Alban Berg – Kammerkonzert für Klavier und Geige mit 13 Bläsern

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Portrait of Alban Berg

There are not many pieces for piano solo in Berg’s music. The magnificent sonata of course, a set of variations and that’s it, or more accurately nearly it. There is also one piece written for piano solist. Although we are not blessed with a wonderful concerto like violinists are with the Concerto “To the memory of an angel”, we got a major work (even more beautiful than the violin concerto!): the Chamber Concerto for Piano and Violin with 13 Wind Instruments. And today that’s the piece occupying my mind.

Again a piece including piano and a wind ensemble like Messiaen’s Oiseaux Exotiques? It looks like I have a thing for these kind of pieces!

Alban Berg is my favorite composer among the 3 composers of the second Viennese School. Unfortunately he died young (50) in Vienna, on Christmas Eve 1935 from blood poisonning apparently caused by a serious bacterial infection: very poor, he was taken too late to hospital. He could have certainly written a lot more fabulous music.

The Kammerkonzert was composed between 1923 and 1925 and premiered on 19 March 1927 and is a very fun piece for me. I won’t talk here about the 3 movements, it would be definitely too long, but the first movement is particularly interesting. It was written for Arnold Schoenberg‘s 50th Birthday, and the material used for this movement is in fact the 3 names of the 2nd Viennese school translated to the German musical notation: ArnolD SCHönBErG – (A-D-E♭-C-B-B♭-E-G) , Anton wEBErn – (A-E-B♭-E) and of course AlBAn BErG – (A-B♭-A-B♭-E-G) using for each of the 5 variations a simple transformation of the row typical of the twelve tone technique: Var. 1 – Prime, Var. 2 – Retrograde, Var. 3 – Inversion, Var. 4 – Retrograde inversion, Var. 5 – Prime. How fun is that?

I now let you discover this fabulous piece, played by Sviatoslav Richter (piano!), Oleg Kagan (one of my preferred violinist) and the Instrumental Ensemble of the Moscow Conservatoire conducted by Yuri Nikolayevsky. Unfortunately, I can’t embed this version, so you’ll have to click on the links below!

I. Thema scherzoso con variazioni
Part 1:

II. Adagio
Part 1:
Part 2:

III: Rondo ritmico con introduzione
Part 1:
Part 2: