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Alban Berg's Violin Concerto Premiered in 1936

Alban Berg's Violin Concerto premiered on this day in Barcelona, Spain


Austrian composer Alban Berg completed his Violin Concerto in 1935, it was his last complete work.

Ukrainian-American violin virtuoso Louis Krasner, who had commissioned the concerto from Berg, gave the first performance on April 19, 1936, in Barcelona, Spain at contemporary music festival with conductor Hermann Scherchen and the Orquestra Pau Casals. The premiere was given four months after Berg's death.

When Krasner first commissioned the violin concerto, Berg hesitated in accepting, expressing his reservations that the realms of Wieniawski and Vieuxtemps were not for him. In response, Krasner aptly pointed out that composers like Beethoven and Brahms had produced violin concertos. Krasner also believed that Berg could be the catalyst in showcasing the lyrical and expressive potential of twelve-tone music, dispelling the notion that it lacked emotional depth, “all brain, no heart.” Despite maintaining a cautious stance for a period, Berg ultimately accepted the commission, with friends noticing his newfound inclination towards attending violin recitals.

The death of Manon Gropius, the 18-year-old daughter of Alma Mahler-Werfel and her second husband, the architect Walter Gropius, on the 22nd of April 1935 was a tragic event that strongly influenced Berg to write the violin concerto. Berg had had a long and passionate love affair with Franz Werfel's sister*, Hanna Fuchs-Robettin, to which his Lyric Suite is dedicated.

(*Franz Werfel was Alma Mahler-Werfel's husband at the time of Manon's death. Gustav Mahler was her first husband.)

Manon Gropius was described as gifted, gentle, vivacious, and beautiful, who was loved by many. She had been studying to become an actress when struck down by poliomyelitis, which led to spinal paralysis and so to her death. Berg was very shaken by the tragedy and suddenly saw how the concerto might be a Requiem for the beloved Manon. On the title page he wrote “Für Louis Krasner” and at the bottom, “Dem Andenken eines Engels” (“to the memory of an angel”).

The significance of the term "angel" also lies in Max Reinhardt's plan for Manon to debut as an angel in his Salzburg production of Everyman.

Today, his Violin Concerto is arguably his best-known.



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