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.