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Alban Berg and His World

spacer Edited by Christopher Hailey
Princeton University Press; 392 pp. $29.95


The "… and His World" component taken from the annual summer conferences at Bard College has never been stronger than it is in this Berg volume, the twenty-first such collection of new analytical papers and related materials. Most of the nine contributors here have found the Mahler–Berg relationship to be crucial to any understanding of Berg's music. Leon Botstein's "Memory of Modernism" is really the memory of Mahler. Botstein also sees Alma Mahler as the embodiment of Berg's conception of Lulu (and of the character of the Infanta in Zemlinsky's Der Zwerg as well). And if there is any doubt that Franz Schreker's time is upon us, these authors dispel it. With the productions of Die Gezeichneten in Los Angeles and Palermo and Der Ferne Klang at Bard, all in 2010, audiences have started to hear the Schreker influence that Antony Beaumont traces in his article on Berg's orchestration. Christopher Hailey, the exemplary editor of this volume, points out that Berg made a piano reduction of two acts of Der Ferne Klang, while Sherry D. Lee compares the depiction of artists in Die Gezeichneten and Lulu.

Hailey's introductory chapter is remarkable for the amount of evocative and trenchant detail he has managed to offer in a small space; it may well be the best writing about this milieu since Carl Schorske's Fin-de-Siècle Vienna thirty years ago. Hailey also acts as translator and annotator for Regina Busch's contribution, a look at an unfinished play, undiscovered until 2001, which Berg hid among his papers. The play is particularly interesting, in light of Lulu, for the way film would have been incorporated. Douglas Jarman, writing about Berg's palindromes, begins with a quick and neat history of time-schemes in and out of music, and he reveals that Berg planned a two-act opera about Gauguin and van Gogh in which the second act would be a retrograde of the first. Jarman's article forms a provocative pair with Lee's discussion of self-portraits and mirrors. Lee has a gift for the well-turned phrase: the painting in Korngold's Die Tote Stadt depicts "the still-living woman as a dead one," while in Lulu "the understanding of appearance as inextricable from illusion, rather than from identity, is at the heart of the opera."

On the personal side, Nick Chadwick offers a translation of a Berg biography by the composer's childhood friend Hermann Watznauer. We learn that Berg twice had to repeat a grade in school, and the whole piece somehow culminates in a proposed all-Berg household production of Ibsen's A Doll's House. Mark DeVoto gives a translation, with superb annotations, of the Berg memorial issue of 23: A Viennese Music Journal, in which Theodor Adorno, writing under the pseudonym "Hektor Rottweiler," is remarkably intimate of tone. Given what Hailey notes were "newly im­posed space constrictions for this series," and his observation that "Berg himself, like his protagonist Lulu, was an enigma to those who knew him, or, rather, he was all things to all people," it is an unexpected delight that a real portrait emerges from this volume. spacer


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