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Alban Berg

Berg's Piano Sonata, Op. 1 (1908) was the composer's first published work. To the dismay of his most important mentor, Arnold Schoenberg, Berg had a great affinity with the lied; before beginning his studies with Schoenberg in 1904, the self-taught young Berg had already written dozens of songs. However, Schoenberg directed Berg toward instrumental composition, and under Schoenberg's tutelage Berg composed the Piano Sonata, the 12 Variations on a Theme (1908-1909) for piano, and the String Quartet, Op. 3 (1910).

The sonata represents a major stylistic leap for Berg. As musicologist Bruce Archibald notes, the composer's earlier piano music is "in the language -- tonal, textural, and gestural -- of Brahms and Schumann." The sonata, on the other hand, is in a newer idiom, exhibiting the strong influence of the iconoclastic Schoenberg. Berg employs a traditional sonata form for his Op. 1. The work's single movement consists of an exposition that includes two contrasting themes, a development section in which the themes are expanded, and a recapitulation, in which the themes are restated. The harmonic language is profoundly Schoenbergian, and parallels may be drawn between this work and Schoenberg's Chamber Symphony No. 1, Op. 9, with its whole-tone and quartal harmonies. The sonata also makes use of a three-note motivic cell -- consisting of a perfect fourth plus an augmented fourth, spanning a major seventh -- often found elsewhere in the early atonal music of Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern. The influence of Wagner is also evident in the sonata, especially in Berg's use of unresolved tonal suspensions.

Completed in 1908, the sonata was not published until 1910 (at the composer's own expense). Though Berg publicly performed a number of his own piano works, the sonata was never a part of his repertoire.