[Berg, Alban. (1885–1935)] Berg, Helene. (1885–1976)

An important series of Letters about the completion of Berg's final opera Lulu

A highly important grouping containing revelatory materials about the completion of Berg's final opera Lulu, including two autograph letters in German from Helene Berg, Alban's widow, written to the biographer Dr. Hans Ferdinand Redlich, on September 14 and 30, 1954; a large envelope for safety deposit in which these letters had been sealed with wax and the signatures of Redlich's widow in 1969; and a shorter postcard, typed and signed, from Helene Berg to George Perle in 1970. All present items from the collection of Perle, noted American composer and music theorist, who had founded the Alban Berg Society with Stravinsky and others in 1968. In fine condition overall; letters 6 pp. total, 8 1/4 inches × 11 3/4 (21 × 30 cm); envelope 10 × 15 inches (25 × 38 cm), with three large wrinkles across and worn edges; postcard 4 × 6 inches (10 × 15 cm) with stamp-deckled edges.

In this remarkable correspondence, Alban Berg's widow explains the circumstances surrounding this famously unfinished work, the orchestration of the third and final act of Lulu, which was left incomplete upon Alban's death in 1935. In the earlier of the present letters, written on September 14, 1954, Helene replies to Dr. Redlich, who had sent a draft of his influential book, Alban Berg: Versuch einer Würdigung (Vienna, 1957), trans., abridged as Alban Berg: The Man and His Music (New York, 1957). The importance of this letter to the performance history of Berg's work and to Berg scholarship is difficult to overestimate, affirmed by the attached photocopy letter by Perle and by the draft of the letter published by Helene's nephew Erich Alban Berg as "Bergiana," Schweizerische Musikzeitung 120/3 (May–June 1980): 147–55, at 149 ff. Our translation, beginning in the middle of p. 2, as follows:

In principle I was not against Lulu being fully orchestrated. Confirmation exists, as a matter of fact: a facsimile of a letter from me to Schönberg in 1936, in which I thank him for proposing to undertake the orchestration of the third act of Lulu. Unfortunately, after perusal he later declined it (!), after which the manuscript wandered to Zemlinsky and then to Webern, that they might undertake the work. Here too, both gentlemen were against it. So it was not because of me that the completion of the opera was withheld from posterity. But it really needed to be a musician or composer of Alban Berg’s standing! I knew that he treasured and recognized the three friends as “chosen family,” and no other composers to the same extent! Please, I tell this only to you! It is far from me to want to trample down anyone, for I also treasure so many of the gentlemen as good musicians and composers, even if they were not at the same level of Alban and his dearest friends. Even Professor Apostel would not be suitable for this, because he is not a dramaturge, and stage orchestration is of course something different from chamber music.

And something more! Alban was truly a “specialist” (a dreadful word!) in setting the horrific— in brief, the demonic—to music. (I would like to remind you of Wozzeck, Act I, Scene II!) In Lulu, the last scene—in which the eternal laws of justice are fulfilled and retribution takes place—so completely riveted him. Indeed he wanted the men who visit Lulu in the attic to be played by the same singers against which Lulu had sinned. (Jack—Dr. Schön) How exactly Alban would have orchestrated this attic scene, with its uncanny aura, in which so much unending horror is hidden! “That can only be expressed through music——” he said once——

[Ich war prinzipiell nicht dagegen, dass Lulu fertig instrumentiert würde. Es existiert sogar eine Bestätigung, eine Faksimile eines Briefes von mir an Schönberg vom Jahre 1936, wo ich ihm danke, als er sich bereit erklärte, die Instrumentation des III. Aktes von Lulu zu übernehmen. Leider lehnte er es später, nach Durchsicht—ab!—daraufhin wanderte das Manuskript zu Zemlinsky u. dann zu Webern, dass sie die Arbeit übernehmen mögen. Auch hier waren beide Herren dagegen. Es lag also nicht an mir, dass ich der Nachwelt die Vollendung der Oper vorenthalten wollte. Aber es mussten doch Musiker u. Komponisten vom Range Alban Bergs sein! Ich wusste, das er die drei Freunde als “Wahlverwandte” schätzte u. anerkannte. Nicht aber im gleichen Mass andere Komponisten! Bitte, das sage ich nur Ihnen! Es liegt mir ferne, jemand damit nahe treten zu wollen, denn auch ich schätze so manchen der Herren als guten Musiker, u. Komponisten, wenn er auch nicht [p. 3] auf gleicher Höhe wie Alban und seine liebsten Freunde steht. Auch Prof. Apostel wäre dazu nicht geeignet, da er ja kein Dramatiker ist u. Bühneninstrumentation doch etwas anderes ist, als für Kammermusik.

Und noch etwas! Alban war geradezu “Spezialist” (ein furchtbares Wort!) im Vertonen von Grauenhaftem—kurzum, Dämonischem. (—Ich möchte Sie da an Wozzeck II. Scene I. Akt erinnern!) In Lulu hat ihn gerade die letzte Scene,—wo sich die ewigen Gesetze der Gerechtigkeit erfüllen und die Vergeltung geschieht,—so ganz besonders gefesselt. Er wollte ja auch die Männer, die Lulu in der Dachstube besuchen, von den selben Sängern spielen lassen, an denen sich Lulu versündigt hatte. (Jack—Dr Schön) Wie hätte Alban gerade diese Dachstubenscene, mit ihrer unheimlichen Aura, in der sich so unendlich viel Grauenhaftes verbirgt—instrumentiert! “Das kann man nur durch die Musik ausdrücken——“ sagte er einmal——]

The large envelope in the present grouping had contained the letters and illustrate the secrecy and urgency of the information within them. Marked as the property of Erika Redlich, who had married Dr. Redlich in 1961, and dated February 1969, months after Dr. Redlich's death, they are inscribed "confidential", "originals etc. re. Alban Berg research," with instructions for bank safe-deposit box. Stationery stamp: University of Manchester, where Redlich had been professor since 1962. On verso, four seals in red wax at four corners, superimposed with ink signatures of Erika Redlich.

The last item in the present grouping is the typed postcard, written in Vienna on February 14, 1970, to George Perle at Queens College, in which Mrs. Berg refers to a recently-published book about her husband, lamenting the fact that she had been unable to read the publishing proofs or to include her personal name and subject indices. She responds to Perle's questions about Berg's mother and the financing of the first published score of Wozzeck, and repudiates a matter regarding May Keller, the sometime lover of Alban's lesbian sister, Smaragda. (18253)

Autograph Letter
Classical Music
Culture, Ethnicity & Gender