Monday, November 14, 2011

Arnold Schoenberg - Pierrot Lunaire Op.21/Serenade Op.24, Domaine Musical Ensemble, Boulez (Everest - SDBR(D) 3171)

Arnold Schoenberg made a comment once that he would have liked his tunes also to be whistled like Tchaikovsky's. Well, that may never happen. He may not and will probably not achieve the fame that Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, Chopin or Liszt and many others. On the other hand, one thing is for sure. His legacy and the change he has brought upon classical music will live on forever. He is one of the key pioneers who shaped classical music.

The doors that Schoenberg opened are numerous. He made this change available in just the right time. Technologies evolved very fast, societies evolved, cumulative cultural understanding evolved and our view of human life evolved. The change in itself is important, but the timing was also perfect.

Pierro Lunaire is one of his primary atonal works even though he composed this work before totally theorizing the famous twelve tone technique. Therefore it is correct to say that this work is not the true sample of the change he was yet to bring yet it shows some drastic changes compared to previous century's works. Moreover, this work holds several aspects which was to be developed and used time and time again during the 20th century.

The works is the first fully use of a technique called "Speaking Voice" (Sprechstimme). Just this technique alone was widely seen in the future among the works of Berio, Nono and Stockhausen. The lyrics belonged to the Belgian poet Albert Giraud. The name of the composition derives from these poems as Pierrot is the pantomime character and some of the poems have the themes based on the moon (Lunaire).

Helga Pilarczyk is the speaker during the composition. With all fairness to her, this is a good performance under the general conducting of Pierre Boulez, but I would have preferred to listen it also from Cathy Berberian as well. After all, she is the master of this kind of works.

This composition heavily relies on the performers and therefore a choice of record to listen this work is very important. This version where Boulez conducts his Domaines Musical Ensemble is widely claimed to be the best version even though tastes may differ. I should also point out that considering the only other version (By conductor Peter Maxwell Davies) I have listened this record, Boulez's version comes out to be the better by far. It is surely a teaching piece for people who would like to take a sneak peak at how the classical music was evolving step by step during the beginning of the 20th Century.


  1. I saw Cathy B. perform this in Frankfurt in the early 70s - she did it in three languages, English, French (the language of the original poems) and German. An LP was made and sold by the Theater am Turm for a while - like a fool, I let the opportunity slip. I would so love to find this! It was a marvellous performance.
    Though I very much like the Pilarczyk/Boulez (I saw her perform Lulu in Hamburg 45 years ago - wonderful), I like Mary Thomas/Atherton, Jan de Gaetani or Anja Silja too.

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    1. Thank you very much for the comment. Unfortunately I didn't have any chance to watch her perform live which would have been spectacular I can imagine.

      I haven't listened the Gaetani performance. Pilarczyk was good, but still I would side with Cathy on this.