Arnold Schoenberg: Pierrot Lunaire

Arnold Schoenberg: Pierrot Lunaire

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 and Pierrot

Schoenberg and Pierrot

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

Schoenberg

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. 

Arnold Schoenberg

Arnold Schoenberg

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.

 

Arnold Schoenberg

Arnold Schoenberg

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.

 

 

Arnold Schoenberg- Pierrot Lunaire

Arnold Schoenberg- Pierrot Lunaire

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.

Schoenburg

Schoenburg

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.

Arnold Schoenberg

Arnold Schoenberg

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.

Arnold Schoenberg

Arnold Schoenberg

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.

Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire (1912)

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.