An introduction to… Berg

Alban Berg (1885-1935)



Nationality Austrian

One of the great triumvirate of composers of the Second Viennese School – along with his teacher Arnold Schoenberg and Anton Webern – Berg’s compositional style moved from rich Romanticism to atonalism and, eventually, 12-tone serialism. Even in later composition, however, he retained elements of Romanticism in his writing, giving it a more humane feel than that of his colleagues. Two of his operas – Wozzeck (1925) and Lulu (left incomplete at his death in 1935) – are regularly performed today, as is his Violin Concerto (1935), one of the modern masterpieces for the instrument, and his Lyric Suite (1926) for string quartet. A deeply suspicious man, much of his music is full of cleverly concealed symbolism – not least revolving around the number 23. His death came early and tragically when, aged 50, he succumbed to septicaemia as a result of an insect sting.

Most notable works
Piano Sonata No. 1
Three Pieces for Orchestra
Lyric Suite
Violin Concerto

A life in brief

1885 Alban Berg is born on 9 February in Vienna

1900 He shows a talent for playing the piano and composing songs. In 1903 he fathers an illegitimate daughter with the maid Maria Scheucl.

1906 While training as a civil servant, he starts to take lessons with Schoenberg. A large inheritance soon enables him to take up composing full-time.

1910 He marries Helene Nahowski, the daughter of a weatlhy family.

1913 His Altenberg-Lieder cause a riot when they are first performed at a concert in Vienna, later known as the ‘Skandalkonzert’. 

1925 Originally thought to be unplayable, his opera Wozzeck causes a sensation at its premier in Berlin.

1928 Now experimenting fully with 12-note technique, he also uses numeric and alphabetic ciphers, encoding in the music secret programmes such as his love affair with Hanna Werfel.


1935 The death of Alma Mahler’s daughter, Manon, inspires his Violin Concerto. He himself dies on Christmas Eve, following complications from an insect sting.