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Alban Berg  

Lyric Suite

String quartet 1925. Time: 28'30.
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This article is about the composition by Alban Berg. "Lyric Suite" is also the title of Edvard Grieg's composition (orchestration of four Lyric Pieces).
Initial thematic statement, or compositional projection, of the tone row, mm. 2-4, cyclically permuted to begin on E in mm. 7-9 (Perle 1996, p.20).

Lyric Suite is a six-movement work for string quartet written by Alban Berg between 1925 and 1926 using methods derived from Schoenberg's twelve tone technique. Though publicly dedicated to Alexander von Zemlinsky (from whose Lyric Symphony it quotes), the work has recently been revealed to possess a 'secret dedication' and outline a 'secret programme'. Berg himself arranged three of the movements for string orchestra.


Composition and analysis

According to Berg's friend and Schoenberg pupil Erwin Stein, "The work (Ist and VIth part, the main part of the IIIrd and the middle section of the Vth) has been mostly written strictly in accordance with Schoenberg's technique of the 'Composition with 12 inwardly related tones.' A set of 12 different tones gives the rough material of the composition, and the portions which have been treated more freely still adhere more or less to the technique."

According to René Leibowitz (1947) it is "entirely written in the twelve-tone technique, [it] is a sonata movement without the development. Thus the recapitulation follows directly upon the exposition; but, because of the highly advanced twelve-tone technique of variation, everything in this movement is developmental."

However, the first analysis was undertaken by H.F. Redlich (1957), who notices that, "the first movement of the Lyric Suite develops out of the disorder of intervals in its first bar, the notes of which, strung out horizontally, present the complete chromatic scale, and from this in the second and following bars, grows the Basic Set in its thematic shape."

Theodor Adorno called the quartet "a latent opera" (Sandberger, 1996). Redlich (ibid, p. 142) described, "the concealed vocality of the Lyric Suite," despite having no knowledge of the setting of Baudelaire in the finale movement, deciphered by Douglass M. Green in 1976 from what George Perle calls "Berg's cryptic notations". Perle discovered a complete copy of the first edition annotated by Berg for his dedicatee, Hanna Fuchs-Robettin (Franz Werfel's sister, with whom Berg had an affair in the 1920s), later that year. (Perle, 1990).

Berg used the signature motif, A-B-H-F, to combine Alban Berg (A.B.) and Hanna Fuchs-Robettin (H.F.) (Reel 2010). This is most prominent in the third movement. Berg also quotes a melody from Zemlinsky's Lyric Symphony in movement four which originally set the words "You are mine own". In the last movement, according to Berg's self-analysis, the, "entire material, the tonal element well as the Tristan motif" is developed "by strict adherence to the 12-note series."(Sandberger, 1996)

Despite assertions by Berg and others, George Perle, however, "had not yet been informed, as Leibowitz and Redlich were by the time they came to write their respective books, that everything in the 'strictly' dodecaphonic first movement had to be derived from a single serial ordering of the twelve notes of the chromatic scale." Rather, he, "recognized that the first three chords unfold tetrachordal segments of a single statement of the cycle of fifths (C7), and that at the bottom of the same page, in bars 7-9, the cello presents a linear statement of the same cycle." The second violin unfolds "the initial tetrachordal segmentation of the perfect-5th cycle," again at the beginning of the recapitulation. He asks: "How could one [think] of the initial bar as 'disordered'? If anything is to be designated as an Urform here, surely it is this perfect-5th cycle, given its background role in relation to the tone row and other components of the movement."

The "Row" of the Lyric Suite is an all-interval row. It is the first all-interval row derived by its discoverer and Berg student Fritz Heinrich Klein (Whittall 2008, p. 68.).


The piece has been recorded and released on:


  1. Allegretto gioviale
  2. Andante amoroso
  3. Allegro misterioso - Trio estatico
  4. Adagio appassionato
  5. Presto delirando - Tenebroso
  6. Largo desolato

Tone rows

Movement I

Movement I tone row

About this sound Play according to George Perle, pitch classes. He also depicts it in the following way:

Movement I tone row

The row is the secondary set from and was first used in Berg's first twelve-tone work "Schliesse mir die Augen beide" (Perle 1996, p.20).

Movement III

Movement III tone row

according to Wolfgang Stroh, pitch classes

Movement III tone row

according to George Perle, pitches

Movement VI

Movement VI tone row

tone row 1

Movement VI tone row

tone row 2, derived from tone row 1

Constructive rhythm

Berg's constructive rhythm

Stroh (Perle, 1990).


  • Green, Douglass (1977). "Berg's De Profundis: The Finale of the Lyric Suite", International Alban Berg Newsletter 5 (June).
  • Leibowitz, Rene (1947). Schoenberg et son ecole (1947) [Schoenberg and his School, p. 157 (1949)]. Paris: Janin [New York: Philosophical Library]. [Translated by Dika Newlin]
  • Perle, George (1990). The Listening Composer. California: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-06991-9.
    • Perle, George (1977). "The Secret Program of the Lyric Suite", International Alban Berg Newsletter 5 (June).
  • Perle, George (1996). Twelve-Tone Tonality. ISBN 0-520-20142-6.
  • Stein, Erwin (). Lyric Suite score. Prefatory notes by Stein.
  • Redlich, H.F. (1957). Alban Berg, the Man and His Music, p. 135f (1957). London: John Calder.
  • Stroh, Wolfgang Martin (1968). "Alban Berg's 'Constructive Rhythm'", Perspectives of New Music VII/I (Fall-Winter): 26.
  • Whittall, Arnold. 2008. The Cambridge Introduction to Serialism, p. 68. Cambridge Introductions to Music. New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-86341-4 (hardback) ISBN 978-0-521-68200-8 (pbk).
  • Wolfgang Sandberger, liner notes (1996). Intimate Letters. Sony Classical SK 66840. Translated by Stewart Spencer.
  • Reel, James (2010). "Lyric Suite",

External links

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Lyric_Suite". Allthough most Wikipedia articles provide accurate information accuracy can not be guaranteed.

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