Alban Berg's Four Pieces for Clarinet and Piano, Op. 5 (1913) are the composer's only true miniatures. Many musicologists and biographers date these pieces from the spring of 1913, but according to Berg's wife, they were completed in June --a n important distinction, since the latter was the month of Berg's fateful meeting with his former teacher, Arnold Schoenberg. Musicologists have documented Berg's trip to Berlin in 1913, which included a traumatic encounter with Schoenberg. It is presumed that Schoenberg roundly criticized his slavish disciple, attempting to discourage him from composing songs and small-scale works, and encouraging him toward extended instrumental composition. Musicologist Brian Archibald has remarked that Schoenberg likely delivered some "strong criticism of Berg's recent work, and possibly even of his personality."
Schoenberg's harsh rebuke of Berg may indeed have been triggered by Berg's Op. 5 miniatures. Archibald notes the irony in Schoenberg's attack on Berg in light of the fact that Berg's Four Pieces were strongly influenced by Schoenberg's own set of miniatures, the Six Little Piano Pieces, Op. 19 (1911). Berg's fellow Schoenberg pupil, Anton Webern, also wrote a number of miniatures, and indeed his music became best-known for its concise expressivity, its cool character, angular melodies, and pointillistic texture. In contrast, Berg's miniatures -- and indeed, his music in general -- are decidedly more Romantic in gesture, texture, and timbre. The Four Pieces are very brief and complex; Berg abandons motivic connections in favor of deep structural relationships beneath a perpetually moving surface. As with most of Berg's early works, there is a preponderance of quartal and whole-tone harmonies; like the String Quartet, Op. 3 (1910), the Four Pieces undergo constant changes in tempi, dynamics, and articulation according to Berg's intricate instructions (which sometimes change from beat to beat). The first and last of the Four Pieces are the longest, flanking a slow second piece and a scherzo.
The Four Pieces were not performed until 1919, when they received their premier, despite Schoenberg's earlier admonishments, at a meeting of Schoenberg's Society for Private Musical Performances in Vienna.