fantasy, for fear of disappointment (for Alban was spoiled, mentally and physically). He avoided her... It all comes to a flight from reality. In this way and only in this way could the Lyric Suite have come to be. I must therefore acknowledge the sense of all that has happened – and remain silent. And therefore I can also say that there is no bitterness in me, only emotion and melancholy. And nothing, nothing can dim my love for him. Some day I will stand with her before God.”
(Perle, quoted in The Operas of Alban Berg: Lulu, p.28-29.)
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In a way, I feel sorry for Helene Berg who worked hard and gave her life to make her husband's life comfortable enough to allow him to spend his time composing. All these years, I had viewed her as an impediment to my being able to enjoy the Third Act of Lulu without really understanding what it must have meant to her, whether I agree with her decision or not. Both she and her husband worked very hard to maintain the public image of the happily married couple: was his relationship with Hanna Fuchs-Robettin a fantasy image, creating a muse who would inspire his “poetic passion”? I am reminded also of Leoš Janáček's late-in-life unrequited “affair” with Kamila Stösslová which inspired so much great music during the last phase of his career, writing the Sinfonietta at 72. Was this what Berg's passion for Hanna really was or what he wanted Helene to believe it was? Or was she saying this to give that impression to Alma Mahler, Hanna's sister-in-law?

Did Helene know that two of her closest friends – Alma and her husband – acted as go-betweens, carrying letters and gifts back and forth between Alban and Hanna? What did she think of them if she knew? or when she found out? And what did they think of her that they could do this to her behind her back?

Perhaps the messiness of Berg's life – whether real or imagined – spills over into the romanticism of his emotional approach to something seemingly so academic and theoretically intellectual as atonality and serialism. Or maybe he's too immature to fully balance his artistic genius against his inner teen-ager (Helene points out, in the letter quoted above that Berg was spoiled both mentally and physically). Isn't that one of the images we have of Mozart, the film Amadeus aside, the creative genius with the penchant for smutty jokes, the grossly immature behavior and inability to deal with daily reality?

And what of Helene? Unlike Alma who remarried quickly after Mahler's death (she was, in her own way, a serialist), Helene remained the Grieving Widow the rest of her life.

There are also rumors – or perhaps facts – I haven't seen written in any authoritative biography or article on Berg or the fate of Lulu though often encountered as anecdotes until they seem like facts.

In the decades before the First World War, astrology and spiritualism were a prominent part of life in Vienna with its “decadent fin-de-siecle” atmosphere as the Empire stagnated. Viennese writer Stefan Zweig wrote that “the air felt perfumed and unhealthy; a dishonest morality hung over us like a nightmare.”

We know Berg employed numerology – the magic numbers he associated with himself and Hanna – in his music (but then, in a different context, so did Bach). Would it be so surprising that the Bergs attended séances as part of their social life and that Helene Berg, distracted in her mourning by issues about posthumous premieres and an unfinished opera, may have used séances to communicate with her late husband?

She never actually stated, so far as I know, that Alban told her not to release the third act of Lulu, but this story told by Leonard Bernstein has become quite popular:

As a young man, Bernstein met Mrs. Berg and was shown the house (presumably Waldhaus?) which had been maintained like something more than a museum. The clocks had been stopped at the time of his death, his shirts were displayed in a glass case and taken out to be washed every month and the death mask was prominently displayed.

Bernstein asked Mrs. Berg if she would consider him for the task of completing Lulu. She said she would have to ask Alban. A little while later, she contacted him, telling him “Alban said no.”

When I was looking for it on-line, I found this: Bernstein had told this story to Frank Corsaro, a brilliant theater and opera director, who turned it into a play who then collaborated with Thomas Pasatieri to create an opera based on the story of Helene Berg. They called it Frau Margot in which a student who had once been the late composer's mistress enters the household of the grieving widow to become her companion. It was possibly a way for both of them to work their way through the mourning process. There is even a young composer who tries to navigate the intricacies of the human mind in order to claim the prize: completing the dead master's unfinished opera.

So, then, Helene Berg has become “an interesting opera.”

How accurate an image of her this would be, I don't know: in the world of those who create art, art very often marks a fine line between what they create and the reality they create it in.

Does this reality or escape from it have any bearing on the art they have left behind for us to ponder and enjoy?

For some people, yes and for others, no.

I can certainly listen to the Lyric Suite, an abstract work, and not be distracted by the underlying reality – supposed or otherwise – of its origins. Or I can listen to it, marveling how he managed to hide this or that in music that is emotionally involving but which can also be vague enough to make one wonder if you're imagining it, really.

It might be more difficult with a work that specifically tells a story. Berg manages to imbue his operas with a great deal of technical brilliance – using a tone-row as a basis for the work, but creating variants (or 'tropes') of it to shape the music we hear for each of the characters: Lulu is a person who affects all the characters but she is also the musical source-set from which they all emerge. He uses old forms – given everything else, the opera is still essentially an old-fashioned “numbers opera” that is held together seamlessly by its innate inner structures. And yet there is Berg as Alwa, there is a reflection of Hanna behind Lulu (of course, except that Wedekind wrote it that way, shouldn't it be Alwa singing those last lines and not the Countess?) – how much more autobiographical information is there in the opera?

One can read too much; one does not need to read anything at all.

Berg was ever the play-actor, as he himself confessed to Hanna in one letter:

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“... only still shadowed by a grief which since that time [when we first met] rules me more and more; and which, for a long time now, has made me into a double or, better said, a play-acting person. For you must know: everything that you may hear of me and perhaps even read about me, pertains, insofar as it is not completely false – as, for example, this, which I read today by chance in a Zurich programme: 'A completely happy domesticity, with which his wife has surrounded him, allows him to create without disturbance' – pertains to what is only peripheral. But it pertains only to a person who constitutes only a completely exterior layer of myself, to a part of me which in the course of recent years has separated itself... from my real existence and has formed a detached being, the one I seem [to be] to my surroundings and to the world.”
(quoted in Perle, The Operas of Alban Berg: Lulu, p.25-26.)
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In the letter his widow wrote to Alma Mahler after the premiere of Lulu's torso in 1937, quoted above, she had said,

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“Even those who today face this work without understanding or with misgivings – for he was so far in advance of them – will gradually grow into it, until a time comes when people will at last know who Alban Berg was.”
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Or maybe not.


  1. Brilliant post! Excellent information and critical thinking. Fascinating. Thanks for posting this. Scott Holden, pianist

  2. I thoroughly enjoyed all three parts of this post. Thank you so much for taking the time, which must be considerable, to research all of this. It has certainly made me want to learn more about it.

  3. Webern did not conduct the premiere of the violin concerto, I am fairly certain. Webern was apparently so distraught and wracked with grief during rehearsals for the premiere that he couldn't get past the first page and apparently broke down. Hermann Scherchen was called as a last-minute replacement and conducted the premiere on one rehearsal.

    1. You're correct: I'm not sure where I got the information, now (possibly some less-than-well-researched program notes), but when I checked Perle's book on "Lulu" he says (on p.254) the concerto's premiere was conducted by Scherchen. The Wikipedia entry includes this, citing the soloist's recollections: "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. In any case, Scherchen happened to be there for the Festival, and he was drafted at literally the 11th hour. The first time he ever saw the score was at 11 pm the night before the premiere, and the next morning there was time for only half an hour rehearsal." Webern, however, conducted the London premiere with the BBC Symphony 11 days after the Barcelona performance, and a recording on acetate discs remained in Krasner's private collection, which was released as a CD on the Testament label in 1995.