Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto

Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto was written in 1935 (the score is dated 11 August 1935). It is probably Berg’s best-known and most frequently performed instrumental piece, in which the composer sought to reconcile diatonicism and dodecaphony. Berg composed it on a commission from Louis Krasner, and it became the last work that he completed. Krasner performed the solo part in the premiere at the Palau de la Música Catalana, Barcelona on 19 April 1936, after the composer’s death.

The piece stemmed from a commission from the violinist Louis Krasner. When he first received the commission, Berg was working on his opera Lulu, and he did not begin work on the concerto for some months. The event that spurred him into writing was the death by polio of 18-year-old Manon Gropius, the daughter of Alma Mahler (once Gustav Mahler’s wife) and Walter Gropius. Berg set Lulu aside to write the concerto, which he dedicated “To the memory of an angel”.

Berg worked on the piece very quickly, completing it within a few months; it is thought that his working on the concerto was largely responsible for his failing to complete Lulu before his death on 24 December 1935. The violin concerto was the last work that Berg completed. In a letter to Krasner dated 16 July 1935, Berg confessed:

Yesterday I finished the composition [without the orchestration] of our Violin Concerto. I am probably more surprised by it than you will be (…) the work gave me more and more joy. I hope – no, I have the confident belief – that I have succeeded.

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