Preludium – Reigen – Marsch
1913 was music's “year of scandals.” One of the biggest took place in Vienna, at a concert of the Schoenberg circle. In particular it was the work of his talented pupil Alban Berg that provoked the sensation. The angered public would not allow his orchestral song cycle of settings of Peter Altenberg to be completed. After the incident, Schoenberg himself was angry. This was the same Schoenberg who encouraged his pupils to be novel and courageous, and yet in this instance, he found Berg squarely at fault, telling him that it could not be permitted to write such a daring work … Their relationship suffered for several months which affected Berg painfully. He did his best to regain Schoenberg's respect. Schoenberg primarily objected to his pupil writing only chamber music and songs, pointing out that his only large scale work, the orchestral song cycle, still comprised of miniature movements. Berg responded by trying to produce a large-scale orchestral work. In 1914 he wrote this three movement work, which naturally he dedicated to Schoenberg. Of the three movements, the first is relatively short – in all, it stretches to 56 bars. It begins with percussion effects, and from these “noises” emerges the first more melodic thought: the bassoon repeats a minor second step, in a relatively high register, and then a new sound joins this interval. The construction is gradual and logical – although after a while, the listener struggles to follow the logic. What we discover on first hearing is that at the end of the movement, the ideas return in reverse order. The second movement, Reigen (circle dance) is similarly constructed. A dance melody, reminiscent of one of Gustav Mahler's Ländler themes, is heard in the distance between an even metrical framework. The second movement is nearly twice as long as the first. The third movement, March, is at least as long as both the other movements combined. Its structure is more complex (some analysts discern four sections between the introduction and coda.) Its atmosphere is almost unrelentingly sinister – as though its author was predicting the atrocities of the forthcoming war. The entire composition was only performed in public for the first time in 1930. By that time, Berg was an acknowledged composer. His opera Wozzeck had been staged by numerous opera houses. He lived well, drove a car (which in those days was far from common). And he began using the second person singular when talking to Schoenberg, who had long since forgiven his pupil.