Alban Berg

Lulu (1929-1934)

Lulu, perhaps the most controversial work written by Berg, is based on two plays written by the poet Franz Wedekind, Earth Spirit (1895) and Pandora's Box (1902). Apart from the subject matter, a great deal of the controversy about the work concerns the issue surrounding the third act of the opera, which was completely composed by April 1934, but not yet fully orchestrated. Much of the confusion arises from the fact that Berg's widow, Helene Berg, suppressed many primary documents concerning the work, including all sketches and manuscripts of the third act. It has not been until the early 1960's that certain scholars were covertly allowed by Universal Edition to examine some of the musical documents. Helene Berg actually put a clause in her will prohibiting availability of these primary documents, although since then, these sources have become available to be analyzed by Berg scholars. Among scholars who have studied Lulu, aside from Berg's official biographer Willi Reich, include composer George Perle, Douglas Jarman, and Friedrich Cerha.

The reasons behind Helene Berg's suppression the third act of Berg's masterpiece remain unclear, but have resulted in numerous misrepresentations of the work's performance and interpretation. From the opera's 1937 premiere until 1979 the work has been incompletely performed, with many misrepresentations of Berg's intentions occurring in these performances. While most scholarly analyses of the opera have been based upon the work of Reich, the availability of the short score in 1963 to George Perle has revealed a more complete insight into Berg's true intentions of the work.

The symmetrical aspect of many of Berg's mature works is now apparent in the structure of Lulu, both on a large and a small scale. For instance, certain character associations and music associated with them that appear in the first act are recapitulated in the third act. Berg even goes as far as to assign the same actors to play these associated characters in both acts, which is a matter usually decided at the production level. It is therefore clear in light of Perle's work that Berg fully intended these symmetrical relationships to occur not only in the music but also in the actual characters and the people who were to play them. While Reich states that there is one basic series from which all other row forms associated with different characters are derived, Perle shows that this is not entirely true, and proves how other series are used which have no apparent relationship whatsoever to the one referred to by Reich. The significance of this point, aside from the symmetrical aspect of character/musical relationships previously discussed, is that this use is in direct contradiction of Schoenberg's method of one series providing unity for the entire work, appearing to be more related to Hauer's organization of the series into hexachordal "tropes."

Another aspect of symmetry concerning the opera is the manner in which Berg links the time lapse between the two Wedekind plays together, during which the character of Lulu goes to jail and is later broken out by her friends. Berg's use of palindrome is evident not only in the use of a film that shows the bilateral symmetrical relationship of these events, but also in the music which accompanies the film, which corresponds exactly to events during the film and is similarly organized in a palindromic structure. While symmetrical relationships are therefore apparent in the opera's structure, Berg reserves the palindrome technique for significant events such as the connecting film episode and associated music. Obviously, without the third act of the opera, the meaning of the work is incomplete and distorted, with the crucial symmetrical structure being obliviated.

It is apparent from the available literature that Berg's use of row forms and their relationship to the music and plot is indeed very complex, and that while he was concerned with solving organizational problems dealing with the row material, he was accomplishing this in a way which was also related to Wagner's system of leitmotifs. This would suggest that Berg was more concerned with making a connection from the Germanic traditions of the past with contemporary developments of the second Viennese school than were his colleagues Schoenberg and Webern. Berg also utilizes a complex scheme of text-painting on multiple levels, which includes the association of certain instruments and musical forms with individual characters, while in at least one example associated with the death of Dr. Schon, the row form which is associated with his character is "absorbed" into the score, returning finally in the third act as the row for Jack the Ripper. Jarman and Perle have provided rather complete illustrations of Berg's technique of text-painting in their works.

Berg's choice of instrumentation, use of older operatic forms and use of contemporary jazz rhythms and sonorities is rather interesting, and reflects current European musical trends of the 1930's concerning the use of older forms and treatment of American jazz. The use of the saxophone is particularly striking and adds a distinct color to the overall texture.

Another issue that should be mentioned is that of Berg's use of "secret" programs which are "hidden" behind the obvious programs, which is a distinct feature of many of Berg's works such as the Lyric Suite and the Violin Concerto. Perle has shown how these "secret" programs had special significance for Berg concerning his private life that for reasons of his own he wanted to remain secret from others. One such "secret" program in the Lyric Suite concerns Berg's relationship with Hanna Fuchs-Robettin, which manifests itself by Berg's use of numerical relationships which had distinct meaning for the composer in connection with himself and Hanna Fuchs-Robettin. Berg prepared a special annotated score, which revealed this program for Hanna Fuchs-Robettin, which he gave to her. As it turned out, Berg's wife knew about the existence of this document as well as his relationship with this other woman. This contrasted drastically with the impression which the Bergs' wished to portray to the public, which was that of the "perfect" couple. While the "official" dedication of Lulu was to Arnold Schoenberg on the occasion of his 60th birthday, an analysis of the prelude and concluding measures of Lulu reveals a motive which is based upon Hanna Fuchs-Robettin's initials, so in this way, Berg "unofficially" dedicated the work to her. Perle has suggested that same use of a motive based on Hanna's initials was also used in the Lyric Suite, and argues that this use in Lulu is not merely coincidental. Perle goes so far as to suggest the existence of another annotated score of Lulu, which he gave to Hanna Fuchs-Robettin on the grounds that it would be entirely within his character to do so, but the existence of such a document, has not been proven. However, considering Helene Berg's suppression of the third act of Lulu, there might in fact be some connection.

On the other hand, there is another significant reason for the delay in the availability of the third act. While the first two acts had already been published by Universal Edition, the vocal score plates for the third act had been partially engraved, when Hitler placed a restriction on performance of Berg's music. Since the only reason for completing the engraving of the plates for the third act would have been for a performance, which was not possible at that time because of Hitler's restrictions, the publication of Lulu by Universal Edition at that time was not exactly a priority.

While Helene Berg died in 1976, as early as 1963, when George Perle was allowed by Universal Edition to view primary source documents concerning the music of Act III, Perle makes reference to a "Viennese expert on Berg" who was also allowed to view source documents. Apparently Universal Edition was already planning to publish the music of the third act, and called in Perle and Cerha to get an idea of the feasibility of this project. Ultimately, Friedrich Cerha was selected to complete the orchestration, which was done between 1962 and 1974 and later revised after Mrs. Berg's death in 1976/77, although Perle had expressed his interest in the project himself. While one detects a certain amount of jealousy towards Cerha in Perle's writings regarding the Cerha's completion of the orchestration of Act III, in Perle's The Operas of Alban Berg: Lulu, commenting on the 1979 Paris premiere of the complete opera, Perle raises some valid issues concerning the production:

On February 24, 1979, the complete Lulu was heard for the first time. It was heard, not seen. What was seen on the stage of the Paris Opera was a vulgar and contemptible travesty that converted the music of all three acts, in relation to what was transpiring on the stage, into some sort of general background music at best and an utter irrelevancy much of the time, just as the necessarily makeshift third act that we had to put up with when Mrs. Berg's ban was still in effect had done only to the few fragments of the third-act music taken from the Lulu Suite... And what does Pierre Boulez, who had the honor to conduct Chereau's Lulu, have to say about the rights of stage producers? ..."When Berg borrowed from Wedekind, he didn't consider respect for the text an overriding virtue. He took what suited him and made it fit his own musical structure. There is, therefore, a disrespect which is stronger than respect." But if the responsibilities and prerogatives of the producer are to be equated with those that an opera composer assumes when he revises the text of a play in order to transform it into something that he can set to music, ought not the producer to go much further than Chereau in taking only "what suits him" from the composer? ...Operatic production today is everywhere based on the assumption that composers-inept, naive, and indifferent to the dramaturgical aspects of the operatic theatre-compose music in a vacuum which it is the producer's responsibility to fill. There is no end to the grotesqueries and idiocies that this notion-whose sponsorship by a musician like Boulez is particularly damaging and disgraceful-has given rise to... (Perle, 1985)

There is an enormous amount of literature concerning Lulu, much that was written before the music and documents of Act III were available for scholarly study. Apparently the facts are still not complete, and the possibility remains, unfortunately, that they might never be. Complicating matters further are the contradictory opinions of scholars who have studied the work, upon which their reputations are at stake. Listed below is a partial survey of works, including analyses by Reich, Jarman and Perle, concerning Berg's Lulu.


Cerha, Friedrich. Arbeitsbericht zur Herstellung des 3. Akts der Oper LULU von Alban Berg. Vienna: Universal Edition, 1979.

____________. "Zum III. Akt der Oper 'Lulu,'" Osterreichische Musikzeitschrift 26/10-11 (Oct.-Nov., 1981).

Jarman, Douglas. "Dr. Schon's Five-Strophe Aria: Some Notes on Tonality and Pitch Association in Berg's Lulu," Perspectives of New Music 8/2 (Spring/Summer 1970).

____________. "Some Rhythmic and Metric Techniques in Alban Berg's Lulu," Musical Quarterly 56/3 (July 1970).

____________. "Lulu: The Sketches," International Alban Berg Society Newsletter, 6 (June 1978).

____________. The Music of Alban Berg. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979.

____________. "Countess Geschwitz's Series: A Controversy Resolved?" Proceedings of the Royal Musical Association 107 (1980/81).

____________. "Some Observations on Rhythm, Meter and Tempo in Lulu." In Alban Berg Studien. Ed. Rudolf Klein. Vienna: Universal Edition, 1981.

____________. "Lulu: The Musical and Dramatic Structure," Royal Opera House Covent Garden program notes, 1981.

____________. "The 'Lost' Score of the 'Symphonic Pieces from Lulu,'" International Alban Berg Society Newsletter 12 (Fall/Winter 1982).

Mitchell, Donald. "The Character of Lulu," Music Review 15/4 (November 1954).

Offergeld, Robert. "Some Questions about Lulu," HiFi/Stereo Review 13/4 (October 1964).

Perle, George. "The Music of Lulu: A New Analysis," Journal of the American Musicological Society 12/2-3 (Summer/Fall 1959).

__________. "A Note on Act III of Lulu," Perspectives of New Music, 2/2 (Spring/Summer 1964).

__________. "Lulu: The Formal Design," Journal of the American Musicological Society 17/2 (Summer 1964).

__________. "The Character of Lulu: A Sequel," Music Review 25/4 (November 1964).


__________. "Lulu: Thematic Material and Pitch Organization," Music Review 26 (November 1965).

__________. "Erwiderung auf Willi Reichs Aufsatz 'Drei Notizblatter zu Alban Bergs Lulu,'" Schweizerische Musikzeitung 107/3 (May/June1967).

__________. "Die Personen in Bergs 'Lulu,'" Archiv fur Musikwissenschaft 24/4 (November 1967).

__________. "The Complete 'Lulu,'" Musical Times 120/1632 (January 1979).

__________. "The Cerha Edition," International Alban Berg Society Newsletter 8 (Summer, 1979).

__________. "Friedrich's 'Lulu,'" Tempo 137 (June 1981).

__________. "The 'Sketched-In' Vocal Quartet of Lulu, Act III," International Alban Berg Society Newsletter, 12 (Fall/Winter 1982).

__________. The Operas of Alban Berg: Lulu. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985.

Reich, Willi. "Alban Berg's Lulu," Musical Quarterly 22/4 (October 1936).

__________. Alban Berg. Trans. Cornelius Cardew. London: Thames and Hudson, 1965.

__________. "Drei Notizblatter zu Alban Bergs Oper Lulu," Schweizerische Musikzeitung 106/1 (November/December 1966).

Reiter, Manfred. Die Zwolftontechnik in Alban Bergs Oper Lulu. Regensberg: Gustav Bosse Verlag, 1973.

Wedekind, Franz. The Lulu Plays. Trans. Carl Richard Mueller. New York: Fawcett, 1967.