Berg: Lyric Suite

This twelve-tone string quartet composed by Alban Berg between 1925 and 1926 is in six movements.  The tone row it is based on is an example of an ‘all interval’ series, meaning that it contains one instance of every interval (2nd, 3rd, fourth etc.).

The first movement is fast and chaotic, the second andante amoroso movement slower and more lyrical.  Although atonal, there are colourful harmonies which sound not unlike jazz in places.  It’s mostly extremely emotional music – often desperate and frenzied, but also gentle at times.  The allegro misterioso  starts with a direction to play ‘am steg’ (on the bridge), with fast passages that puts me in mind of bees buzzing.  It creates an interesting sound, but with no identifiable melody or harmony; this movement doesn’t sound like music to me.  The adagio appassionato sends shivers down my spine with its intense sound and chromatic melodies.  The presto delirando creates an interesting, ominous sound with quiet tremolo close to the bridge, but the faster sections are again unmusical to my ears, with often unpleasant dissonances.  Finally, the largo desolato opens with slow, solo pizzicato on the cello and suggests a lonely, desolate landscape, ending with the viola fading out on a quiet, chromatic melody.  There was much in this music that I didn’t enjoy, but I was also surprised at how much I did like and how the music succeeded in drawing me in, particularly the lyrical, expressive sections.

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