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Classical Composers A-Z: Alban Berg

Continuing his guide to the great classical composers Peter Wintersgill summarises the life of Alban Berg, whose most famous work was the opera Lulu.


9th February 1885 in Vienna.

Conrad, calm, had a bad heart.


Johanna Maria, daughter of a court jeweller.


Cultivated, 3rd of four children, brothers Hermann and Carly, sister Smaragda.


Wrote some romantic songs at 15. Was an asthmatic child.

Adult Life

Had lessons from Schoenberg at 19, at the same time as Webern. His piano sonata (1908) was tonal, but the string quartet (1910) was wholly atonal. Married Helene in 1911. Served in the army 1915-18; started the opera Wozzeck in 1917, finished it in 1922. This had its premiere in 1925, and made him world famous.

Wrote a chamber concerto (1925) for violin, piano and 13 wind instruments. Then wrote a lyric suite for string quartet (1926) using the 12 tone technique. His atonal style was less extreme than that of Schoenberg and Webern. His second opera Lulu (1935) was left unfinished, but was finished after his death.

The violin concerto (1935) was written as a memorial to the 18 year old daughter of Mahler's widow - "To the memory of an angel"; He quotes a Bach chorale at its climax.

He died from blood poisoning from an insect bite on 24th December 1935 in Vienna aged 50.


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