[Pt. IV Proj.3] – Moving into the Twentieth Century – Project 3 -Serialism – Research point 4.6-Berg and Webern.

[Pt. IV Proj. 3] – Research point 4.6-Berg and Webern. Two of Schoenberg’s pupils Alban Berg (1885-1935) and Anton Webern (1883-1945) were also innovative serial composers. Research these composers and their music, in particularly finding out about Berg’s Violin Concerto, (1935), and Webern’s Symphony, Op. 21, (1928). Remembering to listen to the pieces and read the scores, investigate their personal uses of the tone row method in these compositions, and in general. Create a discussion about the particular strengths of their music and any weaknesses you perceive.

Berg’s Violin Concerto, (1935).

Berg’s Violin Concerto was written in 1935 (the score is dated 11 August 1935). It is a 29 min long instrumental piece scored for:

2 flutes (doubling as piccolos)

2 oboes (one doubling cor anglais)

Alto sax (doubling 3rd clarinet)

2 clarinets

Bass clarinet

2 bassoons


4 horns

2 trumpets

2 trombones






Berg uses a twelve tone serial technique in combination with highly diatonic intervals making up his large sections of his tone row achieving a very tonal sound. When ‘overlapping’ every third note you get a G minor triad, then a D Major triad, then an A minor triad, then an E Major triad. These triads are a 5th apart and can there for easily form cadences just like in any functional harmony. The last four notes are part of the whole tone scale. Coincidentally, the notes GDAE also correspond to the open strings of the violin… The way Berg selected his tone row thus resulted in a piece which is in places simultaneously both serial and tonal. There are also purely tonal sections in the piece and instances of quoting a hymnal Bach chorale. Perhaps he chose to include this. Not only as a homage to Bach, but also because the piece was written as a dedication to a friend’s daughter.  

Structurally the work is in two movements subdivided into two sections. Movement I consists of 1. Andante (sonata) and 2. Allegretto (dance) and Movement II consists of 3. Allegro (cadenza) and 4. Adagio.

Symphony, Op. 21 Webern

In a very sharp contrast Webern’s first ‘major’ twelve tone work the 10 min long ‘Symphony, Op. 21’ is spartan in comparison to Berg’s violin concerto, consisting on mainly four-part writing and scored for


Bass Clarinet

2 Horns


Violins I

Violins II



He is extremely economical and precise with his writing, every note crafted precisely in terms of not only pitch but also duration and articulation and dynamics. It is crystal clear and crisp. Razor sharp even… it is said that Webern was one of the main influencers on future composers such as Messiaen, Boulez and Ligeti. I can certainly hear the influence very clearly. This style makes me think of Rorschach ink blots- it is the musical equivalent. It is very clearly, yet abstractly expressed with minimal means. Highly symmetrical at times, even palindromic. The fact that Webern was educated in Early music which also frequently makes use of palindromes influenced him to manipulate his tone rows in this specific way. This opus is also based on a highly symmetrical tone row and forms a palindromic overall structure, with internal canons which are also symmetrical. The Symphony consists of two movements each subdivided into two parts. The first two being a canonical statement and a development section and the second two are: a theme with variations and a canonical coda.  

The difference between Berg’s and Webern’s styles is astronomical. Both use a twelve tone row serial techniques but arrive at wildly different results. Webern is hyper controlled and minimal whereas Berg has extremely dense and often both chromatic and tonal elements to his musical expressionism. Webern, alongside Schoenberg influenced a whole new movement and way of writing music whereas Berg radicalised opera with some of his works like Wozzek and Lulu. I cannot really say that one approach is more valid than the other or any more ingenious than the other. They both have merits and strengths and affected change in how music is composed.