- Richard Kershaw
- and Michael Musgrave
(b Berlin, April 18, 1777; d Berlin, Feb 16, 1839). German composer and pianist. The son of an architect, he spent his youth in Templin and Frankfurt, where he studied the flute and piano and composed over 100 pieces, most of them songs. In 1799 he undertook a composition course with Gürrlich in Berlin; a projected course under J.G. Naumann in Dresden two years later was prevented by the latter’s death, and Berger composed a cantata in his memory. On his return to Berlin he became friendly with Clementi, with whom he visited Russia in 1804. Berger remained in St Petersburg for eight years, learning much from a close acquaintance with the music of Field. There he also married, but his wife died within a year. In 1812, Napoleon’s advancing army forced him to flee to London. The public received his piano playing enthusiastically, but homesickness drew him back to Berlin in 1815 when the Treaty of Versailles had been signed. He lived there until his death, an eminent teacher whose pupils included the young Mendelssohn, as well as Taubert and Henselt, but an increasingly embittered man: his career as a virtuoso had been curtailed in 1817 by a nervous disorder of the arm, and his music never attained the popularity he felt it deserved. In 1819 he founded the Jüngere Berlin Liedertafel with B. Klein, Ludwig Rellstab and G. Reichardt, in opposition to the earlier Berlin Liedertafel of C.F. Zelter.
As a composer Berger made his chief mark as a later exponent of the Berlin Song School, and he published over 160 solo songs. He was the first to set Wilhelm Müller’s texts for ‘Die schöne Müllerin’ in 10 Gesänge op.11, as a participant in Müller’s original Liederspiel. His works, extending to 55 opus numbers, also include a piano concerto in C, seven piano sonatas, partsongs, 29 studies (the 12 Etudes op.12 being the best known), a quantity of didactic piano works, variations, marches and rondos, and even unfinished operas. His piano style, especially in the works written between 1800 and 1810, reflects that of Beethoven; the Sonata-Pathétique in C minor op.7, for example, not only borrows title and key from Beethoven’s op.13, but also adopts his scheme of interpolating its slow Introduzione into the subsequent Allegro. Berger’s Sonata op.18, also in C minor, is based entirely on a six-note motif pervading all three movements with an insistence that quickly becomes wearisome; that the experiment was made at all, however, indicates an original mind and a willingness to attempt complex technical problems. In his later works, lyricism supersedes motivic preoccupations, and it is in his capacity as a ‘singing’ piano composer that his greatest influence on Romantic piano music can be seen: Mendelssohn’s Lieder ohne Worte stem directly from Berger’s Etudes, opp.12 and 22, as a comparison between Berger’s op.12 no.11 in G minor and Mendelssohn’s op.38 no.2 in C minor confirms.
- MGG1 (W. Kahl)
- L. Rellstab: Ludwig Berger: ein Denkmal (Berlin, 1846)
- P. Egert: Die Klaviersonate im Zeitalter der Romantik, 1 (Berlin, 1934)
- D. Siebenkäs: Ludwig Berger: sein Leben und seine Werke unter besonderer Berücksichtigung seines Liedschaffens (Berlin, 1963)
- R.L. Todd: ‘A Sonata by Mendelssohn’, Piano Quarterly, 39 (1980), 30–41
- S. Youens: ‘Behind the Scenes: Die schöne Müllerin before Schubert’, 19CM, 15 (1991–2), 3–22