Music, for the longest time, much like visual art, was determined on its quality by whether or not all of the imposed rules were followed. However, Arnold Schoenberg came along and completely ignored those rules, despite following them in the past. Even though there have been many artists before Schoenberg that have included dissonance (for example, between the strings and woodwinds in the development of Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G minor), Schoenberg created the ultimate amount of dissonance by creating notes that never seem to resolve. In fact, they almost seem as if the notes were simply strewn everywhere. He intentionally creates this constant dissonance in order to create a reaction from his audience. I would not necessarily go to say that he is an expressionist, as none of his work appears to portray his mood or inner voices.
As for Pierrot Lunaire, the text and the music do not truly connect. When reading the poems, a giggle is elicited, a feeling of amusement bubbling up. On the surface the text is about a silly clown, and that is all it may be. However, Schoenberg takes it a step further and composes pieces to accompany the text that make it sound like Pierrot is not all quite mentally there. It makes the audience feel a great amount of discomfort, not only with the music itself, but the disparity between the music and text.
A possible reason that people might have been behind Schoenberg is because, unlike other art forms, there does not have to be a meaning behind the composition. It is the purest form of art. Therefore, even if the music is very unpleasing to the ear, it is still music, and does not need an excuse for why it was written like that.
Schoenberg’s music challenges the qualities of classical music, just as Duchamp challenged the qualifications of what is to be considered arts in general, or as Hugo Ball challenged the qualification of using real words to create beautiful poetry in, Karawane. All of these challenges initially received negative responses and harsh critiques, but now we are able to look deeper into their intentions. Essentially, I think that all of these iconic artists challenged values of all forms to assert that there isn’t a wrong way to express one’s creativity or inner being and there isn’t a wrong part of inner being to express. In Schoenberg’s case in his pieces Serenade and The Moonfleck, I believe he was expressing creativity with his atonality and Sprechstimme, but I don’t believe these pieces place him under the Expressionism category. The pieces were modeled after Pierrot Lunaire poems so they weren’t expressing Schoenberg’s personal feeling or inner being. In Albright’s, Putting Modernism Together states expressionism is supposed to “express the inner workings of the mind” and since these pieces are partially another artist’s work, I think that it is impossible for them to achieve that individual deep level of expression.
Although extremely different sounding from most other “classical” expressions of music, these works make a lot of sense in terms of examining them through a expressionist lens. Most modern pieces of art were met with a negative reaction, in the same way the reviews of these works were largely negative, although the second review was able to recognize the overall intention of the works. Like other expressionist works, these two works use the power of sound (rather than visual art) to make a point about the human experience as a whole. I’m particularly reminded of the work “The Scream.” Both “The Scream” as well as these two works express the brutality of human existence, however, one is just expressed through a tonal music. The digression from the more typical appealing works marks a belief in the degradation of human society, and it expressed musically.
The proliferation of music, especially of Western Classical, has always been contingent on it’s ability to remain with in a set of complex strictures. The rules of Classical music are many, ranging from the maintenance of common tones in the common practice style to the often complex avoidance of harmonic parallelism. “Good” Classical music–that is, music deemed “good” by the Western bourgeois–has traditionally been music that obeys the elaborate musical code of laws. For the most part, these rules are blindly followed because they are the guiding force for perfectly tonal music. However, it is not until composers like Arnold Schoenberg hit the scene that the entire law-abiding musical institution seems to collapse into a heap of nonsense statutes and ordinances, falling back on collective horror as a method for combating such “anarchy” (Huneker, handout). Though considered a lawless wild man of the musical frontier, Schoenberg simply chose to write and experience music sans convention, which is arguably a more enlightening way to participate in artful noisemaking. Atonality, in this way, is incredibly ideal, as it allows composers and audiences alike to experience the raw capabilities of music in ways that seem to evoke primal, visceral responses. The rules of Western Classical, from this perspective, are suffocating, limiting, and rather conservative. By introducing and semi-popularizing atonality and pantonality (at least making them known), composers like Schoenberg take music back to it’s intense, and at times violent, roots. Whether or not this type of music can be consumed by the general, Western-centric public does not discredit it’s power and revolutionary sound.
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.
The experimental, boundary-breaking nature of Schoenberg’s works does fit in with other artistic works of the time, particularly James Joyce’s Ulysses, which had been published in a serialized format starting a few years prior to Pierrot Lunaire. The parallel between Schoenberg and Joyce is strong – Joyce smashed rules of sentence composition and plot in his works and took pride in the inscrutability of his writing, while Schoenberg abandoned all traditional musical structure with his shift to atonality and thought of himself as a pioneer of a new, greater form of music for the future.
I don’t think Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire relates very well to the original text that Giraud wrote. The original feeling behind “The Moonfleck” and “Serenade” was humorous and tongue-in-cheek, and Schoenberg’s adaptations take the mood in the opposite direction, making it seem gloomy and suspenseful. This to me creates a disconnect between Giraud’s writing and Schoenberg’s scoring. Of course, it seems Schoenberg was perfectly aware of this disconnect, as he wrote the instructions for the singer to dissuade them from trying to express a feeling based on the lyrics and to instead stick with the mood of his own composition.
I would hesitate to classify Schoenberg’s music as Expressionist based on Pierrot Lunaire. This is because I didn’t get the impression that Schoenberg was actually trying to express a darkness in his own mood or psyche – it seemed like what he really cared about was experimenting and showing off his own compositional genius, and the mood of the music was more due to the atonality which was an aspect of that experimentation. Essentially, I don’t think Schoenberg should be considered an Expressionist because the feeling behind his work doesn’t come from a place of sincerity.
After reading a lot of Gertrude’s poems, I found a connection between all of them that they are very nonsensical. Each poem of his doesn’t necessarily rhyme or have reason to it. The poem I chose was A Red Stamp and it follows these same guidelines. There is no rhyming and the scheme of sentences seem to be unrelated. The poem and the title also have absolutely nothing in common and this seems to be on purpose. The sentences don’t make since together and have no underlying meaning or message. This seems a lot like a Dada style poem. It is very interesting to me how Gertrude made so many poems like this and they became well known. I know what he was going for is for them to have no interpretation but I’m used to poems that rhyme and have a story or message to tell. This is the first poem of its type that I’ve ever read before and I’m conflicted on whether I like it or not. I can see why it got so well known, for being so controversial.
Along the reaches of the street
Held in a lunar synthesis,
Whispering lunar incantations
Dissolve the floors of memory
And all its clear relations,
Its divisions and precisions,
Every street lamp that I pass
Beats like a fatalistic drum,
And through the spaces of the dark
Midnight shakes the memory
As a madman shakes a dead geranium.”
My first response to this poem was to re-read the first stanza several times because I was struck by how beautiful the language is. The beautiful prose that Eliot uses in this poem is such that even for a reader with no context or previous knowledge of the poem (I didn’t) it is still easy to take something from. While the meaning and themes of the poem are complex and wholly enjoyable, so too is the pleasure received from reading the gorgeous language. The first stanza of the poem is my favorite – I have distinct times I can relate to Eliot, walking down the street watching the moon and street lamps and letting your mind flow between the past, present and future. My favorite lines in the poem, based simply on the language, are
“Held in a lunar synthesis,
Whispering lunar incantations
Dissolve the floors of memory”
This is one of my favorite of Eliot’s poems that I have read, and I was instantly captured by the sounds of the words and flow of the writing.
Stein writes about one of those everyday moments many people enjoy. Coffee time. Through the use of stream of consciousness, Gertrude Stein portrays what many people consider to be an everyday moment and transforms it into a complex portrait. Complexity that reflects a desire to take meaning out of something many people do not even think of. After reading this, it gives you a feeling that can only be described as pleasurable. It forces the reader to be in the present moment, to feel the moment, and ultimately to disregard the past and the future to take meaning out of the present. To take meaning out of what might be normally considered trite.
What really catches an eye in “piece of coffee” is how the author systematically describes the moment of coffee time. The imagery it projected goes from the moment in the morning when it is time to drink the coffee, until it is time to clean up. In the process, the author forces remembrance, and actually gets meaning out of something trivial. When she talks about cleaning up, she begins by saying that she would use soap and silk to take care of the yellow coffee stains of coffee. Then she says that these actually look pretty and shape “very nicely”. This might give us the impression that the coffee stains signify how people do not live in the present, but actually tend to live in the past and future most of the time. That is why these stains will remain there after that trite moment is long gone and lost in time.
All in all, piece of coffee, can be described as a call of attention to the audience. Furthermore, the point she is trying to make is that as society evolves and becomes more “modern”, people just seem to be more focused on the past and future rather than on living the present moment.
Aunt Helen, by T. S. Eliot, describes the death of Eliot’s Aunt Helen. Eliot describes the “silence at the end of her street.” Which refers to the emptiness that people felt without Miss Helen Slingsby. Eliot then tells the readers that the people of the town overcame Miss Slingsby’s death. Eliot makes the reference of time passing possibly to explain how people moved on after Miss Singsby’s death. We see the passage of time in “The Dresden clock continued ticking on the mantelpiece.” This implies that although the town initially felt empty without Helen Singsby, eventually as time passes, people begin to move on. Eliot tells how his aunt has four housemaids. Eliot expresses people’s ability to forget about Helen by describing a sexual act between two of Miss Slingsby’s housemaids. The footman is described “Holding the second housemaid on his knee,” while “the shutters were drawn.” Eliot uses this potentially to express the sadness he felt about the death of his Aunt. It’s possible that when his Aunt first died, Eliot felt a crippling loneliness. But as time passed, his Aunt became a figment of his memory.