Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire: 18, composed in 1912, reflects many of the avant-garde tenets of the Abstractionist and Expressionist movements flourishing simultaneously. Pierrot Lunaire operated around Schoenberg’s Sprechstimme, a method in which lyrics were not intended to be sung but through different pitches assume a speech-melody. This approach was inspired by Schoenberg’s dedication to defying conventional norms around the art world (such as melody, tonality, etc.) that he posited disguised an essential truth through surface-level representation. In considering the visual works of Kandinsky or poetic works by Gertrude Steins, we can see similar strains of prioritizing the raw art-form, whether through language or paint, rather than the mediums representative potential. Kandinsky explicates this intention with the belief that “every work comes into being in the same way as the cosmos-by means of catastrophes, which ultimately create out of the cacophony of the various instruments that symphony we call the music spheres.” While Kandinsky was figuratively applying a musical vocabulary to art in the aggregate, Schoenberg’s atonal works that deliberately defied all orthodox standards in order to depict a reality that transcended the material world.
In considering the relationship between Schoenberg’s composition and Giraud’s poetry from which it was inspired, there initially seems to be very little in common. Whereas Giraud’s Moonfleck and Serenade both maintain a somewhat absurdist comical timbre as they tell stories of fumbling men, when set to Schoenberg’s score these works postured towards a more somber and dramatic story. In part, this may be that without speaking German I was more engaged with Schoenberg’s music than the Sprechstimme lyrics. Nevertheless, I believe this disconnect is consistent with the tenets of expressionism that relies on a notion of raw communication independent from the material boundaries of language and representational structures. As such, it stands to reason that Schoenberg is classified within the Expressionist movements given that no historical classification enjoys perfect consistency. Schoenberg’s rigid series of irregular rules used to shatter the popular music principles perhaps makes him hypocritical for denouncing tonal and melodic rules. Why is that his set of rules were more conducive to communicating divine psychic states than those which he replaced? His challenging of the popular music world expressed a desire to transform the status quo however the outlandish and difficult experience of hearing his works coupled with its exclusive accessibility poses questions regarding Schoenberg’s ultimate agenda as well as what drove his followers’ support.
 Wasily Kandinsky quoted in Daniel Albright, “Abstractionism,” in Putting Modernism Together: Literature, Music, and Painting 1872-1927, 130.
Schoenberg’s work relates (in my opinion) closely to many of the other movements around the same time. Schoenberg’s use of only dissonance and breaking free from the traditional styles of composing reminds me greatly of both Impressionism and Surrealism. It was his way of breaking free of the confines of the musical world, and using atonality to create something unique, powerful, and profoundly unsettling. To me it makes sense to call Schoenberg an impressionist composer, because his music borders on bizarre, but still manages to convey the story and meaning that inspired the piece. The discordant instruments and almost-singing manifest as something slightly out of place. This is the same impression I got from reading the poems by Giraud.
Schoenberg’s music relates to a lot of other artistic works around the same time period. His music could be compared to Dada art, where the artist would try and break the common norms of art. The music of his did exactly this, it went against what was commonly known as music. It pushed the idea of music just like expressionists pushed the idea of art. It seems a little disconnected from the article just because his music differed from the normal music of the time. He wasn’t doing it just to mess with people though, he was pushing boundaries and defining his own style of music. I think it makes a lot of sense to call Schoenberg an expressionist composer in many ways. Expressionists challenged the time periods art and pushed what was commonly excepted, which is what Schoenberg did. Both were also heavily criticized for their knowledge of their art because of how different it was. I feel like expressionist would be a perfect way to label him as a composer. I think what was so appealing about music without a key center to Schoenberg is that he had no walls holding him back. He had no box that he had to think in, he could do anything he wanted with his music and not have society based boundaries like normal composers had.
After hearing this unique music piece for some time, it is hard not to notice that every single musical note was highly thought of. Though not a pleasant or easy-to-listen to composition, it will certainly make most people react in some way or another. What really made me react to these piece though was the score. It is a piece written on no apparent key, with extremely complex note inflections that seem not to resolve unto anything. This leaves me anxious, waiting for the piece to resolve, but yet it never does. As a musician I try to resolve this music in my head, but yet I find it extremely difficult. It is something that my traditional musical education does not allow me to comprehend, but that is the whole purpose of this. This strenuous musical composition is written in such a way that it does not allow anyone to resolve this in anyway. Moreover, this is what has lead Arnold Schoenberg to be identified as an “Expressionist”. The main reason for this is the fact that most of his musical compositions abruptly refuse to adhere to the implicitly pre-imposed traditional music norms. It is Schoenberg’s heart and intellect in its purest form, presented and transmitted by music. Strongly dissonant and yet beautiful in its own way. One of many “acquired tastes” people can get in life. Paradoxically, what makes this music “ugly” is also what makes it beautiful, and worthy of attention.
All in all, I can say that Albright was right. This is indeed as complicated as Einstein’s equation E = mc^2 or his relativity theory. Something so complex that could only be proved 100 years after its prediction. But yet this music piece is still a puzzle for most people that could perhaps be deciphered (or accepted) in the future?
Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire looked to explorer the relationship between various tones. Schoenberg loves the blatant, almost brutal dissonance his song produces because it explorers a part of music not previously seen before. A member of the audience described the performance as “enharmonies that almost made the ears bleed, the eyes water, the scalp to freeze.” The audience as a whole disapproved this work. The atonality of this work leads to the general distain of this work by the Berlin public. This exploration of sound is similar to the art of Kazimir Malevich and various abstract painters. Kazimir Malevich’s White on White is a painting that is two white squares; the purpose of this painting is to explore how different colors interact with each other. While Malevich explores the way that different colors affect each other, Schoenberg explorers the way that different tones sound when put together. Schoenberg and composers who also explored with this dissonant music seemed to be searching for “the borderland between pain and pleasure,” which had not previously been explored. Although sporadically dissonant, Schoenberg looked to expand the way people listened to and created music. And although Schoenberg’s music is not what the future held as was believed by many critics. His music had a profound impact on music.
Schoenberg might not seem an Expressionist when initially compared with the other artists of the movement, yet upon further examination, his work, especially Pierrot Lunaire: 18. Mondfleck fit the descriptions of Expressionist work.
Although most of his words follow a rhythm that suggests a regular speech pattern, Schoenberg uses pitch to emphasize the syllables and words that aren’t stressed when the word is spoken, such as “und” or the second syllables of “plotzlich”, “Mondes”, “richtig”, etc. While this might be expected in lyrics that had been translated from the language in which they were put to music, since Schoenberg used the German translations of the poems when he wrote the pieces, this adds to the text painting of the music in the piece. It creates the sense of something slightly chaotic or not quite making sense, like the man who can’t figure out that the spot on his jacket is merely light. In this way, his piece reveals the inner mental state, and not the exact events of the scene depicted, one of the main characteristics of Expressionism.
Another main idea of Expressionism was the lack of emphasis on whether or not the work was aesthetically pleasing by traditional standards. Schoenberg’s music certainly fits this criteria, as well: he rejected the traditional tonality of music that is still widely accepted today, and created a work that completely countered the standards. This was part of the appeal to Schoenberg and his followers: they had the ability to create music that didn’t fit what anyone else’s idea of music was; rather, they had much more freedom in how to express their thoughts.
Schoenberg’s music, although very unique and experimental, has some elements in Impressionism and Early Abstraction. Impressionist music is created so that clear structure is subordinate to harmonic effects. Schoenberg’s pieces lack traditional form for the sake of the beauty in atonality. Early Abstraction has no clear representation – Schoenberg’s music does not reflect the poems by Giraud and the only representation is through the lyrics. Giraud’s Pierrot Lunaire is light and comedic while Schoenberg’s presentation of the poem evokes a heavy sense of anxiety and a confused mental state. The music is very disconnected from the poem, for example, one of the stories is about Pierrot playing the viola and although there is a viola in Schoenberg’s ensemble, it is scarcely (if at all) used in that piece. I believe it is fair to call his work “expressionist” because it truly does bring out the inner mental state (usually angst – I feel a lot of angst listening to the music) and seeks that initial reaction from the listeners in the audience due to the lack of connection to the stories. Atonality’s appeal, in my opinion, seems to be that it is experimental, new, and different. There may be a beauty to it, yet most listeners ears are trained and accustom to Western music’s form.
Schoenberg’s piece about Pierrot playing viola seems to fit well. The poem is comical almost, we were laughing about it in class, but it also seems to be about someone who is paranoid, and the music sounds paranoid. Pierrot ends by “playing the bow,” (Giraud) “on Cassander’s pate,’’ (Giraud), when he was perhaps self-conscious about his “oversized bow for his viola,” (Giraud). The music sounds self-conscious. The music does not sound comical though, except for maybe the faces the singer makes, which are a bit weird.
The piece about Pierrot and the moon is also comical, as we laughed about it too in class, because it is about a man who does not know that “the light on his… coat,” (Giraud) is not “plaster,” (Giraud, conversation in class for what the poem was about). Someone like this is paranoid, and the music conveys this feeling of paranoia like the other piece.
Overall, Schoenberg seemed to accurately portray the paranoid Pierrot in the poems. The paranoia in the music seems to be accurate of how Pierrot is self conscious.
I remember when we listened to one of the pieces in class, the cellist “plucks some of the strings” (Giraud, in class talk about pizzicato, the YouTube video of the poem) instead of using the bow, which made me laugh.
Schoenberg’s music reminded me a lot about the practice of free writing/drawing and works such as Ulysses and Finnegan’s Wake, both by James Joyce. Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire (1912) has strong atonality through out, making it often hard for listeners to appreciate or understand the composer’s intentions in creating the music work. The strange tonality of the composition removes any apparent structure and orientation, rejecting harmonic rules emphasizing the free use of dissonance. This formless impression resembles the impression of Joyce’s work, where the sentences and words do not necessarily make sense as a whole. Reading Albert Giraud’s original text of Pierrot Lunaire, the impression it creates compared to the musical ‘translation’ is vastly different. Giraud’s Moonfleck and Serenade suggest rather comical and light tones, whereas the dissonance that is prevalent in Schoenberg’s version is much more heavy and dark, even ‘perilous’. While it does appear to be rather disconnected from the original textual form, I would consider his work to be expressionist, because art is subjective and Schoenberg’s own expression of emotion through his version of the two poems. His use of atonality acts as the freedom which he uses explores the deeper aspects of emotions and to break boundaries of what music should sound like and how it should be portrayed.
Compared to Arnold Schoenberg’s expressive music, Debussy’s Clair de lune can be regarded as a complete opposition to Expressionism. While Schoenberg’s music revealed the naked and deep feeling of human with the least decorative and the most direct way, Debussy’s Clair de lune blurred all the feelings brought by the nature and mixed them together into a smooth and pleasing dream. After reading the texts of Pierrot Lunaire by GiraudIn, I failed to find any connection to Schoenberg’s Serenade; however, the content does help me understand the bizarre atonality better. If other people ask me about the first impression of Schoenberg or a brief introduction to him, I completely consider him as an expressionist. For some of the Expressionist paintings, the aesthetic effort is to “give a deepened expression and intensification of the essence, instead of hasty impression”(Albright, 74), with the same ultimate purpose, Schoenberg made all the mixed and anxious feelings audible in his creations, which are especially expressed with the absence of tonic and large amount of dissonance. The idea of atonality is to reveal the deepest feelings without any constraint rules bound. Their absences of conscious mental control and against mainstream’s taste in music are what truly drive the followers.