Arnold Schönberg’s and Alban Berg’s Personal Libraries as a Source of Study of Artistic Biographies

Yulia S. Veksler


Composers’ personal libraries began to be the objects of research relatively recently, only about a hundred years ago. Meanwhile, it presents a valuable source for research of composers’ artistic biographies, which bears the imprint of the personalities both of the owner of the book collection and of his or her entire generation. The library makes it possible to evaluate the tastes and the predilections of the composer in question, helps reconstruct his or her artistic ideas, at times contains various types of marginalia, which in modern source studies have acquired the status of texts.

The fate of Arnold Schönberg’s library and that of his student Alban Berg unfolded differently from each other. Schönberg was not a bibliophile, his personal library served him as a working tool and reflected his multifaceted interests in various fields of knowledge. Despite his numerous relocations, his library retained its integrity. Schönberg himself compiled a partial inventory of it, arranging the books in accordance with his hierarchy of values. The systematic study of his book collection began at the Arnold Schönberg Institute in Los Angeles and was continued at the Arnold Schönberg Center after his archive was moved to Vienna. Of particular value in the Schönberg library are his polemical marginalia, in which he conducts imaginary discussions with contemporaries: Hans Pfitzner, Ferruccio Busoni, Heinrich Schenker and others. They complement the corpus of Schönberg’s published and unpublished music theory texts.

Berg’s library is up to the present day located in the composer’s Vienna apartment. Researchers received access to his books at a relatively late date, after the death of Berg’s widow Helena in 1976. The systematization and cataloging of the Berg Library has not been finished up to the present time. Berg came from an antiquarian family, he inherited his bibliophilia from his father. Already from a young age, he perceived his personal library a means of cognition of himself and the world, as evidenced by the large-scale collection of quotations Von der Selbsterkenntnis [About Self-Cognition] compiled by him. Berg, like Schönberg, had a habit of polemizing with opponents in the form of marginalia (such is his polemics with Wilhelm Krug in his book Neue Musik). Of great interest to researchers are Berg’s work copies of Georg Büchner’s dramatic play Wozzeck by, as well as Frank Wedekind’s dilogy of plays Erdgesit [The Spirit of the Earth] and Die Büchse der Pandora [Pandora’s box] which were used by Berg during his work on the librettos for each of his two operas. They make it possible to reconstruct the composer’s creative process and contain valuable instructions regarding the dramaturgy and compositional form, the protagonists’ characteristic features, as well as the formal structures of separate sections of the operas.

The ongoing process of digitization of Schönberg’s and Berg’s archives makes it possible for us to hope that researchers on all the continents will be granted access to personal libraries of these two composers, as well as those of other composers.

Keywords: personal libraries of composers, Arnold Schönberg, Alban Berg, marginalia

For citation: Veksler Yu. S. Arnold Schönberg’s and Alban Berg’s Personal Libraries as a Source of Study of Artistic Biographies. In: Sovremennye problemy muzykoznaniya / Contemporary Musicology, 2023, no. 4, pp. 29–49. (In Russ.)


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Copyright (c) 2023 Yulia S. Veksler

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