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Alban Berg - Three Orchestral Pieces, I

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Uploaded on Dec 30, 2009

Three Orchestral Pieces, Op. 6 (1913-1929)

I. "Präludium" (Prelude)
II. "Reigen" (Round Dances)
III. "Marsch" (March)

Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Claudio Abbado

In mid-1913 Berg was deeply depressed by the disastrous premiere of some of his Altenberg Lieder as well as by scorching criticism from his mentor Arnold Schoenberg, of the aphoristic nature of his recent music. Berg resolved to write a large-form orchestral work, his first, and initially tried to compose a one-movement symphony more or less in the manner of Schoenberg's first Chamber Symphony. Progress soon stalled, but Berg transferred some of this material into a new project that he called "a suite of character pieces for orchestra." The resulting Pieces (3) for orchestra came to be regarded as one of Berg's most ambitious works, excepting the operas and the Violin Concerto.

The opening "Präludium" (Prelude) stands apart from the movements that follow in that it is not based on a traditional form. It does, however, introduce a number of small motivic figures and some larger ideas that recur throughout the work. It rises uncertainly from the depths of the orchestra, experiences a brief eruption, then builds more patiently and yearningly to a huge climax before sinking back into the nebulous material with which it began (with the opening chord sequence now played in retrograde, underlining the movement's arch construction).

"Reigen" (Round Dances) features overlapping dance rhythms contrasting with unsettled background material; the fragmentary waltz-like material, which vaguely sounds like alternately deranged and comatose Mahler, is sandwiched between an unsettled introduction and coda.

The concluding "Marsch" (March) again strongly calls Mahler to mind, although Berg has little use for Mahler's adventures in tonality (the motifs introduced in the first movement, rather than harmonic relationships, unify the Pieces (3)). This is not something one could actually march to; as with the previous movement, it's a free fantasy on the relevant rhythms. Even so, Berg does allude to sonata form in this movement in his handling of the motifs, and again, there's a catastrophic climax well before the end (complete with Mahlerian hammer blows), followed by a not quite tranquil coda. [allmusic.com]

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