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'Change of scene' from Act III of Wozzeck

By Alban Berg

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Guitar - Advanced Intermediate - Digital Download
Composed by Alban Berg (1885-1935). Arranged by Rod Whittle. 20th Century. Individual Part. 3 pages. Published by Maggie Creek Music (S0.442595).

Item Number: S0.442595

For solo classical guitar; 3 pp

Alban Berg 1885-1935

Berg was a student ofArnold Schoenberg, and came to prominence with compositions using theatonalism of that school. He incorporated chromaticism and an absenceof tonality into his compositions with complete facility, if not topublic acclaim. His creativity was interrupted by World War 1, duringwhich he served in the Austrian Army. He returned to composition as achampion of modern music, with his opera Wozzeck (1923) bringing bothfame and notoriety. He died of blood poisoning in 1935.

Over the past centurydissonance increased in the compositions of serious music to a pointwhere the semitones had equal value, which is harmonically a kind ofwall. Berg was an early innovator. However, if when strictly followedsuch serialism reaches an ultimate dissonance that effectively seesoff melody and harmony as emotional and structural entities, thatstill leaves elements around form, dynamics and rhythm for thepurposes of expression, and these together with adroit note selectionprove to be surprisingly potent for articulation and cohesion.

The Lyric Suite (1927),which uses Schoenberg's twelve-tone technique, is a case in point.The very name seems incongruous for an atonal work, yet lyric it is,and if the forms used are necessarily masked by the characteristicsof serial writing they are not eliminated by them. In this excerpt arondo form is used with the principle subject repeated on the thirdpage (noted in the score) after a digression to more remote regionsthan this form usually adopts, due to the atonality.  

As well, Berg's writingis rarely purely atonal. In fact the integration of consonantelements are one of the music's most alluring features. It would beso easy, one feels, for melodic material to coagulate the mix, but inhis hands the very opposite is generated, an increased clarity ofmood. The music remains consistent, as it should, and theincorporation of (often only relatively) thematic material, if oftenarresting after so much dissonance, doesn't always always mean lessintensity or gloom. It is simply effective, either way.

Having said all that,it can hardly be denied that the substance of atonality (dissonance,clashing semitones, unharmonic bass) gives it a special suitabilityto express dark outlooks, and Berg is the author of Wozzeck and Lulu,no downtown musicals. It is hard to determine if Berg chose atonalitybecause it could deliver the angst or because he was bored withobvious forms and romanticism. Probably both.

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