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My name is Avior Byron and I am a musicologist, blogger and composer. I write books, articles and a blog about music, performance, research, and theory. Read more at my about page

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Pierrot lunaire, Sprechstimme in video performance

Schoenberg’s Sprechstimme vocal technique was extremely influential on many composers. It has invited not only a large variety of performative interpretations, but also very different responses by listeners. The origin of this technique has been traced to Engelbert Humperdinck in his 1897 melodrama Königskinder, as well as to the "old" Austrian theater speaking, yet Schoenberg’s Sprechstimme is a fresh and new conception. It has been described as posing "an enduring and perhaps insoluble interpretive enigma for the performer."[1] Both Darius Milhaud and Pierre Boulez, who conducted the piece, described it as creating "insoluble problems."[2] If you wish to read more about the history of Sprechstimme you are welcome to read my article ‘The Test Pressings of Schoenberg Conducting Pierrot lunaire: Sprechstimme Reconsidered’, Music Theory Online (MTO), 12/1 (February 2006). Pierrot lunaire is one of the most performed pieces by Schoenberg (even Bjork performed Pierrot lunaire!).

Here are several examples of performance of Sprechstimme that might give you an idea about the variety and differences between the performances:

The first historical recording of the Piece is by Schoenberg’s conduting, Erika Stiedry-von Wagner, Sprechstimme; Rudolf Kolisch, violin; Stefan Auber, cello; Eduard Steuermann, piano; Leonard Posella, flute & piccolo; Kalman Bloch, clarinet & bass clarinet. For more information about Stiedry’s Sprechstimme see my article with Matthias Pasdzierny, Sprechstimme Reconsidered Once Again: "… though Mrs. Stiedry is never in pitch"’, Music Theory Online (MTO), 13/2 (June 2007). Note that this is a studio performance. There is a very big difference between Schoenberg’s studio and live performance of Pierrot lunaire. You can listen to all of this historical recording here.

The singer Lucy Shelton and Blair Thomas & Co made a performance of the piece where the visual part is very prominent.

Another scenic version of Pierrot Lunaire was staged by Rudolf Werthen

See also

There was also a film made with Christing Schafer, soprano (as Pierrot), Ensemble Intercontemporain, Pierre Boulez, conductor. I find the singing a bit cold although it is worth watching. The film interpretation is much more daring than that of the Sprechstimme. The director of the film is Oliver Herrmann.

Glenn Gould and Patricia Rideout perform poems 1, 2, and 5 from Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire.

If you want to have Pierrot with an Italian flavour see

I like this one too: Christiane Boesiger, sopran Ensemble Opus Novum, Luzern1998, IMF Luzern Lucerne Festival

Related posts

Dika Newlin on Schoenberg conducting Pierrot lunaire

Bjork singing Schoenberg’s Pierrot lunaire

The Test Pressings of Schoenberg Conducting Pierrot lunaire: Sprechstimme Reconsidered

Listening to performance of Pierrot lunaire and Sprechstimme


[1] Bryan Simms, The Atonal Music of Arnold Schoenberg 1908-1923 (New York: Oxford, 2000), p. 132.

[2] William W. Austin, Music in the 20th Century (New York, London: Norton, 1966), p. 196.

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