Alban Berg

Lyric Suite, for string quartet

    Description by James Reel

    Berg's Lyric Suite abounds in secret messages. In purely musical terms, Berg here for the first time employs Schoenberg's 12-tone system, basing some of the third and fifth movements on rows using all 12 notes of the chromatic scale. (And in one row, Berg proudly told Schoenberg, he used not only all available notes, but all available intervals.) Also, the fourth movement carries a quotation from the Lyric Symphony of Zemlinsky, to whom the suite is dedicated. In more personal terms, the music documents the course of Berg's extramarital affair with Hanna Fuchs-Robettin. Not only do the movement titles suggest an all-too-familiar sequence (from jovial through amorous and ecstatic to gloomy and sorrowful), but Berg incorporates his and Fuchs-Robettin's initials into the melodies and ties the metronome markings to numerological associations with their names. The sixth movement's quotation of Wagner's Tristan und Isolde is a clear reference to illicit love.

    The first movement, though freely atonal, lives up to its designation of Allegretto gioviale; it's a short, perky piece. Things become quieter and more intimate with the sensuous Andante amoroso, although the mood is still sometimes rather capricious, despite an elegiac interlude at its center. Intensity builds with the Allegro misterioso, which opens with nocturnal insect music, liberally employing pizzicato and other effects. This is, effectively, the work's scherzo movement, and at its center is a Trio estatico -- still keeping a fairly quick tempo, but now using mostly conventional bowing for longer-lined phrases. The scherzo music reappears, running in reverse to the movement's end.

    The fourth movement, Adagio appassionato, forms the quartet's emotional center, with something tense and foreboding about much of the music's passion. A thrashing, dissonant climax gives way to a long passage of relative, but not quite settled, repose. The ensuing Presto delirando-Tenebroso alternates frantic music with quiet, dark, tense passages. The concluding Largo desolato maintains these moods at a much slower tempo, the music gradually dying away.


    1. Allegro gioviale
    2. Andante amoroso
    3. Allegro mysterioso
    4. Adagio appassionato
    5. Presto delirando
    6. Largo desolato

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2018 BMC Records BMCCD 261
    2016 Warner Classics 557398
    2016 Deutsche Grammophon 4795982
    2016 Naïve V 5380
    2016 RCA Red Seal 88985321742
    2015 Alpha ALPHA 209
    2015 Decca 002370702
    2014 Toccata Classics TOCC 0247
    2014 CAvi-music 8553266
    2013 Analekta AN 29984
    2012 MDG / Zebralution
    2012 Audite AUDITE 21412
    2011 Naïve 5240
    2011 EMI Classics
    2011 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099990721
    2010 Deutsche Grammophon
    2010 Timpani / Zebralution
    2008 Brilliant Classics 8999
    2008 Teldec 514389
    2008 United Archives 023
    2007 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 0946381771
    2007 EMI Classics
    2007 Naxos 8 557374
    2007 EMI Classics 97629
    2007 Zig Zag Territoires ZZT070502
    2005 EMI Classics
    2003 Deutsche Grammophon 474 657-2GB8
    2003 Nonesuch 30118
    2003 Nonesuch
    2003 Music & Arts CD1056
    2003 CPO 999977
    2001 Praga 250161
    2001 Aura Classics 0167
    2000 Montaigne 782119
    1997 Collins Records 15062
    1996 Sony Music Distribution 66840
    1996 Continuum SBT 1004
    1995 Disques Montaigne 789001
    1995 Orfeo 216901.2
    1994 Caprice Records 21506
    1993 Praga 250034
    1992 Teldec 76998
    1991 Timpani 1C1005
    1991 Caprice Records 21503
    1987 Deutsche Grammophon 419994
    Chandos 9999
    MDG 3070996
    Orfeo 216901
    Ars Musici 5076
    Col Legno 31901
    Testament 1374
    RCA 60855