Lot 15: Stunning and Rare Musical Quotation from Alban Berg's Mysterious Lyric Suite
Presidential Letters, Free Franks & Speeches: Washington to Bush + Important Autographs in History, Science & the Arts
26 October 2016
New York, NY, USALive Auction
Description: Rare Musical Quotation from Berg’s Mysterious Lyric Suite********** BERG, ALBAN. (1885-1935). Austrian composer who, with his teacher Arnold Schoenberg and his colleague Anton Webern, founded the Second Viennese School, characterized by atonality and a twelve-tone notational system. AMusQS. (“Alban Berg”). 1p. 16mo. N.p., March 20, 1933. To Mary E. La Grange (?). Three measures from the third movement of Berg’s Lyric Suite, one of his best-known works. ********** Berg’s 1927 Lyric Suite was the first major work in which he employed the twelve-tone system. Ostensibly dedicated to Zemlinsky, the secret dedicatee of the Lyric Suite was Berg’s mistress, Hanna Fuchs-Robettin, the sister of Austrian novelist and poet Franz Werfel. The six-movement work for string quartet contains many significant references to the couple including quotations from other composers’ works and the repetition of the notes A, B, H (in German notation) and F, Berg and Fuchs’ initials. “That these themes and quotations are indeed leitmotifs was confirmed in January 1977, when a copy of the miniature score profusely annotated by the composer was discovered,” (The New Grove Dictionary). The Lyric Suite is a highly regarded work, which “for all its subjective and tragic character, remains one of the most brilliant and effective virtuoso display pieces in its genre,” (ibid.). ********** In our quotation, Berg transcribes the end of measure 45 as well as measures 46 and 47 of the third movement, a scherzo, which begins allegro mysterioso and corresponds to the beginning of Berg and Fuchs’ relationship. “At the beginning of the third movement, Berg wrote a date to spur Hanna’s memory: ‘May 20, 1925,’ five days after he arrived in Prague to be the Fuchses’ house guest during the festival week, a day or two after he realized that [his wife] Helene was indeed not going to join him there, and doubtless the day he and Hanna admitted there was something special between them. The movement begins as an allegro mysterioso, ‘because,’ Berg wrote, ‘everything was still a mystery -- a mystery to us.’ Here the four initials intermingle in a recurring cell,” (Alban Berg, Monson). ********** Our quotation was written two months after Hitler came to power in January 1933, an event that deeply affected Berg whose despondency over the fate of his Jewish friends, particularly his mentor, Arnold Schoenberg, impaired his ability to compose. Berg’s own musical career was curtailed because of his association with Schoenberg, and performances of his works became more unwelcome in Germany and Austria as anti-Semitism increased. Hanna Fuchs-Robettin fled to New York City with her husband where she died in 1964. Berg died of blood poisoning on Christmas Eve, 1935, 2½ years after writing out our quotation. ********** With mounting traces on the verso. Very darkly and delicately penned. Mounting traces on the verso, otherwise very fine and rare. Berg musical quotations, though rare, do come up for sale, though usually they are from Lulu or Wozzeck. This is the first quotation from the Lyric Suite we have ever seen for sale.