Alban Berg

Violin Concerto

    Description by Steven Coburn

    When Berg received a commission for a concerto from the violinist Louis Krasner in January 1935, he was busy working on Lulu and set the commission aside. On April 22 of that year, the beloved daughter of his friend Alma Mahler, Manon Gropius, died at the age of 18, and Berg ceased work on the opera to compose his Violin Concerto as a memorial. Working at an unusually fast pace, Berg completed the score by August 11, though did not live to hear its premiere in April 1936. Some commentators have lamented the fact that work on the Violin Concerto prevented Berg from completing Lulu, which many view as his most important work. Yet the Violin Concerto has become Berg's single most popular and regularly programmed work. Beyond the firmly tonal works of his youth, the Violin Concerto is also Berg's most accessible score in its compelling combination of both tonal and atonal idioms.

    As with many of Berg's pieces, the concerto follows a program governed by a strict formal design. The four movements are may be grouped into two parts of two movements each, with only a short break between movements two and three. The first two movements are structured like a Classical sonata-allegro and dance movement, respectively, and together form a musical portrait of the girl. The second part reverses the typical pattern of the Classical symphony, placing an Allegro, in this case an intense and elaborate cadenza-like movement first, followed by an Adagio, a set of variations after the Bach chorale It Is Enough. These movements represent the catastrophe of death and, ultimately, the sublimity of transfiguration.

    Berg's use of tonality in the Violin Concerto is unique. The tone row upon which the work is constructed begins on a string of thirds that alternately outline minor and major triads, lending a distictive tonal element to passages that are apparently otherwise atonal. The work's tonal aspect is futher embodied in Berg's incorporation of a Carinthian folk song in the second movement and the aforementioned use of Bach's chorale, with Bach's own harmonization, in the third. (The last four notes of Berg's row, in fact, "coincide" -- certainly by design -- with the first four of Bach's chorale. Throughout, Berg's juxtaposition of tonal and atonal elements, as well as the alternation of richly lyrical, even Romantic passages with more formalized, deterministic sections, create a musical analogy for the more general theme of lost youth.

    Parts/Movements

    1. 1. Andante
    2. 1. Allegretto
    3. 2. Allegro
    4. 2. Adagio

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2016 Deutsche Grammophon 4796220
    2016 Biddulph Recordings BDF 80251
    2016 Brilliant Classics 95354BR
    2016 Deutsche Grammophon 4796316
    2016 Erato 557140
    2016 Decca / Philips 4788977
    2016 EuroArts / Warner Classics 555050
    2016 Warner Classics 555054
    2015 MDG 9011913
    2015 Deutsche Grammophon 4794708
    2015 Deutsche Grammophon 002894795229
    2014 Canary Classics CC 12
    2014 Melodiya MELCD 1002241
    2013 Avi-Music / CAvi-music CAVI 8553305
    2013 Praga PRDDSD 350099
    2013 Capriccio Records C 5135
    2012 Harmonia Mundi HMC 902105
    2012 Erato / Virgin Classics 5099960265
    2012 Testament SBT 21472
    2012 Entertainment Group 4035
    2012 Warner Classics
    2012 Warner Classics 2564660542
    2012 Guild GHCD 2372
    2011 Deutsche Grammophon 002894779464
    2011 Audite AUDITE 95590
    2011 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099990721
    2011 EMI Classics
    2011 New York Philharmonic NYP 20120102
    2011 Orfeo C 838112B
    2010 Deutsche Grammophon
    2010 Decca
    2010 Newton Classics 8802018
    2010 EMI Classics 6483972
    2010 Teldec 256468103
    2009 Orfeo 788091
    2009 Membran 231755
    2009 Music & Arts MACD1223
    2009 Decca 4781149
    2009 Decca
    2009 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099926413
    2009 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099926419
    2008 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099921750
    2008 Music & Arts MACD1213
    2007 Apex
    2007 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 0946381771
    2007 EMI Classics
    2007 Myto Records 71122
    2007 EMI Music Distribution 574872
    2007 Doremi Records 7906
    2006 Rhino
    2006 Elatus
    2006 Claves 502516
    2006 Edel Classics 0002332
    2005 Berlin Classics 0010122
    2004 Warner Classics 60291
    2004 Universal Classics 000174102
    2003 Deutsche Grammophon 474 657-2GB8
    2003 EMI Classics
    2003 Capriccio Records 67061
    2003 Tim 220828
    2003 EMI Music Distribution 85562
    2002 Naxos 8 554755
    2002 Supraphon 36632001
    2002 Koch 7530
    2002 Philips 4705312
    2000 Arkadia 78583
    1999 Teldec 18155
    1999 Philips 412523
    1996 Deutsche Grammophon 447445
    1996 Hungaroton 31635
    1996 Continuum SBT 1004
    1995 Sony Music Distribution 67194
    1995 Sony Classical 64504
    1995 Teldec 97449
    1995 Sony Classical 68331
    1995 Supraphon 1939
    1994 Symposium 1142
    1994 Deutsche Grammophon 445487
    1993 Cascavelle 2003
    1992 Deutsche Grammophon 4370932
    1992 EMI Music Distribution 54248
    1991 Astree 7805
    1990 CBS Records Masterworks 42139
    As Disc 626
    Pyramid Records 13499
    Decca 411804
    Vox 7818
    Arlecchino 6
    Deutsche Grammophon 413725
    GM Recordings 2006
    Prelude & Fugue 2148
    Supraphon 110706
    London 411804
    Russian Revelation 10075
    CBS Records 819
    Warner Music
    BBC Music Magazine 214
    Intaglio 706
    Lys 146
    Supraphon 111939
    Tim 220833
    Music & Arts 668
    Artists 59
    FED 059
    All Russia