She seduces, she kills, she winds up a prostitute and gets murdered by Jack the Ripper. Greed-filled, lusty Lulu is the 20th century’s greatest opera.
I was 14 and in hospital with an appendicitis that had turned into peritonitis. The BBC was broadcasting a piece of opera history – the first ever performance of Alban Berg’s Lulu in its entirety. It was 24 February 1979, and I watched as much as I could. Even though I was feeling terribly ill, the opera made an unforgettable impact on me. Some youthful enthusiasms diminish over time. Lulu never has. It has grown richer and stranger over the years.
The premiere took place at the Opéra Garnier in Paris, and the BBC put it out on prime-time TV; things have certainly changed in the last 30 years. What strikes everyone, on first viewing, is the apparently tawdry quality of Lulu’s subject matter compared with the sumptuous beauty of the score. Lulu is a woman of limitless sexual allure, who takes one man after another, rising in the social scale while killing them or driving them to suicide in turn. She is arrested for the murder of one husband, Doctor Schön, and so begins her descent. By the end, she is prostituting herself in a London garret; her last client is Jack the Ripper, who murders her and her lesbian lover, Countess Geschwitz.
Thirty years on, Berg’s opera seems an indisputable candidate for the greatest opera of the 20th century. But that 1979 performance of the three-act Lulu came 44 years after Berg died, apparently from blood poisoning caused by an insect bite. After the composer’s death, the work was regarded as a decadent oddity – perverse, bizarre and, most importantly, unfinished. The long delay in the work being given a proper performance was a catastrophe for 20th-century music. [Source]
Read the German reviews of the performace at the Berliner Festtage 2012 here, here and here.
There are still tickets for the last three of five performances in Berlin here.
Alban Berg‘s Violin Concerto was written in 1935 (the score is dated August 11, 1935). It is probably Berg’s best-known and most frequently performed instrumental piece. The piece stemmed from a commission from the violinist Louis Krasner. When he first received the commission, Berg was working on his opera Lulu, and he did not begin work on the concerto for some months. The event that spurred him into writing was the death by polio of 18-year-old Manon Gropius, the daughter of Alma Mahler (once Gustav Mahler’s wife) and Walter Gropius. Berg set Lulu to one side to write the concerto, which he dedicated “To the memory of an angel.” Berg worked on the piece very quickly, completing it within a few months; it is thought that his working on the concerto was largely responsible for his failing to complete Lulu before his death on December 24, 1935 (the violin concerto was the last work that Berg completed). The work was premiered after the composer’s death, with Krasner playing the solo part, on April 19, 1936, in Palau de la Música Catalana, Barcelona. British premiere: May 1, 1936, London, at an invitation-only concert. Krasner was again the soloist, and Anton Webern conducted the BBC Symphony Orchestra. This performance was recorded on acetate discs, which survived in Krasner’s collection and were later released on CD:
[Dedicated to Jacob Grønlykke]
“Excuse my English,” Anne-Sophie Mutter says with a laugh. “I know it’s rather flowery, but that’s as good as it gets.” As it turns out she speaks it better than I do; her German must be a model of rhetorical control.
Still, it’s clear why, as one of the finest violinists in the world, she might feel her second language ranks poorly as a mode of expression. It is our good fortune in Abu Dhabi that we’ll get to hear her fingers do the talking when she comes to the Emirates Palace to play a trio of violin trios this weekend as part of the Abu Dhabi Classics season.
For now it’s only worth noting that, in music as in speech, Mutter seems to have been reconciling herself to floweriness.
Read the full article in The National here.