Alban Berg

String Quartet, Op. 3

    Description by John Palmer

    Alban Berg's String Quartet, Op. 3 (1910) was the last work the composer produced under the tutelage of Arnold Schoenberg. First perfomed in 1911 and published nine years later, the two-movement String Quartet was not well received at its premiere and received no further performances for more than a decade. Schoenberg, however, admired the piece, and the work may rightly be regarded as an appropriate valedictory for Berg's transition from apprenticeship to musical maturity.

    According to Berg's wife Helene, the inspiration for the Quartet was born of the frustration both she and Berg experienced when Helene's father forbade the two lovers from seeing one another. In this work, Berg takes a great step beyond the compositional idiom of his Piano Sonata, Op. 1 (1907 - 08) and the Four Songs, Op. 2 (1909 - 10). The Quartet's thematic craftsmanship bears a relationship to that of the earlier Piano Sonata, but the Quartet is far more complex. Whereas tonality had restricted Berg's language in the earlier work, the free atonal idiom of the Quartet allowed the composer to develop his material with unprecedented freedom and variety.

    In the first movement Berg establishes a web of motivic relationships within a sonata-form outline. The opening theme bears a striking resemblance to a theme from Schoenberg's Verklärte Nacht (1899) and is built on a slightly modified whole-tone scale that would reappear in the opera Wozzeck (1917- 22). A transformation of this theme becomes a fundamental figure in the second movement, which again contains material similar to that in the work of another composer: the love duet from Richard Wagner's Tristan und Isolde (1857 - 59). Scholars disagree on the formal design of this movement but tend to describe it as a type of rondo or sonata-rondo.

    Berg's use of motives and passages derived from cycles of intervals, his attention to detail and every detail's relationship to the whole, and his expert, idiomatic writing for the string quartet all point to the work of a composer assured in technique and possessed of a distinctive musical personality.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Langsam
    2. Mäßige Viertel

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2016 Warner Classics 557398
    2016 Naïve V 5380
    2013 Cobra Records CBA 37
    2013 Haenssler / Hänssler Classic 93723
    2013 Genuin 13261
    2013 Capriccio Records C 5163
    2012 MDG / Zebralution
    2011 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099990721
    2011 EMI Classics
    2011 Onyx ONYX 4066
    2010 Deutsche Grammophon / DG Deutsche Grammophon
    2010 NSS Music 9
    2008 EMI Classics 13974
    2008 Brilliant Classics 8999
    2008 Teldec 514389
    2008 United Archives 023
    2007 Naxos 8 557374
    2007 Zig Zag Territoires ZZT041201
    2005 EMI Classics
    2005 Decca 4756796
    2005 Decca
    2003 DG Deutsche Grammophon 474 657-2GB8
    2001 Praga 250161
    2000 Montaigne 782119
    1995 Disques Montaigne 789001
    1995 Capriccio Records 10511
    1995 Metronome 1007-01
    1995 Orfeo 216901.2
    1995 Camerata Records 99
    1993 Nonesuch 79318
    1992 Teldec 76998
    1987 DG Deutsche Grammophon 419994
    Chandos 9999
    MDG 3070996
    Orfeo 216901
    Berlin Classics 0010652