In February 1935 Alban Berg was approached by the American violinist Louis Krasner with a request to write a violin concerto. Although reluctant to stop working on Lulu, Berg’s financial position made the refusal of such a commission almost impossible. Having jotted down some preliminary ideas for the piece in mid-March, Berg proposed to devote the summer, which he spent at this house near Velden in Carinthia, composing the Concerto.
On 22 April, a few days before Berg left Vienna for Velden, a tragedy occurred that would determine the final shape of the Concerto. Manon Gropius, the daughter of Alma Mahler and Walter Gropius, died of poliomyelitis. Berg wrote to Alma Mahler that he intended to dedicate his work dem Andenken eines Engels [to the memory of an angel], in memory of Manon. The Concerto was written at the Waldhaus in Carinthia between May and August 1935.
In July, shortly after Berg had finished the composition of the piece and was about to start work on the full orchestral score, he was stung by an insect at the base of his spine, and the sting gradually developed into an abscess. Returning to Vienna in early November in ill health, he was able to attend the Viennese première of the Symphonic Pieces from “Lulu” on 11 December, but, less than a week later, had to be taken to hospital. He died of blood poisoning at the Rudolfspital in Vienna on the night of 23 to 24 December.
Christian Tetzlaff on the Violin Concerto:
“Like so many great works of art, Berg’s Violin Concerto lives from an amalgam of the greatest possible contrasts.
The most intense feelings of pain, desire and love are portrayed in the abstract and controlled musical language of twelve-tone technique. Yet the form of the piece is as clear and simple as one can imagine and is not difficult to convey or sense in the ensemble. But still Berg uses this form to depict the complexity of a human life with all its trials and tribulations from the cradle to the grave and in the end he leaves us with a sense of acceptance that transcends all that precedes it! Having the honour to play it is eternally rewarding.”