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This superbly produced, 400-page collection (plus notes, bibliography, etc) of the complete writings of Berg in new translations will be an essential purchase for anyone with a special interest in this composer. There are six main sections – The Schoenberg Guides; Essays, Lectures and Analyses; Tributes; Interviews; Fictional Works; Miscellaneous Writings. The extended first section occupies more than a third of the volume and the number of music examples – here and also throughout most of the book – is about the most generous I have ever seen. They are of course an essential aid to Berg’s authoritative analytical studies of major works by his teacher – Gurrelieder, the First Chamber Symphony and Pelleas und Melisande. ‘Essays, Lectures and Analyses’ is nearly as long and comprises polemical writings on music and musicians of his day, Pfitzner and two leading Viennese journalists being among Berg’s targets. Elsewhere in this section Berg provides some fascinating remarks on how to perform Wozzeck: ‘My experience in performances of recent years has shown me that the entire work should nowadays be generally tranquil.’ Berg also writes: ‘The Child is best cast as a small girl – girls at that age are more talented than boys.’

Two of Berg’s fictional works – the poem Hanna and an unfinished play entitled A Mining Drama – date from his student years, when he seriously considered pursuing a literary career. The play, influenced by Ibsen’s Ghosts, contains some elements which anticipate Wozzeck.

Each section of the book is followed by a commentary from the editor. A small example of these is Simms’ remark to the effect that although Berg’s attitude towards jazz was always ambiguous, he did imitate its characteristic instrumentation and rhythm in parts of both Der Wein and Lulu. In the section entitled ‘Tributes’ Berg pays homage to Schoenberg as teacher, Mengelberg, Schubert and Adolf Loos, among others, and writes delightedly about Wozzeck performances in Berlin, Prague and Leningrad.

PHILIP BORG-WHEELER Read the full review on Agora Classica

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