Lulu Suite

Alban Berg

Lulu Suite

About this work

Alban Berg assembled his Lulu Suite for orchestra and soprano in 1934. This suite involves music from his opera Lulu, which was still incomplete when the composer died prematurely at the age of fifty in the following year. The opera's short score was already finished, and the first two acts were completely orchestrated. It was from these first two movements that the music for the concert suite was drawn. It is in five movements and is slightly more than a half hour in duration. Earlier in his career, Berg had created a similar assemblage from his first opera, entitled Three Fragments from Wozzeck, but the Lulu Suite is better known and more frequently recorded. This is perhaps because the latter work is more diverse. The Wozzeck pieces concentrate exclusively on the music surrounding the protagonist's wife Marie. In the Lulu Suite, listeners hear music concerning a broad range of characters. The opening setting concerns Alwa, one of Lulu's many lovers. His father is Doctor Schoen, to whom the main character delivers her Lied der Lulu in Act II of the opera and in the third movement of the concert suite. In the fifth movement, the soprano also performs a brief excerpt from the role of Countess Geschwitz, another fatality to Lulu's charms. The orchestral interludes include music set in Paris and the East Side of London, where Jack the Ripper murders Lulu. The concert suite also features different musical forms, including a rondo and a set of variations. There is a lot to hear in this suite, making it something more than a contracted showcase intended to get an audience to the actual opera. It is an outstanding work in its own right.

The text is by Wedekind, an elder peer of the composer who originally conceived of the opera as a play in which he also sometimes performed. In fact, when Berg was a young man, still a teen in 1903, he saw a play production of Lulu featuring Wedekind as Jack the Ripper. The playwright's wife recorded in her diary seeing the young and handsome composer in the audience. The play had an enormous effect on Berg, as his enthusiastic praises of the work in his letters demonstrate. Though he had a stately bearing matched with an outward, bourgeois respectability, the Austrian was no angel. Unlike Webern, his friend and fellow student of Schoenberg at the time, Berg did not shy away from the seamier side of life. He regarded sensuality as an enormous energy deserving of the same respect as other human traits. This may have been used as an excuse for his extramarital affairs, though it was not a part of his life that he shared with his more pious friends. Berg did not go to shocking excesses in order to live out his worldview, but he did attempt to woo married women and did similar sorts of unlovely things. To the benefit of music, his overt sensuality carried over into his art perfectly. His depictions of the darker side of human nature are often more mysterious and ambiguous than a one-dimensional evocation of evil. Though Lulu killed people and Jack the Ripper did the same, the opera unfolds with a musical setting that depicts a raw and unknowable element in the human psyche that civilization grasps blindly at in order to tame it. This setting is transferred from the opera to the Lulu Suite with uncanny perfection, revealing a talented genius that regarded some weaknesses and a misunderstood power.