Hope and fear
Berg and Britten violin concertos -
'... a violinist of superb accomplishment ...'
The egregious figure of Adolf Hitler grimaces behind both these works. In Berg's case,
Hitler's paranoia on the subject of Jews so reduced the number of Berg performances and
therefore his income that he clutched gratefully at a violin concerto commission rather than
completing the Lulu opera. Louis Krasner requested the concerto in 1934, shrewdly
banking on Berg producing a work to mitigate hostility towards the latest Viennese school
and its offerings. The result justified his expectations, and Krasner gave the première
under Scherchen at the 1936 ISCM festival in Barcelona. Berg was already dead.
In a letter to Schoenberg of August 1935, Berg quotes the 'row' on which the work is
based and points out, perhaps needlessly, the irrelevance of such a 'violin concerto'
key as D major or the like. He describes the fourfold division of the work into two parts
and makes passing mention of the Bach chorale 'Es ist genug'. It was to Bach's advantage
that this chorale was harmonised at the end of Cantata 60 (a dialogue between Hope and Fear
commented on by Christ) with a daring remarkable even for Bach. Berg had thus gathered
apposite material to commemorate the just dead young daughter of Alma Mahler and
Copyright © 13 August 2004
Robert Anderson, London UK