1. Berg’s response to Buchner’s "folk" element

    • Wozzeck is deeply disturbed: used by the doctor for his psychoanalytic experiments

    • Berg creates a fusion, contrasting human reality and Expressionist unreality by layering
    scenes: Act 1, scenes 1,3,5 are suitable for 19th C opera, while scenes 2 & 4 introduce
    Wozzeck’s visions, confusions and hallucinations

    • A balance of variable degrees of reality is matched in fluctuating choices of musical

    • rhymed verse of Büchner’s Woyzeck ripe for incorporating folksong: alludes to 1804
    Wunderhorn anthology; folk songs (13) predominate in Buchner’s 25-page play

    • intellectual "proto-expressionist" elements in Buchner’s play are also matched by Berg

    • mixture of these 2 qualities provide much of the fascination in understanding the work

    • sprechgesang, lied (songs of Marie, Andre), ‘normal speaking intonation’ (mélodrame of

Wunderhorn counterpoints/connections:

    •tavern scene following Marie’s murder (Wozzeck’s text, music)-climax of drama, finale
    (children’s song), Marie’s lullaby, military march

    • while Berg appears not to quote folk melodies (like Mahler’s Wunderhorn settings), he
    adopts manner of folk melody w/ respect to phraseology and melodic interval

    • Berg remarks upon necessity to create relationship between art-music and "primitive"
    folk-music ["Volkstümlichkeit"]:

        1) symmetrical periods, phrases;

        2) harmonies in 3rds, 4ths;

        3) "polytonal" military march, ("wrong" basses), 4ths harmony of Marie’s lullaby; melodic
        whole-tone & P4th contrasts w/ "expressionist" diminished & augmented intervals

    Act 1, scene 2:

        alternates rhapsody (Wozzeck’s hallucinations, 3-chord progression w/ strophes of
        hunting song (4th intervals, duple-compound meter)

    Act 1, scene 3:

        quasi-trio relates to folk song idea and Wunderhorn (Mahler)

        as parade passes, Marie remarks, "The soldiers. . .are splendid fellows": similar to
        3rd strophe of Mahler’s Revelge, that also speaks of a soldier’s march along a road
        with his troops approching the window of his lover

2. Formal Issues

    • assessment of music structure must distinguish 3 basic techniques:

        1. use of diatonic scales, non-diatonic scales, "serial rows" as unifying elements

        2. Wagnerian leitmotif system that establishes close affinities between character,
        situation, action and music

        3. use of forms of absolute music

    • formal construction of sonatas and passacaglias coincides with 1920’s compulsion
    for formal clarification: Act I (1919) predates Schoenberg’s first excursion into
    Baroque designations [Suite for Piano, op. 25, 1921-23]

    • precedent for formal organization established repeatedly in repertoire; absolute
    forms used by Wagner (fugue in Meistersinger), Verdi (Falstaff), Beethoven
    (Fidelio), Mozart (Magic Flute); however, musical constituents receive additional
    significance through their roles as elements in complex system of leitmotives,
    recapitulatory episodes throughout the work [for example, first subject of sonata
    (II/1), associated with earrings, functions as a leitmotive symbolizing Marie’s guilt;
    sonata bridge-passage is associated with the child & appears in those scenes; this is
    used in the fugue {Wozzeck, doctor, Captain}]

    • leitmotives also related through common pitch-collection relationships: 2 Nexus sets
    (both hexachords); melodic figures and vertical structures function in this way; specific
    transformations (transposition, inversions) of these collections are selected on the
    basis of "common tones" [pivot idea], ie, the structural B-F tritone that receives
    particular attention in Act III

    • larger units also reappear throughout the opera:

1) musical repetitions recall textual remininces: II/3, when Wozzeck confronts Marie with his suspicions, is accompanied by music associated with the Drum Major and the seduction scene

2) Berg establishes relationships between events that appear to be unrelated [II/5- ‘snoring’ passage w/ I/2- ‘nature’ sounds in the field; also Wozzeck’s/Marie’s fights with the drum major in last scenes of acts I and II

    • Berg desired a correspondence between the formal design and the diverse character
    of different scenes: scenes w/ thematic development vs. those without
  1) Berg establishes specific pitches & pitch collections as focal elements; earlier atonal structural devices are given large-scale structural implication for the first time in Wozzeck

2) tonal materials used to express certain moods, associated with specific characters (Marie)

    • Non-musical relationships:

        1) sun/moon

        2) curtain synchronization is part of the overall compositional design: one example is after
        Wozzeck gets thrashed by the drum major: 2 bars of silence, then curtain falls in silence;
        functions to prolong the view of the stage world beyond its "proper time"; also heightens
        conclusion of III/3 when it is lowered prematurely

    • Large scale = ABA

        Relationship between 2 outer acts: visual imagery of red sun in Act I, and its
        "retrograde inversion" rising of blood-red moon in Act III

Musical forms reflects textual/dramatic structure of the scenes:

    • musical material traditional associated w/ stage activity: military march, lullaby of I/3;
    ländler and waltz of tavern scene (II/4); piano polka in pub scene III/3

    • musical form as a symbol, representing dramatic of psychological kernel of scene: Wozzeck’s
    obsessions are symbolized in single musical elements that dominate each of the 3 scenes in
    which he is present;

        1) murder scene of III/2 (Invention on a note)-the extent to which B recedes or emerges
        from texture reflects the extend to which murder fluctuates in his mind

        2) following rhythmic pattern of III/3 symbolizes Wozzeck’s suppressed consciousness of
        the crime, mirroring his outbursts, accusations by Margaret, etc.

        3) III/4 drowning scene: single chord

        4) III/5 perpetuum rhythm represents every-day world of children, undisturbed by
        discovery of Marie’s, revelation of what’s occurred

    • juxtaposed movements of suite form musical parallel to way in which conversation between
    Captain and Wozzeck go from topic to topic in I/1; baroque ‘old-fashioned’ dance forms is a
    comment on Captains out-dated, traditional bourgeois moral stance [Lulu: Dr. Schoen’s desire
    for respectability represented by a musette and gavotte]

    • recurrent passacaglia in I/4 symbolizes both the doctor’s recurrent idée-fixe (immortality)
    and his scholarly pretentions (passacaglia regarded as being ‘scholarly’ compositional form)

    • triple fugue for II/2 determined by pursuit of each character working out their own private
    obsessions; also reflects exactly details of textual demands and stage action (ie, when
    Captain taps his forehead)

    • Act II, scene 1 also involves 3 characters [see below]; development coincides with point of
    highest dramatic tension, as Wozzeck questions Marie about ‘discovery’ of her earrings’;
    recapitulation intensifies reflects Marie’s disturbed state after Wozzeck’s departure

diagram illustrating Berg’s response to 3 acts, 15 scenes:

Wozzeck and his relation to his environment
Five Character Sketches
1. The Captain 1. Suite
2. Andres 2. Rhapsody
3. Marie 3. Military March and Cradle Song
4. The Physician 4. Passacaglia
5. The Drum Major 5. Andante affetuoso (quasi Rondo)
Wozzeck is gradually convinced of Marie’s infidelity
Symphony in five movements
1. Wozzeck’s first suspicion 1. Sonata form
2. Wozzeck is mocked 2. Fantasie and Fugue
3. Wozzeck accuses Marie 3. Largo
4. Marie and Drum Major dance 4. Scherzo
5. The Drum Major trounces Wozzeck 5. Rondo marziale
Wozzeck murders Marie and atones through suicide
Six Inventions
1. Marie’s remorse 1. Invention on a Theme
2. Death of Marie 2. Invention on a Tone
3. Wozzeck tries to forget 3. Invention on a Rhythm
4. Wozzeck drowns in the pond 4. Invention on a 6-note chord
(Instrumental interlude with closed curtain) (Invention on a Key)
5. Marie’s son plays unconcerned 5. Invention on a Persistent Rhythm (Perpetuum mobile)

Act II, scene 1.

    • formal components defined and characterized by menas of referential harmonic units: analogy
    with menas used to define and characterize components in traditional tonality

    • choice of sonata design for Act II, scene 1 is based upon relationship between dialectic and drama
    of sonata and the dramatic values of the scene

Exposition 1st Reprise Development 2 Reprise (Recap)
Main Theme Main Theme Main Theme and Closing Theme
Main Theme
(mm. 6/7-28)
(mm. 59-60-80) (mm. 96-108) (mm. 127/8-150)
Marie alone; admires earrings given to her by Drum Major Marie alone; compares herself with rich people; admires earrings Marie and Wozzeck; argument over jewelry Marie alone; despairs that man, woman and child all go to the devil; (C major glissando down; Curtain down)
Transition Transition Transition Interlude: Thematic reprise
mm. 28-9: V-vi cadence in C
(mm. 81-9) (mm. 108-45)  
mm. 29-42
Marie tells child to close its eyes; hint of threat Marie orders baby to close its eyes Wozzeck alone; concern for child: Wir arme Leut!" climaxes on 12-note chord
2nd Theme 2nd Theme No development of 2nd Theme
Main Theme and 2nd Theme
mm. 43-52 mm. 90-2
Marie’s gypsy song further frightens child (music derived from Act I, scene 3)
Marie threatens child with blindness    
Closing Theme
Closing Theme Recitative Closing Theme
mm. 53-9
mm. 93-6 mm. 116-127 mm. 162-170
Child’s fear conjures Wozzeck’s music (whole tone melody in sixteenths) Wozzeck’s entrance (whole tone music in eighth notes) Wozzeck gives Marie his earnings (C major triad held, mm. 116-124) Long silense (166-9) (Curtain up: C major glissando up)

    • Berg is heir of Strauss, Schoenberg (tone poems), Mahler (symphonies)in deploying sonata in
    programmatic & texted surroundings: continues in Der Wein, Lulu


    Act II, scenes 3 & 4

        tutti split into 3 self-contained independently organized instrumental groups:

            a) chamber orchestra of 15 instruments (modeled on Schoenberg’s op. 9)

                • fl (pc), ob, eh, eb cl, a cl, bsn, contra bsn, 2 horns, 5 solo strings

            b) band of player in the village inn, on stage

                • ‘fiddles’, clarinet in C. accordion, guitars, bombardon in F

            c) residuary orchestral tutti

                • interplay is like that of concertino and tutti

3. Schoenberg’s influence

    • loosening of tonality, metrics

    • Sprechstimme (extension of vocal expression) [used in Die glückliche Hand, Erwartung]

    • chamber orchestra identical to Kammpersymphonie, op. 9

    • also, Berg combines symbolic use of rhythms to Wagneriam leitmotifs and "bifocal" view of
    melody and harmony (Mahler)

4. Wozzeck as Operatic innovation

    • distinguished from forerunners [Wagner, Pelléas, Salome, Elektra, Erwartung, Die glückliche
    Hand, Der ferne Klang (Schreker)] by subject matter: Wozzeck presents a social problem in
    dramatic form (social drama), whereas forerunners continue to operate in sphere of romantic

    • use of sprechstimme, sprechgesang (‘rhythmic declamation’) in place of recitative

5. Paradox of dealing with mental collapse of Wozzeck through formalized musical structures

    • Berg gave technical reasons: in absence of tonality, formal design ensured musical unity to
    structure of scenes, acts and the entire work: explanation ignores relationship between musical
    and dramatic structure that receives such an important role

    • implications of social protest; vs. Doctor’s & Captain’s obsession w/ time, Wozzeck’s
    hallucinatory visions, strangeness of natural world of the work, all introduce into the play an
    element that won’t fit into socio-economic solution, that Berg emphasizes through his choice of
    structures to protest against sadistic social order and a hostile world

    • association of symmetries, palindromes, retrogrades with concept of time passing:

        1) ‘Langsam, Wozzeck, langsam’ at opening of work is significant: associated with first motive of
        the work, chromatically filling F-B span

        2) obsession of Captain (passing of time) and Doctor (defeat time through immortality) [Doctor’s
        obsession examined in II/2: Pressiert, pressiert, pressiert! (hurry)]

    • Adorno suggests that for Berg, retrogrades and palindromes are ‘anti-time’: they return to the
    point at which they bagan, symbolically erase what has occurred

    • palindromes in Berg’s mature works, when associated with text or known program, are
    associated with negation [film music in Lulu begins her descent into desparation of last scenes]

    • retrogrades and retrograde inversion not normally part of Berg’s 12-tone technique; specifically
    reserves them for symbolic meanings

    • in Wozzeck, this symbolizes pre-destination and man’s inability to affect the course of events

        -image of the mill wheel=time moves in a circle, to its point of origin

        -Wozzeck’s mental collapse associated with palindromes:

            I/3 Marie says ‘he’ll drive himself crazy with those ideas of his’

            I/4 scene with Doctor-Wozzeck explains to Doctor his feelings that toadstool rings in a field
            hide mysterious meanings; music at that point is ascending whole tone scale, its retrograde,
            accompanied by its inversion and rhythmic diminution in orchestra

            II/3, Wozzeck: Man is an abyss. You get dizzy looking down into him-I feel dizzy.’

        -opera abruptly closes in the midst of the ‘rhythmic’ invention; no closure felt; one feels as
        though the process might begin anew with Wozzeck’s child

    • The inhuman mechanistic universe depicted in Wozzeck represent’s Berg’s world view: natural
    world governed by uncaring, mechanical, predetermined process that operate irrespective of the
    fate or feelings of the individual.

    • autobiographical elements in Berg’s mature works may be attempts to capture and assert the
    value of individual identity, experience; structure of Wozeck is a symbol of the forces in the face
    of which these attempts are made: nothing new is the ultimate end of the transient nature of
    humans in the world that terrifies the Captain in the opening scene