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Alban Berg: Chamber Concerto

  • for piano and violin with 13 wind instruments
  • 2 2 3 2 - 2 1 1 0
  • Duration: 39’
  • Instrumentation details:
    piccolo (+2nd fl)
    cor anglais
    clarinet in Eb
    clarinet in A
    bass clarinet in Bb
    trumpte in F
    1st horn in F
    2nd horn in F
  • Composer: Alban Berg
  • Editor: Douglas Jarman
  • Table of contents:
    Thema scherzoso con Variazioni
    Rondo ritmico con Introduzione (Kadenz)
  • Dedication: Arnold Schönberg zum 50. Geburtstag
  • Remarks: It's possible to perform Thema scherzoso con Variazioni and Adagio separately.


Work specifications


Publication Information

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Work introduction

‘The Schönbergs were in good spirits’, wrote Berg to his wife Helene on 29 March 1923 after a visit to Mödling, ‘but it wasn’t too pleasant an atmosphere because he kept on finding fault with my Chamber Concerto. He doesn’t like the piano in this combination. Only he doesn’t know, of course, that it is a concerto, not an ordinary octet.’ Although Berg had been thinking about the Chamber Concerto for some time when he wrote this letter, his ideas about the work were still primarily conceptual; one of the jottings in Berg’s sketchbook, in which he wrote down some of the very earliest ideas about the piece, is dated ‘29. 6. 23’, three months after his visit to the Schönbergs. Indeed, as the remark about the work being for ‘not an ordinary octet’ reveals, he was still, at that stage, unsure about the precise instrumental combination involved and it was not until August 1923 that, after considering various possible ensembles, he decided on the final orchestral layout.

It would be almost two years after the visit to Mödling before the Chamber Concerto was complete, the composition of the whole work being finished, according to Berg’s open letter to Arnold Schönberg on 9 February 1925 (Berg’s 40th birthday), published in Pult und Taktstock 1925, and the writing of the full score on 23 July of that same year. The full score of the work was published by Universal Edition, Vienna, as UE 8393 on 29 December 1925, two weeks after the successful premiere of Wozzeck at the Staatsoper in Berlin began to turn Berg into a composer of international standing. The piano arrangement of the Chamber Concerto, by Berg’s pupil Fritz Heinrich Klein, appeared on 19 November the following year.

Although Berg had written the work with Rudolf Kolisch and Eduard Steuermann in mind, the first two performances of the Chamber Concerto (in Berlin on 19 March 1927 and in Zurich six days later) were given by the violinist Stefi Geyer and the pianist Walter Frey under Hermann Scherchen. Both performances were, as Berg wrote to Theodor W. Adorno on the day following the Zurich concert, insufficiently prepared and the work was at best a ‘succès d’estime’. Kolisch and Steuermann played the work for the first time at its Vienna premiere on 31 March 1927, when Anton Webern conducted an ensemble consisting of wind and brass players from the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. It was a performance that Berg came to regard as definitive. ‘It made me very sad that you couldn’t be at the performance of my Chamber Concerto in Vienna’, wrote Berg on 4 April to Werner Reinhart who had organised the Zurich premiere. ‘Only now would you have really got to know it in its true character, and, I think, found many pleasures in it, something that wasn’t possible, with the best will, in Zurich. That isn’t, of course, a reproach against Scherchen. Far less against the soloists, of whom Frau Geier-Schultheß in particular pleased me very much, but simply a confirmation that the miracle (and that is what it would have been) of performing so terribly difficult and completely unknown a work properly can’t be achieved with so few rehearsals (basically only 3–4 in both Berlin and Zurich); no one can work wonders. In Vienna Webern had 13 two-hour rehearsals with the Philharmonic wind in 10 days – and when, after the 8th rehearsal the soloists were added, it became clear that what at first seemed unsolved, or perhaps, insoluble problems peculiar to this work (such as the relation of the soloists to the wind ensemble, for example) fell away by themselves.’

The original manuscript score of the Chamber Concerto was given by Berg to Schönberg, to whom the piece is dedicated, as a belated 50th birthday present. Before this, however, the score was sent, movement by movement, to Universal Edition’s printer Waldheim-Eberle, Vienna, where it was photographed and transparencies or a print returned to the composer for correction. It was this photographic reproduction that formed the basis for the first published score of the work, a ‘reproduction after the composer‘s handwritten manuscript’.

As a result of his experience of attending the Vienna performance and some of the rehearsals Berg undertook a large-scale revision of the score, making many, sometimes radical, corrections. Amongst the many sources for the Chamber Concerto (sketches, formal diagrams, drafts of the orchestral layout, Klein’s piano arrangement corrected by Berg etc.) are three annotated photographic copies of the original manuscript that were in Berg’s possession. The most important of these copies is that which Berg used when undertaking the revision, and it is this copy (now in the Musiksammlung of the ÖNB as F21 Berg 75/II) that has been taken as the main source for the Alban Berg Complete Edition, which is the basis for the present score. The annotations in the three copies differ from one another in various details. Thus, for example, a curiosity of the manuscript score of the Chamber Concerto is the number of times that Berg confuses the terms ‘meno’ and ‘più’, often writing ‘meno p’ instead of ‘più p’. Some of these errors were corrected in the copy taken as the main source, some were corrected in one of the other two photographic copies in Berg’s possession while others remained uncorrected in all three copies. Unfortunately Berg never collated these various corrections into a single source.

A score of the Chamber Concerto, written by a copyist and edited by Hans Erich Apostel, appeared over 20 years after Berg’s death, and was published in 1956 under the same plate number (UE 8393) as the photographic copy of Berg’s manuscript. It included some, but not all, of the revisions in F21 Berg 75/II but did not take into account corrections in many other sources. The subsequent Philharmonia pocket score (PH 423) was a reprint of the Apostel edition and included a few additional corrections. The present new edition brings together the corrections from the three photographic copies and other sources.

Douglas Jarman, July 2005


Sample pages

Next performances

World première

Berlin (DE)
Hermann Scherchen
Main soloists:
Steffi Geyer, vln; Walter Frey, pno

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