A work in three acts, Wozzeck was Berg's first opera. Inspired by the play of the German playwright Georg Büchner, Woyzeck, who was himself inspired by an apparently banal event of 1821: Wozzeck, a Leipzig barber, assassinated his mistress and was condemned to death after trying in vain to demonstrate his insanity.
Wozzeck reflects one of Berg's recurring preoccupations as an artist: the fight of the individual against society and the state. In a letter from August 7, 1918, Alban Berg wrote to his wife: "[...] There is a little of myself in this character, to the extent that I spent the war years dependent upon people I hated; I was chained, sickened, captive, resigned, and humiliated." This opera is also considered as the first atonal opera, while continuing to rely on traditional musical forms.
Wozzeck, a poor soldier pushed around by his captain, goes gradually insane. Used as a test subject by a doctor, he begins having hallucinations. These hallucinations get him further from Marie, his love. When he discovers that she is cheating on him with the drum major, he stabs her and drowns her in a lake in an attempt to hide the murder weapon.