Tonality and Atonality in Alban Berg’s Four Songs, Op.2

Author: Tucker, Gary
This is the first published detailed analysis of all four of Alban Berg’s Four Songs, op.2. This early work lies exactly at the boundary between ‘tonal’ and ‘atonal’ means of pitch organization, a boundary often taken as central to the understanding of 20th century music. This study offers a new look at the conceptions of those categories, and traces their development in technical detail and context across all four songs. Includes texts and translations of the songs.


“Tucker neatly shows Berg’s compositional progression from common-practice harmonic norms to more innovative tonal possibilities. Tucker holds a firm command over three analytical techniques: harmonic theory, Schenkerian theory, and pitch-class set theory. Applying each of the three methods in turn, Tucker unwraps the Songs’ ambiguities, disclosing Berg’s use of traditional tonal functions in new ways and supposed new material in traditional ways. . . . Unlike assumptions of previous studies, Tucker finds that tonality and atonality, at least as applied by Berg, are mutually supportive rather than mutually exclusive. . . Although Tucker limits his analysis to Berg’s music, it is very tempting to generalize his findings to atonal compositions of other composers. For this reason, Tucker’s work will likely influence the thinking of other music theorists, leading to further reconsideration of a fascinating period in the previous century’s ‘contemporary’ music.” – Harold E. Fiske

Table of Contents

Table of Contents:
Preface; Analytical Conventions; Introduction
1. Tonality, Atonality, and Berg’s Pitch Structures
2. An Overview of Berg’s Four Songs
3. Song 3, “Nun ich der Riesen Stärksten überwand”
4. Song 2, “Schlafend tragt man mich in mein Heimatland”
5. Song 1, “Schlafen, Schlafen, nichts als Schlafen!”
6. Song 4, “Warm die Lüfte”
Appendix: Texts and Translations
Sources Cited; Index