Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire (1912)
Albert Schoenberg’s musical score of Pierrot Lunaire executes music in a completely different way than other expressionist artists at the time. Compared to “impressionist” Claude Debussy, who although composed music made of dissonant and unexpected pitches managed to create sounds that are pleasing to the ear, Schoenberg abandons all notions of tonality in his atonal scores, and instead creates music that many find hard to listen to let alone understand. Debussy played with form and conventional harmonies, creating music that failed to completely resolve, however Schoenberg’s music has no structure, harmony, or tone that unites the music into a composed work. Franz Kafka, who was unintentionally affiliated with the expressionists due to themes of extreme states of feeling, wrote literature that has been described as “dissonant” in its disillusion with the physical world and its skepticism in the expression of extreme emotion. One can see similar themes in Schoenberg’s dissonant music, which rejects the emotion expressed through Giraud’s texts from which it is based. While Giraud’s poetry describes humorous situations of Pierrot the clown and mocks his misfortune, Schoenberg’s musical score feels increasingly over-exaggerated and sounds almost frightening to the ear. Schoenberg’s disregard to the emotion previously expressed in the text shows his rejection of artistic conventions and seeks to express emotion in its rawest, most unhinged form. In this sense, Schoenberg can be described as “expressionist” in his compositions because his music expresses the raw inner angst of art and focuses more on the expression shown through the way the music sounds over how pleasing it is. Atonality probably appealed to many composers like Schoenberg because it allowed them to experiment more with emotional states and inner expression over having to appeal to a mass audience, and in a sense atonality seems to free music and make it more about the individual than the audience to which it serves.