Author Topic: Berg's Wozzeck  (Read 982 times)

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Offline Mirror Image

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Berg's Wozzeck
« on: October 09, 2016, 07:53:06 PM »
Since there's no 'official' Wozzeck thread other than one that discusses recordings on another section of GMG, so here goes nothing...

Wozzeck, Op. 7



This is the first great atonal opera. Its story is a grim one -- a poverty-stricken soldier struggles to support his illegitimate son and the boy's mother while enduring victimization and humiliation from virtually everyone he encounters, until finally he discovers that his girlfriend has been unfaithful. He murders her, and then, crazed with guilt and apprehension, he drowns while trying to recover the murder weapon from a lake. The final scene is chilling: we see tragedy beginning anew as the orphaned toddler, still unaware of what has happened, hops off innocently to where the older children have found the mother's corpse.

Berg saw the Vienna premiere of Georg Büchner's play Woyzeck in May 1914 and decided immediately to set it to music. It was three years, though, before he was able to begin work on the opera due to required military service; the experience heightened Berg's identification with the story's main character, the soldier Wozzeck. A family crisis and two serious intervals of bronchial asthma further delayed composition, but the work was finally completed in the spring of 1922. By 1923, the vocal score (published at Berg's own expense) had received critical praise, prompting Universal Edition to accept the publication of the full score. Wozzeck was premiered on December 14, 1925; despite opposition from right-wing factions in Berlin, it immediately became an unqualified critical and popular success.

Preliminary sketches of Büchner's play were recovered, faded and nearly indecipherable, 38 years after Büchner's death (at the age of 23) in 1837; the novelist K.E. Franzos painstakingly reconstructed them, and finally arranged for the drama's performance on November 8, 1913. The story centered around a true incident in which a poverty-stricken soldier, Woyzeck (Franzos misread the name in the poorly preserved manuscript), stabbed his mistress and was later executed. Büchner gathered the specific details and even some of Woyzeck's explicit verbal phrases from a report by the court-appointed physician who concluded that Woyzeck could stand trial.

Berg used the second edition of the play for his libretto, reducing the number of scenes from 26 to 15 but otherwise preserving most of the original dialogue. This reduction involved a reordering of the scenes into a coherent structure of three acts of five scenes each. Act One is expository, showing Wozzeck in a relationship to various environments and people in his life. In the developmental second act, Wozzeck gradually becomes aware of Marie's infidelity, and in Act Three comes the catastrophe of Marie's murder, Wozzeck's drowning, and the epilogue.

Musically, Wozzeck is in the same freely atonal style Berg had developed in the Three Orchestral Pieces, Op. 6, although there are many pseudo-tonal and tonal passages interspersed, almost always for dramatic effect. In order to reflect the unique character of the scenes, Berg felt it necessary to construct a separate, musically closed form for each one. This device does not seem to evoke the number operas of the past, but rather lends the work a very modern cohesion and concision that focus its grim, violent subject matter. Each scene is part of a larger multi-movement form that covers an entire act.

Act One, with its focus on the divergent aspects of Wozzeck's personality, needed a loosely constructed form. Its five scenes are set as five character pieces -- Suite, Rhapsody, Military March and Lullaby, Passacaglia, and Quasi-Rondo. The developmental Act Two called for a more dramatic and organic form; hence its Symphony-Sonata, Fantasy and Fugue, Largo, Scherzo, and Rondo con introduzione movements. In Act Three, the inevitability of the catastrophe and epilogue is characterized musically by six inventions on ostinato ideas -- inventions, respectively, on a theme, a note, a rhythm, a hexachord, a key, and on a regular eighth note figure. The fourth and fifth scenes are separated by an important interlude, which receives its own invention (thus there are six inventions rather than five).

Berg himself thought the opera to be very successful; the listener could be completely unaware of the complex web of musical and dramatic form while being completely absorbed by the human and social elements. Indeed, this has proven Wozzeck's most enduring quality; it stands as a landmark achievement in both music and music drama, and is one of the elite few among twentieth century operas to enjoy repertory status.

[Article taken from All Music Guide]

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One of my favorite operas. Right up there with other favorites like Ravel's L'enfant et les sortilèges, Szymanowski's King Roger, Janáček's Káťa Kabanová, and my number one favorite: Bartók's Bluebeard's Castle. Please feel free to share your thoughts about Wozzeck here. For those that enjoy the work, did it take long for you to enjoy it or did you enjoy it almost right from the start? What do you believe this opera symbolizes or do you think there's no kind of symbolism here whatsoever? Let's converse!
« Last Edit: October 09, 2016, 09:42:24 PM by Mirror Image »
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Offline jessop

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Re: Berg's Wozzeck
« Reply #1 on: October 09, 2016, 08:25:41 PM »
My first experience of it was watching that opera film years and years ago (well, 2010 to be specific) and it's still one of my favourite operas of all time.

The first time I ever knew about it at all was much earlier on when I read an English translation of the libretto and a very breif analysis of the form and some of the thematic material.....very interesting!

I have two recordings; one recorded by Boulez reissued on CD by Sony and another recording conducted by Böhm which I have on LP.

Offline α | ì Æ ñ

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Re: Berg's Wozzeck
« Reply #2 on: October 09, 2016, 08:32:54 PM »
Too large of a chapter to quote Mirror Image, but MI it's great that your favourite opera happens to be in my top three: Bartok's Bluebeard's Castle.

For me, my favourites also include Ligeti's Le Grand Macabre and either Stockhausen's Licht or Wagner's Ring Cycle, it's hard to choose.  I would also add Feldman's "Neither" and Schoenberg's Moses and Aaron.

I'm not one for lists, but I think I need one on this subject!
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Offline GioCar

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Re: Berg's Wozzeck
« Reply #3 on: October 10, 2016, 01:59:25 AM »
My first experience of it was watching that opera film years and years ago (well, 2010 to be specific) and it's still one of my favourite operas of all time.

The first time I ever knew about it at all was much earlier on when I read an English translation of the libretto and a very breif analysis of the form and some of the thematic material.....very interesting!

I have two recordings; one recorded by Boulez reissued on CD by Sony and another recording conducted by Böhm which I have on LP.

Was it that film for the German television, Bruno Maderna conducting? A great film and performance.

Offline jessop

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Re: Berg's Wozzeck
« Reply #4 on: October 10, 2016, 02:38:59 AM »
Was it that film for the German television, Bruno Maderna conducting? A great film and performance.
I believe so, from 1970

Offline jochanaan

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Re: Berg's Wozzeck
« Reply #5 on: November 03, 2016, 08:57:23 AM »
The one time I've seen Wozzeck was a recording of the Vienna Staatsoper production, with Claudio Abbado conducting.  Magnificent opera, fine production, musically flawless.
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