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At-A-Glance

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Length: c. 10 minutes

Orchestration: solo piano

About this Piece

As early as this Piano Sonata (1909), the trademarks of Berg’s mature style seemed fully formed. Unlike with the juvenilia of other composers, Berg’s early work contains none of the underdeveloped harbingers that might suggest more to come. Those qualities which characterize his music from the 1920s (in works such as the Lyric Suite and the Chamber Concerto) – descending third sequences from which melodic figures are generated, intensive use of whole-tone chords, and harmonic progressions that belie strict allegiance to conventional parallelism – persist as prominent “topics” of foreground discourse in Berg’s music.

As in the case of his teacher, Arnold Schoenberg, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish Berg’s freely atonal music from that of his 12-tone period. And like Schoenberg, Berg experienced little difficulty in making a virtually imperceptible transition from the realm of free atonality to his systematically conceived serial works.

It was after much study in counterpoint and harmony with Schoenberg that Berg drafted a multi-movement piano sonata. Berg had complained to Schoenberg that he felt a lack of inspiration for material to complete subsequent movements of the sonata, after the first. Schoenberg is rumored to have said that this was a good indication that Berg had said all there was to say in the first movement; Berg left the Sonata in its present form as a single movement.

— David Fick