Second Viennese School XI – Alban Berg’s Lied “im Zimmer”

“Im Zimmer” is one of the miniature lieds in Alban Berg’s collection of “Seven Early pieces”, written in 1907, when Berg was only 22 years old. This collection of pieces was among the ones, that impressed Schoenberg 2 years later and encouraged him to accept Berg as his pupil. At the time of composing pieces, Berg was a self-taught composer, who hardly knew about musical theory and form. But his vigorous understanding of music and his ability to represent the feelings and words through it is astonishing.

The poem’s words are by Johannes Schlaf, the German poet, author and playwright.

Here is the English translation of text:

An autumn night.

“The evening looks in with its dying light.

A fire gaily burns,

crackles and brightly glows by turns.

So! My head upon your knee: that’s happiness!

When my eyes your lovely face caress,

How silently the minutes flee!”

As witnessed above, the poem is a romantic one, full of images and Berg has perceived and appreciated it properly. He has portrayed the feeling of the words in tempo and dynamic changes, harmonic alterations and textural modifications. The first two phrases are calm, picturing a peaceful autumn night, when daylight is becoming more and more dim. Berg has used low dynamics and general descending motion in order to show that the days is about to come to end, but at the same time, for the sake of generally positive mood of the piece, he has kept the harmonies bright and the texture is almost transparent (because of rare and soft dissonances, relatively high registered and gentle accompaniment).

The second phrase which is a bit more flowing, starts with an up-beat, which highlights the sense of liveliness. “The fire gaily burns, crackles and brightly glows by turns.” The accelerated tempo, directly corresponds with freely moving fire flames and jumping crackles. In the accompaniment, staccato leaps in both hands of piano, playing defused notes, perfectly resemble crackles and the word “bright” is (Ab) the highest note of the sub-phrase “crackles and brightly glows by turns.” as well as rhythmically the longest note.

The third phrase “So! My head upon your knee: that’s happiness!” is the climatic one in this music. The poem becomes emotionally intense, so that Berg uses frequent harmonic dissonances and tempo changes. Also, music depicts the climax through high dynamics, wide leaps, syncopations, 16th notes in the left hand of accompaniment and wider register. At the end of the phrase, tempo and dynamic decrease and Berg makes preparation for the last word of the sub-phrase “ruht” which means “to rest” by decreasing the tempo and dynamic and a dotted half note. He also prepares the mood for the last phrase of the piece, returning to the romantic, peaceful mood of beginning of the piece.

The very last phrase “How silently the minutes flee!” is rhythmically quite close to the first phrase. Intervals are mainly conjunct, and in case of being disjunct, they are not too far from each other. The phrase has an arch-form. It begins with a descending motion, which depicts the word “silently”, and Berg uses disjunct intervals in order to emphasize on the lowness of the word “silent”, and when it comes to the “flee of moments” he completes the arch by stepwise ascending motion and right before ending the piece he uses a “G” as 16th note to represent the flowing character of the moments, that resolves to the note “F” for the sake of keeping the static and calm mood of the piece until the very last moment of it.


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