Alban Berg’s Wozzeck, one of the most important operas of twentieth century music, was premiered in Berlin in 1925. It was conducted by Erich Kleiber (father of the conductor Carlos Kleiber). The language of music is atonal, but more accessible than Schoenberg, Berg and Webern’s serial music. Alma Mahler helped Berg with finance.
The expressionist, nihilistic opera is based on the Austrian novelist Franzos’ edition of Büchner’s play about Woyzeck, a wigmaker and barber who murdered his faithless mistress. He was publicly executed in Leipzig in 1824.
Wozzeck, a soldier, is downtrodden by the Establishment as represented by a Captain and a Doctor who pays him to be a guinea-pig for medical experiments. Wozzeck’s woman Marie is seduced by the Drum Major who makes a public show of this in the tavern scene.
After confronting her and fighting the Drum Major, he stabs Marie by a pond in a forest. He commits suicide there when searching for the knife which he fears will incriminate him.
Berg’s wife Helene was seemingly Emperor Franz-Josef’s daughter. His composition of Wozzeck was interrupted by military service in the First World War.
Berg also composed the opera Lulu, based on plays by Wedekind.