Alban Berg’s Piano Sonata Op 1 (1908) is often referred to as a graduation piece. With no formal musical training, Berg met Schoenberg in 1904 and became a devoted pupil and lifelong friend. His direct studies with Schoenberg would continue for six years, and, like his fellow pupil Anton Webern, Berg never failed to extol his teacher’s dictum that any musical innovation could be made only after achieving a profound understanding of the traditions of the Western musical heritage. The sonata, despite its harmonic adventures, sounds firmly rooted in a late Romantic musical language. In fact, though no specific key is indicated, the piece hovers around the key of B minor—a key it shares with another great one-movement Romantic sonata, that of Franz Liszt.
The young Berg, still in his early twenties, presented the movement to Schoenberg as part of a longer projected composition, but was encouraged by his teacher to let the piece stand on its own. Beginning and ending in enigmatic quiet, the brief sonata manages to surmount turmoil and crisis in little more than ten minutes. As in Tsontakis’s Man of Sorrows, we return to the start but find that it is not the same.
from notes by Grant Hiroshima © 2007