Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Pierrot Lunaire

Dr. Bob Prescribes: Arnold Schoenberg, Pierrot Lunaire, Op. 21 (1912)

The crowning glory of Schoenberg’s “emancipation of dissonance” period is Pierrot Lunaire.  In terms of its importance and influence on the literate music of the twentieth century, Pierrot Lunaire stands second only to Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, which Stravinsky completed six months after Schoenberg (1874-1951) finished Pierrot.  1912 was, truly, a miraculous year for Western literate music. Pierrot Lunaire is a set of twenty-one songs for female voice and five instrumentalists playing piano, violin doubling on viola, cello, flute doubling on piccolo, and clarinet doubling on bass clarinet.  Inspired by Pierrot Lunaire, this ensemble became so standard during the twentieth century that it is now simply referred to as a “Pierrot Ensemble.” Pierrot Lunaire was commissioned by a Viennese actress named Albertine Zehme (1857-1946), who asked Schoenberg to compose a work she could recite to a musical accompaniment.  Schoenberg created a vocal part using a technique drawn from German cabaret music called Sprechstimme or “speech voice.”  Sprechstimme is a sing-songy recitation technique in which the notated pitches are only momentarily touched upon, even as the rhythms, dynamics, and phrasing are performed as written.   This is the first key to understanding, appreciating, and even enjoying Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire:  […]

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Music History Monday: Pierrot Lunaire

There are certain first performances that we celebrate as being among the seminal events in music history. For example (and we would do well to memorize these dates!), the first performance of Claudio Monteverdi’s groundbreaking opera Orfeo occurred at Florence’s Pitti Palace on Friday, February 24, 1607. Handel’s Messiah was first performed on Tuesday, April 13, 1742 at Great Music Hall in Fishamble Street in Dublin; the performance began at 12 noon. Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony received its premiere at Vienna’s Kärntnertor Theater on Friday, May 7, 1824, in a concert that began at 7 PM. Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring was first performed at Paris’ Théâtre des Champs Elysée on May 29, 1913; the performance began at 8:30 PM. To this über-impressive list of premieres we must now add that of Arnold Schoenberg’s dazzling, controversial, and in all ways extraordinary Pierrot Lunaire, which received it’s premiere 105 years ago today, on Wednesday, October 16, 1912, at Berlin’s Choralion-saal after having received a mind-blowing forty rehearsals! Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951) believed himself to be a compositional traditionalist, and in many ways he was. He believed that the role of the composer was to express himself and the role of music was therefore to […]

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