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Alban Bergs 'Lulu': Quellenstudien und Beitrage zur Analyse.

By Thomas F. Ertelt. pp. 220. 'Alban Berg Studien', iii. (Universal Edition, Vienna, 1993, DM58. ISBN 3-7024-0208-X.)

The Alban Berg Studien, under the general editorship of Rudolf Stephan, seems to have hit its stride. The early volumes in the series - of which Vol. 1/iii consisted of Rosemary Hilmar's catalogues of the Berg holdings in the Osterreichische Nationalbibliothek, Vienna, and Vol. 2 offered a selection of papers read at the 1980 Berg conference in Vienna - were somewhat disappointing, although, as the nearest thing we have to a complete overview of the existing manuscripts and documents, Hilmar's catalogues remain, despite their many inaccuracies, indispensable. Vols. 3 and 4, however, are outstanding contributions to Berg scholarship.

Vol. 3, Thomas Ertelt's Lulu study, is a fascinating and authoritative examination of the sources for Berg's final masterpiece. After a preliminary discussion of Berg's idiosyncratic method of sketching (many of the earliest sketches consisting of little more than vague, unrhythmicized contour sketches so lacking in any recognizable characteristics that one wonders how Ertelt managed to identify them), the first chapters examine the confused background to the opera. It has, of course, long been known that Berg was for some time unsure whether to base his second opera on Gerhart Hauptmann's Und Pippa tanzt or on Wedekind's Lulu plays and that some of the ideas originally intended for Pippa eventually found their way into Lulu. Not until now, however, has it been possible to see just how many of the early ideas for the musical material of Lulu derive directly from Berg's work on the abandoned Pippa. Nor was Pippa the only abandoned project that fed into Lulu; Ertelt has identified, mixed up with the early Lulu sketches, a formal plan and nearly fifteen pages of sketches for a projected Romantic Overture - a work in sonata form that was to have been based on the basic set of Lulu. Ertelt even goes so far as to suggest that what we now identify as the large row table for Lulu (which, we know, Berg drew up at an early stage of his work on the opera, since it includes none of the derivative rows of a kind that date from after the composition of Der Wein) may originally have been intended as the row chart for a quite different work. Ertelt's clarification of the confusion about, and the interdependence of, these different sources is of more than chronological interest. The fact that one sketch shows a figuration that is labelled both 'Huhn' and 'Goll' (that is, with the names of characters from both the Lulu and Pippa plays) and that the figuration combines both the rhythmic figuration that would later be associated with the Medical Specialist and the chromatic figuration associated with Schigolch goes some way to explaining at least one puzzling passage in Act I scene 1 of the final opera. Ertelt then analyses the first scene of Lulu and examines the difference between the continuity draft (also written before Berg stopped in order to write 'Der Wein') and the later short score in the light of this evidence.

The remaining two-thirds of Ertelt's book is devoted to an examination of two groups of material: that associated with Dr Schon and that of the Variation Interlude of Act III. Although the sketches for these sections have been discussed by other writers, and consequently not all that he has to say is new, Ertelt's consideration of this material is the most thorough and detailed to date. His discussion of the differences between the various sketches for the final confrontation of Jack and Lulu is especially interesting, and it is both interesting and startling to find a rejected sketch for the main theme of Schon's Sonata that, going against everything that one thought about Berg's methods of row handling, is based entirely on retrograde forms of the Basic Set. Particularly fascinating is the long section on the row derivation of the Sonata's transition passage; anyone who has ever wondered how Berg managed to work out some of his more intricate row associations without the use of a computer should read Ertelt's exposition of the technically awe-inspiring complexities of this passage. Equally valuable is his discussion of the Act III Interlude and of how Berg's view of the orchestral interlude changed between Wozzeck and Lulu (only the very first interlude of Lulu follows the model, and has the function, of the Wozzeck interludes), his discussion of Berg's original plan to make the Act III Interlude a second film music interlude, and his extraordinary revelation that Berg at one time thought of ending the opera, after the death of Countess Geschwitz, with, to quote Berg's own note, 'Epilog des "Chors" (Conferenciers) Bibel Citat und Schluss!'.

Ertelt's study will be of enormous value to Berg scholars and analysts. If I have a criticism of it, it is that, in restricting himself to a few groups of material, Ertelt has had to leave large passages of music - including most of Act II of the opera - undiscussed. Anyone who wants to know about Alwa's music, for example, will have to look elsewhere. The book ends rather abruptly, and it would be nice to think that Ertelt sees this as only the first of a number of volumes.

Ulrich Kramer's contribution to the series centres on Berg's period of study with Schoenberg. When he became a Schoenberg pupil in the autumn of 1904 the young Berg had had no formal musical training, and his first years as a student were spent learning music theory and writing exercises based on Heinrich Bellermann's book on counterpoint (first published in 1862). Not until 1907 did Berg begin to study composition and work his way systematically through a course that, beginning with the construction of simple phrases and periods, gradually encompassed the study of increasingly complicated forms and harmonic structures until it arrived at its final goal, the writing of a sonata movement. Some of the instrumental pieces that Berg wrote as composition exercises during these student years have been published (the Variations on an Original Theme first appeared in Redlich's 1957 book and was republished, along with a selection of other piano pieces, by Universal Edition some ten years ago), but many of the most interesting (including the five incomplete piano sonatas) remain unknown. Not the least valuable feature of Kramer's book is its inclusion of a large number of facsimile reproductions of this otherwise unavailable material.

Kramer's book is, then, at least in part, a study of Schoenberg's teaching methods - a topic which, while hardly unexplored by other scholars, benefits enormously from being discussed in specific, rather than general, terms. By concentrating on a single body of work by a single pupil - by, for example, discussing Berg's reworkings of earlier pieces as a result of his studies with Schoenberg or by showing the different drafts of Sonata III alongside a facsimile of Schoenberg's own page of suggested improvements - Kramer not only traces Berg's progress through these years but tells us more about Schoenberg's teaching methods than any less tightly focused study could.

Kramer's achievement in this valuable book is not simply to have sorted out the complicated chronology of the dozens of Klavierstucke, Adagios, Variations etc. that Berg wrote while studying composition but also, by analysing the pieces and demonstrating the gradual development of Berg's technique, to show how the untrained, nineteen-year-old dilettante was, within the space of a few years, transformed into the composer of works as assured and as stylistically mature as the Op. 1 Piano Sonata and the Op. 2 songs.

The techniques that Berg learnt during his years of study were to stay with him for the rest of his life. The little a's, b's and c's that indicate motivic variations in the earliest composition exercises frequently appear in the later sketches, while the formal sketch of the 1907 C minor Impromptu reproduced in facsimile - a sketch that, without indicating the musical material involved, shows the proportions, keys, climaxes and characteristics of the piece - demonstrates a way of pre-planning the features of a piece identical to that found in the sketches for the mature works up to and including the Violin Concerto.

By the time of the five unfinished piano sonatas, many of the features of Berg's individual musical voice were firmly established (as Kramer makes clear by drawing attention to such things as Berg's already subtle handling of established formal types and the appearance of chromatic wedge progressions in these early pieces) - so much so that not only could the opening of Sonata IV become the basis of the opening and the climax of the D minor interlude in Wozzeck but, as is less well known, passages from an early 'Clavierstuck' in F minor and a fragment of Sonata V could respectively be integrated, without excessive stylistic inconsistency, into Act III scene 1 of Wozzeck and the Op. 3 String Quartet.

The special issue published by the Osterreichische Musikzeitschrift in 1995 is also a source study, though of a curious kind. The most important part of the volume consists of the first publication of transcriptions of the complete correspondence between the Bergs and the Fuchs-Robettins. Now that we have the annotated score of the Lyric Suite, the correspondence is perhaps more of personal and psychological than of musicological interest. Exactly half of the 26 letters and cards date from the nine months following Berg's first stay with the Fuchs-Robettins in Prague in May 1925 and consist in the main of a series of courteous and friendly letters to and from Herbert, full of discussions of number mysticism (in which Herbert seems to have been as interested as Berg) and amusing crossword puzzles, and one long (23-page) passionate letter to Hanna in which, among other things, Berg tells her about his plans for writing a four-movement string quartet and his discovery of Baudelaire's poem 'De profundis'. A further letter, of 23 October 1926, tells her of the completion of the work. Their relationship seems to have reached some kind of crisis point in the following weeks, not least because Herbert had become aware of what was happening, and gradually, from 1928 onwards, the letters became briefer and more infrequent.

The correspondence as a whole is deeply moving, disturbing and puzzling and raises more questions than it answers. How much is the sense of gradually increasing hopelessness and resignation conveyed by Berg's letters real and how much due to the natural excesses of his style and character? - they are written in his characteristically effusive and diffuse style (although the transcriptions fail to reproduce his equally characteristic plethora of underlinings). And where, among all the permutations of correspondents and recipients - five cards from Herbert to Berg, three letters from Berg to Herbert, one from Helene to Herbert and Hanna, three from Berg to both Herbert and Hanna, and fourteen from Berg to Hanna - are the letters from Hanna to Berg? Did she never reply? Was this a totally one-sided affair - a love, as Adorno suggested, that Berg created and dramatized in order to compose? Was it only coincidence that the crisis point came almost immediately after Berg had finished work on the Lyric Suite? To what extent did Berg, psychologically and creatively, need the affair to end tragically? Such affairs were, after all, not taken very seriously in the Vienna of Berg's time and, with Alma Mahler among their closest friends, could hardly be said to be uncommon in the Bergs' immediate circle. It is in many ways a pity that the collection comes with an introduction and resume by Constantin Floros, since it raises many questions that need to be tackled without the answers being filtered through interpretative preconceptions.

The remainder of the volume consists of an article by Floros, 'Structure and Semantics in the Lyric Suite', which adds little to his already published essays on the subject, and a short piece by Waldburga Litschauer on a story, entitled 'Hanna', by the eighteen-year-old Berg. The tragic teenage fairy story has nothing whatever to do with the later affair, other than the fact that the heroine is called Hanna - not all that curious a coincidence, although doubtless one that Berg himself would have regarded as having fateful significance.

As far as I know, no one has yet drawn attention to the fact that Hanna's mother was called Albine, the feminine form of Alban and the name given to Berg's illegitimate daughter. There is doubtless an article waiting to be written on the significance of that particular coincidence.

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Author:Jarman, Douglas
Publication:Music & Letters
Article Type:Book Review
Date:May 1, 1998
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