How Lulu was portrayed in the 1930’s
Alban Berg was a disciple of Arnold Schoenberg and the 12-tone system, in which notes were equally distributed within a melody – no one note repeated more than another – resulting in the reign of atonality (meaning, not a key easily identifiable nor particularly “hummable”). Berg found a mentor and champion in Arnold Schoenberg, the innovator behind the 12-tone method. Up until then, he was composing in the style of Brahms and Mahler. Under Schoenberg’s tutelage, Berg went from someone who dabbled in composition to becoming a true master. He composed the first atonal opera, Wozzeck, based on the play he saw in 1914. During the war, all creative activity was on hold, and Berg placed on desk duty because of his delicate health.
His legacy is impressive, given how relatively few works he left behind – others include his other opera, Lulu, the Altenberg Lieder (Altenberg is a city, “lieder” means “songs”), the Lyric Suite, and his Violin Concerto.
The Lulu Suite was completed for orchestra and soprano in 1934, and Berg didn’t complete the full opera before his untimely death at age 50. The story features a femme fatale with a shady past, who has a series of complex and downright inappropriate relationships, commits a murder or two, then flees to London, only to be done in by Jack the Ripper.
In the link below, Sir Simon Rattle conducts the Lulu Suite with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and soprano Arleen Auger. The music is mysterious and conjures images of lurking in the dark, shadowy alleys of late 19th-century Vienna, where you expect someone in a trench coat and fedora to sneak up on you and tell you where to meet later. Give it a whirl (the music I mean, not the lurking in alleys). What do you think?
Alban Berg was born February 9, 1885 in Vienna, Austria, and died December 24, 1935 in Vienna.