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.
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.
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.