If the quantity of performances and recordings is anything to go by, and the warmth of their reception, Berg's music is reaching a wider audience as the twentieth century ends than it has at any previous time. Since the appearance in 1979 of Friedrich Cerha's edition at last allowed Lulu to be heard in its entirety, this opera has arguably overtaken Wozzeck in both popularity and critical esteem. Recordings of the Lulu Suite threaten to outnumber those of the ever-popular Violin Concerto in the catalogues.
It is no longer remotely fashionable to ask ‘what if?’ questions about composers who died prematurely, but the popular emphasis on Berg's final compositions makes my mind, at least, turn occasionally to such idle speculation. Berg's compositional technique in the final act of Lulu and in the Violin Concerto is remarkably focused and fluent, and belies the opera's long gestation. His willingness to consider a substantial list of future projects as he neared the end of his work on the opera – a third string quartet, a piece of chamber music with piano, a symphony, a piece for radio or film – might be taken to suggest that he was ready to unleash an outpouring of creativity, following a long period of frustration whilst composing the first two acts. The Violin Concerto would have fitted into such a pattern, for though one can certainly see signs of the speed at which it was put together, it remains a work that almost unerringly forges what was for Berg a new balance between the intricate and the communicative. At 50, he knew himself and his ways as a composer well enough to organize his working methods so that the music would flow
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