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Theory III Class Notes

Berg Violin Concerto

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Alban Berg, Violin Concerto (1935)


from the cover notes for CD SMK 68331 (ADD)
Pinchas Zukerman, Violin, London Symphony Orchestra, Pierre Boulez
Berg had already acceded to a request by the American violinist Louis Krasner to write a violin
concerto, when a shock in the circle of Bergs closest friends gave new meaning to a commission
that had been accepted for financial reasons. On April 22, 1935, Manon Gropius, the daughter of
Alma Maler-Werfel from the latters marriage with Walter Gropius, died at the age of eighteen.
Before this terrible year has passed, Berg wrote in a letter to Alma Mahler, you and Franz
[Werfel] will be able to hear, in the form of a score which I shall dedicate to the memory of an
angel, that which I feel and today cannot express. The next weeks were devoted entirely to the
Violin Concerto, which was completed by mid-August 1935 in time for Alma Mahlers fiftysixth birthday.
Berg confided to his friend and biographer, Willi Reich, that in the Concertos Andante
and Allegretto movements he had tried to translate the young girls characteristics into musical
characters. This first major division of the Concerto thus contains the actual portrait of the
angelic Manon, whereby the Allegretto, as Reich says, captures the vision of the lovely girl in
the form of a graceful round dance with at times a gentle, dreamlike quality, at times the sturdy
unaffectedness of a Carinthian folk tune. Beginning with a shriek, the Allegro that introduces
the second division conjures up the horror of the death struggle, broken only by a last
reminiscence of ebbing life. Groans and shrill cries for help grow in the orchestra, to be
smothered by the oppressive rhythm of impending ruin (Willi Reich). With the first measure of
the following Adagio, the solo violin intones the chorle Es ist genug!, taken by Berg from the
collection Sixty Choral Works by Johann Sebastian Bach: there, it closes the Cantata O Ewigkeit,
du Donnerwort, BWV 60. The violinist alternates with four woodwinds in playing this melody in
Bachs original arrangement: It is enough! Lord, if it be Thy will, give me rest! Then, in ever
increasing intensity, the violin raises its voice in a moving Song of Woe. Employing quasidramatic elements, Berg in the score instructs the soloist to take over the leadership of the violins
and violas audibly and visibly. These are to join him gradually, only to break away from him
again in just a demonstrative a manner. Toward the end of the piece, the Carinthian folk tune
from the first part returns as from a great distance. This melody, a look back on the earthly
existence of the sweet girl, precedes the chorale, which reappears one last time in the coda:
Truly, I now go in peace, leaving all my troubles here below. It is enough. It is enough.
Wolfgang Sthr
Translation 1995 Griffin Anderson

Theory III Class Notes

Berg Violin Concerto

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Class Notes
Berg: Violin Concerto (1935)
The following comes from Anthony Poples Berg: Violin Concerto (Cambridge University Press,
1991):
Movement 1a (Andante)
mm.

1-10
11-37
38-76
77-83
84-93
94-103

Introduction
A (aaba)
B (abab)
Retransition (using material from A)
A (also uses material from intro)
Codetta/Transition (using material from intro)
Movement 1b (Allegretto)

104-136
137-154
155-166
167-175
176-213
214-227
228-257

Scherzo (abcba)
Trio I (aba)
Trio II (aba)
Trio I
Waltz
Folk Song (Ein Vogel aufm Zwetschenbaum)
Coda (using material from trios)
Movement 2a (Allegro)

1-22
23-43
44-60
61-77
78-95
96-124
125-135

A
B
C (using material from Trio II in 1b)
D
C (using material from Trio II in 1b)
A (with interpolation of B, mm. 104-119)
Transition
Movement 2b (Adagio)

136-157
158-177
178-199
200-213
214-230

Chorale
Variation I
Variation II
Folk Song (Ein Vogel aufm Zwetschenbaum)
Coda (includes material from Introduction in 1a)

Theory III Class Notes

Berg Violin Concerto

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Texts of the two found objects in the concerto:


Ein Vogel aufm Zwetschgenbaum
(Carinthian Folk Melody)
A bird on the plum tree has wakened me,
Tridie, tridie, iri, tulie!
Otherwise I would have overslept in Mizzis* bed,
Tridie, ri, tulie!
If everybody wants a rich and handsome girl,
Tridie, tridie, iri, tulie!
Where ought the devil take the ugly one?
Tridie, ri, tulie!
The girl is Catholic and I am Protestant,
Tridie, tridie, iri, tulie!
She will surely put away the rosary in bed!
Tridie, ri, tulie!
* Mutzi was Manons nickname. Mizzi Scheuchl was a girl in the employ of Bergs parents;
he fathered a child by her when he was 17.
Es ist genug!
(from J. S. Bach: Cantata BWV 60)
It is enough!
Lord, when it pleases Thee,
Relieve me of my yoke!
My Jesus comes:
So goodnight now, O world!
Im going to my Heavenly home.
Ill surely journey there in peace,
My great distress will stay below.
It is enough.
It is enough.

Theory III Class Notes

Berg Violin Concerto

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Berg inscribed the Violin Concerto dem Andenken eines Engels (to the memory of an angel).
It was written on the death of Manon Gropius, the daughter of Alma Mahler and Walter Gropius,
of poliomyelitis in April of 1935. Berg himself died in December of 1935, shortly before the
premiere of the concerto, of septicaemia resulting from an insect sting he received at the base of
his spine in July of the same year.
The following is the program of the work, produced by Willi Reich and overseen by Berg:
Insofar as a transcription into words is possible at all, the tonea favorite expression of Bergsof the
whole work may be described as follows: delicate Andante melodies emerge from the rising and falling movement
of the introduction. These crystallise into a Grazioso middle section and then dissolve back into the waves of the
opening. The Allegretto Scherzo rises from the same background; this part captures the vision of the lovely girl in a
graceful dance which alternates between a delicate and dreamy character and the rustic character of a folk tune. A
wild orchestral cry introduces the second main part, which begins as a free and stormy cadenza. The demonic action
moves irresistibly towards catastrophe, interrupted oncebrieflyby a reversed point of rest. Groans and strident
cries for help are heard in the orchestra, choked off by the suffocating rhythmic pressure of destruction. Finally:
over a long pedal pointgradual collapse. At the moment of highest suspense and anxiety, the Chorale enters,
serious and solemn, in the solo violin. Like an organ the woodwinds answer each verse with the original
harmonization of the classical model. Ingenious variations follow, with the original Chorale melody always present
as a cantus firmus, climbing misterioso from the bass while the solo violin intones a plaint [Klagegesang] that
gradually struggles towards the light. The dirge grows continually in strength; the soloist, with a visible gesture,
takes over the leadership of the whole body of violins and violas; gradually they all join in with his melody and rise
to a mighty climax before separating back into their own parts. An indescribably melancholy reprise of the folk tune
as if in the distance (but much slower than the first time) reminds us once more of the lovely image of the girl; then
the Chorale, with bitter harmonies, ends this sad farewell while the solo violin arches high over it with entry after
entry of the plaint.

The folk tune (Ein Vogel aufm Zwetschgenbaum):

The beginning of the row (next page) alternates minor and major triads, and notes 1, 3, 5, 7 are
the open strings of the violin (used in the beginning of the concerto). The last four notes, a
whole-tone segment, suggest the beginning of the chorale, Es ist genug. (See page 6)

Theory III Class Notes

Berg Violin Concerto

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The row:

0
9
5
1
A
7
3
B
8
6
4
2

3
0
8
4
1
A
6
2
B
9
7
5

7
4
0
8
5
2
A
6
3
1
B
9

B
8
4
0
9
6
2
A
7
5
3
1

2
B
7
3
0
9
5
1
A
8
6
4

5
2
A
6
3
0
8
4
1
B
9
7

9
6
2
A
7
4
0
8
5
3
1
B

1
A
6
2
B
8
4
0
9
7
5
3

4
1
9
5
2
B
7
3
0
A
8
6

6
3
B
7
4
1
9
5
2
0
A
8

8
5
1
9
6
3
B
7
4
2
0
A

A
7
3
B
8
5
1
9
6
4
2
0

Berg often explicitly uses the tonal potential of the row (mm. 11-14 of 1a):

And often uses row forms in unusual ways (as in the production of the Klagegesang):

*the last four notes of T3P are heard at the beginning of the row.

Theory III Class Notes

Berg Violin Concerto

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