Arnold Schoenberg

Pierrot lunaire, melodrama for voice & chamber ensemble, Op. 21

    Description by Blair Johnston

    After the wrenching revolution Schoenberg brought to his music during the final years of the twentieth century's first decade (crystallized in such works as the Three Pieces for piano, Op. 11 and the Five Orchestral Pieces, Op. 16) the composer quickly drew back from the anguished Expressionism of these years to produce the much lighter Dreimal sieben Gedichte aus Albert Girauds Pierrot Lunaire (Three-times-seven Songs from Albert Giraud's Pierrot Lunaire, or, as it is known the world 'round, simply Pierrot Lunaire), Op. 21, of 1912 -- a cycle of 21 songs for voice and chamber group that, in the composer's own words, voices sentiments that are "Light, ironic, [and] satirical."

    Pierrot Lunaire takes the shape of a single large melodrama in which the female voice gives the text a treatment that is midway between speech and song (the technique, called Sprechstimme, goes all the way back to Humperdinck, though it found its best use at the pens of the Second Viennese School composers). Three sections, comprised of seven songs each, showcase the five instrumentalists in all sorts of wonderfully colorful combinations as the narrator tells of the wandering Pierrot's experiences -- indeed, the contrasts offered by just the piano, violin, cello, flute, and clarinet are not enough for Schoenberg, who makes the violinist, flutist, and clarinetist double on viola, piccolo, and bass clarinet, respectively. Each of the 13-line poems is a rondel, the opening lines being repeated during the middle of the poem as a kind of refrain.

    Structural and motivic connections abound throughout the work, and we find such devices as the recurrence of the queasy solo flute melody of No. 7, "The Sick Moon," in the 13th song, "Decapitation" (part of Pierrot Lunaire's admittedly darker second section, in which the demons of Expressionism come out to play once more), and the use of a passacaglia form in "Night," the first song of Part 2. By the time of "The Moonspot" in Part 3, Schoenberg has worked up to the level of a full double-canon (for the pair of woodwinds and the pair of strings). No. 19, "Serenade," is almost a virtuoso piece for cello and piano, while the final song of the melodrama, "O Ancient Charm of Fairy Days," is of the tender, epilogue variety.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Mondestrunken
    2. Colombine
    3. Dandy
    4. Die blasse Wäscherin
    5. Valse de Chopin
    6. Madonna
    7. Der kranke Mond
    8. Nacht
    9. Gebet an Pierot
    10. Raub
    11. Rote Messe
    12. Galgenlied
    13. Enthauptung
    14. Die Kreuze
    15. Heimweh
    16. Gemeinheit
    17. Parodie
    18. Der Mondfleck
    19. Serenade
    20. Heimfahrt
    21. O alter Duft

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2018 BMC Records BMCCD 262
    2017 Continuo / Continuo Classics CONTINUO 114
    2016 ATMA Classique ACD 22734
    2015 Deutsche Grammophon / Universal 4811510
    2015 Deutsche Grammophon 002894794261
    2014 Wergo WER 67782
    2013 Stradivarius STR 33962
    2012 Praga DSD 250276
    2012 Encora ENC 013
    2012 Deutsche Grammophon
    2012 Deutsche Grammophon 02894790563
    2012 Nonesuch
    2012 Audite AUDITE 21412
    2011 Decca 425 626-2DM
    2010 Centaur Records 3019
    2010 Naxos 8506023
    2009 Sony Classical 7561682
    2009 Hungaroton 3259899
    2008 Neos Productions 10709
    2008 MSR Classics 1208
    2007 Naxos 8557523
    2006 Accord 4768862
    2006 Universal Music
    2005 Fuga Libera 504
    2005 Regis Records 9106
    2003 Harmonia Mundi 1951390
    2002
    Ma
    Nytorp Musik 0001
    2001 Musicaphon 56837
    2000 Koch International Classics 374712
    1999 Arts Music 47389
    1999 2e2m 1011
    1999 Teldec 22901
    1998 Deutsche Grammophon / Universal Distribution 457 630-2GH
    1995 Vox 5144
    1995 MDG 6130579
    1995 Aca Digital 20027
    1994 Hungaroton 11385
    1994 Koch Schwann 310117
    1993 Wergo 286403
    1993 Sony Classical 48466
    1992 Bridge 9032
    1992 Nonesuch 79237
    1992 Harmonia Mundi 9011390
    1991 Chandos 6534
    Adda 581273
    Ades 20291
    BMG 61179
    Accord 200972
    Nuova Era 7242
    Eclectra 2045
    Victoria 19088
    Vienna Modern Masters 3061
    GM Recordings 2030
    Vanguard SVC145