Wednesday, August 06, 2014

"Alban Berg": BBC has an old documentary about an important early 20th Century pioneer of atonal music

There is on YouTube a biography documentary “Alban Berg”, directed by Barrie Gavin, for the BCC, posted by Misha Horenstein. I’m not sure when the original documentary was filmed (in 4:3 aspect) but it appears to be old, possibly originally shot in the 1950s. 

Alban Berg was the first major disciple of Arnold Schoenberg (Anton Webern was the other) to follow the “twelve-tone technique” for much of his work.  Use of the technique produces music that, while atonal, is hyperchromatic and often sounds amazingly lush and post-romantic.  Berg’s output was much smaller than Schoenberg’s, partly because he worked slowly.  Berg was sensitive and concerned about humanitarian issues, although in a somewhat detached way, which he tried to approach through art and composition rather than direct involvement with people. That sounds a bit like me!  He did marry.

The film has a lot of scenic stills as backgrounds, but some interviews, especially with French conductor and composer Pierre Boulez.  The film presents major excerpts from several of his most important works, starting with the Altenberg Lieder (based on postcard pictures), and then the Chamber Concerto (showing about five minutes of a performance from the woodwind-centered part of the work), before moving on to the first opera, Wozzeck.  I saw this opera at the Met in the fall of 1974 shortly after moving to NYC.  The film presents the orchestral interlude near the end, with film clips of the horrible history going on at the time, climaxing with scenes from the concentration camps that would come.  The film talks about Nazi rejection of music, and his correspondence with Furtwangler and Schoenberg.  By the time of the composition of the Lyric Suite for String Quartet, Berg had mastered the twelve-tone technique. The film goes on to present an excerpt from “Lulu” with animation, about a woman who reacted to the violence put on her with her own.  Then it presents the conclusion of the Violin Concerto, which Berg wrote as a requiem for the death of Alma Mahler.

The film runs about 55 minutes.  See also discussion of the two operas on the "drama" blog June 7, 2008

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