Berg’s Three Orchestral Pieces of 1913–15 rank along side Stravinsky’s Petrushka and The Rite of Spring as one of the most remarkable and explosive large-scale orchestral works of the early 20th century. The sound world, although Mahler-esque in places, is Berg’s unique voice: highly chromatic, dark, brooding, wistfully melancholic, often romantic. Schoenberg, his teacher, advised the young Berg not to try to emulate his fellow pupil Anton Webern in working in ultra-condensed forms. Schoenberg recognised Berg’s natural gift for melody and colour, and that these required a broad canvas and full orchestra to be effective.
The Violin Concerto from 20 years later was composed when Berg was financially crippled as the Nazi party had condemned his opera Wozzeck as ‘degenerate’, and the royalty income had dried up. He was working on his second opera Lulu when news reached him that Manon, the teenage daughter of Mahler’s widow Alma and Walter Gropius, close friends of Berg, had died after a long and painful illness. The concerto is one of the most personal and emotional utterances by any composer. It has also come to light that Berg makes reference to Mizzi, a 17-year-old housemaid with whom he had a passionate affair and a daughter. The work was premiered in 1935, and in December of that year Berg died of septicaemia, leaving Lulu unfinished.
Recording made in 1983/4
‘Kremer gives a beautifully tender account of the first movement of the Concerto, aided by a markedly slower opening tempo than usual and by a really hushed pianissimo at the outset. The result is that the change of mood and tempo when the music moves from andante to allegretto are immediately perceptible: the allegretto has not been pre-empted by earlier accelerations, as can easily happen.’ Gramophone, July 1985
New booklet notes
Click on any of the works listed above for alternative recordings.