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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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Evaluating Sprechstimme – what early recordings tell us

Evaluating Sprechstimme – what early recordings tell us

Before writing my new chapter on Pierrot, I am thinking about its general structure. Things will probably change as I start writing, yet this helps me orgenize in my mind all that I have done in the past few weeks in the British Library. If you have any comments or ideas, please write to me. Here are the various sections of the chapter:

  1. Reviewing Bryn-Julson’s argument (2009) for exact pitch.

  1. Put forward my argument for “liberal informed” interpretations.

  1. Explain why it is useful to examine early recordings.

  1. Present the early recordings, the singers and conductors.

  1. Write about the reviews of these early recordings.

  1. Show what they actually do in these early recordings – especially how they do Sprechstimme but also balance of ensemble, and relation of all this to score. Focus on the song Parodie (explain why).

  1. Criteria (apart for pitch fidelity) for evaluating Sprechstimme Interpretations: structure, text, improvisation, voice limits, what else?

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Early Performances of Pierrot Lunaire Op. 21 Research Proposal

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Listening to performance of Pierrot lunaire and Sprechstimme

Pierrot lunaire, Sprechstimme in video performance

Pierrot lunaire in Studio and in Broadcast: Sprechstimme, Tempo and Character - the truth behind

Cats performing Schoenberg Piano Piece Op. 11 - a must!

Cats performing Schoenberg Piano Piece Op. 11

This is one of the best performances ever heard in the history of Western music. As a Schoenberg specialist I can assure you the Schoenberg would have definitly approve this one. 


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Bjork singing Schoenberg’s Pierrot lunaire

Did Schoenberg kill classical music? and the future of the web

 

 

Follow my research on Pierrot lunaire early recording live on Twitter

Follow my research on Pierrot lunaire on early recording, live on Twitter

Comments on Twitter

I am doing research at the British Library National Sound Archive on early recordings of Schoenberg’s Pierrot lunaire. As I listen to the recordings I note things and this might be of interesting to some of you. You can follow me live and comment back on twitter by clicking on the following link: Follow Avior Byron on Twitter. I do not know of any scholar who did this before me (although I would not be surprised if there are such people).

Why am I doing it?

Good question. I am not sure myself. Here are some possible reasons:

1. It is a place I can write notes and come back to them in the near future.

2. If someone that is following me will see the notes and have something to say, he or she can do it at real time. This might be very helpful for me.

3. Like blogging in general. Micro-blogging on twitter might attract the attention of relevant people who have common interests. This often helps research.

4. Making my comments public might be of interest to various people: young scholars who want to follow the way I do reaserch, and other scholars who are interested in my topic of research.

5. Perhaps the most important thing is that I feel that Twitter helps me concentrate. I feel that when I write notes that are open to the public, I do it differently than when I write them on a piece of paper. This helps me think and focus.

And it works!

Just noticed that Sound Archive at the British Library (Richard Ranft): three million recordings of music, voices, environments from around the world, wrote the following at their twitter: WhiteAvior Byron’s live tweets his research at British Library Sound Archive on early Schoenberg’s Pierrot lunaire recordings @avior http://twitter.com/soundarchive/status/3146315771

How the hell did he find me ?!!!

Please comment and subscribe

Feel free to comment in the form below and to subscribe to my blog.

Follow Avior Byron on Twitter

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Early recordings of Schoenberg’s Pierrot lunaire - Research proposal

Review of The Glenn Gould Reader

Artur Schnabel and Schoenberg’s Performance Aesthetics and Practice

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Pierrot lunaire, Sprechstimme in video performance

Bjork singing Schoenberg’s Pierrot lunaire

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Early Performances of Pierrot Lunaire Op. 21 Research Proposal

Here is the research proposal I wrote for the Edison Fellowship in the British Library Sound Archive. The proposal was written during January 2008. Now I am actually starting to do the research.  
 

Early Performances of Pierrot Lunaire Op. 21: Recordings, Reception and Cultural Meanings

 

Context

The great differences between the early recordings of Op. 21 imply that one should seek to understand them by coming to terms, not only with the score, but also with performance. Most of the literature on Schoenbergs Pierrot lunaire concentrates on compositional aspects of the score or on issues concerning the text of the songs.The few articles that were written on the performance of this piece focused on the voice producing the Sprechstimme. Almost nothing was written on the performance of the ensemble (and its relation to the Sprechstimme and text).   
This study will attempt to reduce the gulf between analysis and the listeners’ and performers’ experiences, by analysing recordings (see the discography below), performance reception and cultural history. The aim is to reveal the musical elements that are most relevant for performers and listeners, and to discuss the cultural meanings that they support.
 

Methodology

I wish to spend one month in the Sound Archive in London (1 July 2009 - 1 August 2009, continuous residence with visits on a daily basis), in order to examine recordings and study relevant literature. I plan to study recordings from the 1940s-1960s (all of the recordings are present in the holdings of the Sound Archive), to find any deviations of the recordings from the score indications, the special characteristics of each recording, and also the similarities among them. I will use several computer programs in order to sharpen my listening and for presenting the data (as I did in my publications in MTO and JSMI).
 

Outcomes

This study is in many ways a natural continuation of my PhD and Postdoctoral research which are focused on Schoenberg performance aesthetics and practice. I plan to write an article as a result of this study, which might develop to be part of a chapter in a book about early performances of Schoenberg’s music.
 

Potential significance

Schoenberg’s Op. 21 is considered to be one of the most important compositions of the twentieth century. Placing this piece in its early performance context is significant for a more comprehensive and historical appreciation. I wish to contribute to a refined understanding of those early performances as various musical commentaries of both the composer and some of his interpreters on contemporary musical and social trends.    
An understanding of the performance legacy of performers from Schoenberg’s circle, and other performers mentioned in the discography, is important for appreciating the initial historical interpretation of this music. The research will touch upon the issue of the relation between performance aesthetics and practice, and the affects of performance circumstances and technology on the performing. These issues are discussed to various extents in my publications. This study has potential to reveal to performers and listeners, previously unexplored interpretive issues of this music, which may have a significant affect on their experience.  
 

Discography

1.       Erika Stiedry-Wagner, voice; instrumental ensemble (Leonard Posella, flute & piccolo; Kalman Bloch, clarinet & bass clarinet; Rudolf Kolisch, violin & viola; Stefan Auber, violoncello; Edward Steuermann, piano); Arnold Schoenberg, conductor (recorded: Los Angeles, CA, 24 September 1940)  *CBS MPK 45695 mono ADD (1989) CD
2.       Ellen Adler, voice; Paris Chamber Ensemble (Jean-Pierre Rampal, flute & piccolo; Ernest Briand, clarinet; André Dupont, bass clarinet; Francine Villers, violin; Colette Lequien, viola; Sean Barati, violoncello; Claude Helffer, piano); René Leibowitz, conductor  *Dial DLP 16 mono (1951?) LP  
3.       Ethel Semser, soprano; Virtuoso Chamber Ensemble (Edward Walker, flute & piccolo; Sidney Fell, clarinet; Walter Lear, bass clarinet; Lionel Bentley, violin; Gwynne Edwards, viola; Willem De Mont, violoncello; Wilfrid Parry, piano); René Leibowitz, conductor (recorded: 1954?)  *Argo RG 54 mono (1955?) LP
4.       Alice Howland, voice; Lois Schaefer, flute & piccolo; Donald Lituchy, clarinet; David Kalina, bass clarinet; Robert Koff, violin & viola; Seymour Barab, violoncello; Edward Steuermann, piano; Arthur Winograd, conductor *MGM E 3202 mono (1955?) LP
5.       Jeanne Héricard, voice; members, Sinfonie-Orchester des Südwestfunks, Baden-Baden (Kraft-Thorwald Diloo, flute; Otto Voigt, piccolo; Sepp Fackler, clarinet; Hans Lemser, bass clarinet; Günther Weigmann, violin; Ulrich Koch, viola; Anton Käsmeier, violoncello; Maria Bergmann, piano); Hans Rosbaud, conductor (recorded: Musikstudio, Südwestfunk, Baden-Baden, West Germany, 4-5 April 1957) *Wergo WER 6403-2 (286 403-2) mono AAD (1993) CD
6.       Patricia Rideout, soprano; Suzanne Shulman, flute; James Campbell, clarinet; Coenraad Bloemendal, bass clarinet; Adele Armin, violin; Peter Smith, violoncello; Glenn Gould, piano (recorded: CBC Studios, Toronto, Canada, 1974) (1st-7th songs) *Nuova Era 2310 mono ADD (1989) CD (recorded: 1960?/1962?/1967?!) (1st-2nd & 5th songs) (1:51; 2:20; 1:59) *Sony Classical SM2K 52664 mono ADD (1994) CD

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Bjork singing Schoenberg’s Pierrot lunaire

Email interview with Schoenberg’s Children

Follow my research of Pierrot lunaire early recording live of Twitter

 

 

Review of The Glenn Gould Reader

Review of The Glenn Gould Reader

I am a great admirer of Glenn Gould. I always loved the two versions of the Goldberg Variations that he recorded (as usual I have included in this post several video that you might find interesting).
 
However, the first time that I was really amazed from his interpretation was when I heard him play Schoenberg’s Piano Piece Op. 33a. In his performance I heard something that I cannot describe in words. It is simply magic. As he often does, Gould deviates from the score. He does it on purpose from the reason that I will mention in a moment.


 
I bought several months ago The Glenn Gould Reader (edited by Tim Page. Published by Vintage Books, 1990). It includes essays written by Gould to journals such as the Piano Quarterly and texts that accompanied his recordings. Some of the texts are funny and light hearted. Others have incredible insights into music, performance and musical history.
 

Gould on Stokowsky

His essay ‘Stokowsky in Six Scenes’ is a master piece. A passage from it may give you an idea why Gould himself had the habit of deviating from the score as well as give you a taste of his literary style:
 
‘Stokowsky was, for want of a better word, an ecstatic. He was involved with the notes, the tempo marks, the dynamics in the score, to the same extent that a filmmaker is involved with the original book or source which supplies the impetus, the idea, for his film. “Black marks on paper”, he would say to me a quarter-century later. “We write black marks on white paper – the mere facts of frequency; but music is a communication much more subtle than mere facts. The best a composer can do when within him he hears a great melody is to put it on paper. We call it music, but that is not music; that is only paper. Some believe that one should merely mechanically reproduce the marks on the paper, but I do not believe in that. One must go much further than that. We must defend the composer against the mechanical conception of life which if becoming more and more strong today.”’ (p. 264)
 
This, of course, could represent not only Stokowsky, but also Gould himself. At another place in the essay Gould tells us that Stokowsky modified his studio interpretations so that they will suite the living-room acoustics where the music will be heard. Indeed, when Gould writes about other performers, he often gives valuable and interesting information about himself.
 
 

Gould on Schoenberg

Another excellent essay is ‘Arnold Schoenberg – A Perspective’. This is was originally a monograph published by the University of Cincinnati (1964). What I love about this essay is that it makes an interesting overview on Schoenberg’s compositional development, yet it also tries (as early as 1964!) to understand his significance on the history of music. Gould raises questions such as ‘what will happen to Schoenberg in the year 2000?’ He notes the fact that Schoenberg’s technique had entered the grade-B horror movies and that it is much more acceptable in operas than in the concert hall.     
 
Gould had a deep understanding of the aesthetics, philosophical and technical problems that occupied Schoenberg. When he deals with technical issues, he usually does not divorce them from social and historical events (although he takes caution not to suggest too strong connections), and he describes in a very lively way what might have been the composer’s feelings when embarking on new and unknown paths of composition.


 

Gould on  Rubinstein

In his essay on Rubinstein he includes a conversation that tell us volumes about Gould’s philosophy of recording:
 
‘…when you begin, you don’t quite know what it is about. You only come to know as you proceed… I very rarely know, when I come to the studio, exactly how I am going to do something… I’ll try it is fifteen different ways… I don’t know at the time of the session what result is finally going to accrue. And it does depend upon listening to a playback and saying “That doesn’t work; it is going to go that way; I’ll have to change that completely.” It makes the performer very like the composer, really, because it gives him editorial afterthought…’ (p. 287)
 
It is interesting to read this, since Gould had a dream of being a composer – a dream that was fulfilled only in his performances.
 
Gould was an incredibly knowledgeable musician. He writes about people such as Byrd, Gibbons, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Mahler, Hindemith, Boulez, Terry Riley, Rubinstein, Menuhin, Barbra Streisand and many others. I the book one can find essays about technology, recordings, Gould various broadcast and TV projects, and other interesting things. I recommend reading this book to anyone who is interested in classical music in general and Glenn Gould and performance in particular.    
 

Gould on Recordings and Media

Some of the most interesting essays can be found in part three of the book, which is entitled "Media". The first article, "The Prospects of Recording", is perhaps the most interesting. In it Gould explains his views on editing, the affect of recordings on the listener in particular and art in general. I also recommend reading the next essay: "Music and Technology". In this section one can find texts that Gould used for some of his broadcasts. For example, for The Idea of North. One can listen to these broadcasts, as they have been released two years ago on CDs on CBS Records.


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Further Reading

Artur Schnabel and Schoenberg’s Performance Aesthetics and Practice

Artur Schnabel and Schoenberg’s Performance Aesthetics and Practice

During my short Post-doc in Berlin (January-February 2008) I visited the Stifung Archiv Der Akademie Der Künst. I saw there interesting things concerning Arnold Schoenberg (concert programs and record sleeves as well as some items from the Stuckenschmidt Nachlass). I bought there a book which was published by the institution titled Artur Schnabel: Musiker Musician, ed. Werner Grünzweig (Hofheim: Wolke Verlag, 2001). 

Only today, I open the book for the first time (it took me one year!). This book contains many interesting items such as writings on Schnabel, writings by Schnabel, letters, various lists and other items that only German musicology is able to collect in such a wonderful manner (and I am only half sarcastic when I say so). 

One of the most interesting items in this book is an article by Claudio Arrau (the pianist, 1903-1991) titled “Artur Schnabel: Servant of the Music”. The article is from 1952, first published in Musical America (p.31). 

The article is interesting in more than one respect. It seems that Arrau is suggesting, what may seem as a contradiction. On the one hand, he claims that “Schnabel completely rejected the nineteenth-century notion of music as a vehicle for self-expression, at the service of the virtuoso for his own self-gratification.” Arrau mentions that Schnabel was not satisfied with the Urtext edition of his time. He conducted research and “corrected” that version. 

Yet his recording and printed editions show that he used flexible tempo when playing. His editions mention tempo fluctuations that were not originally printed in the score. These tempo fluctuations were not seen as a contradiction to being faithful to the spirit of the composition. On the contrary, music was seen (as Arrau argues) as “a living organism with an inner fluctuation and flexibility above and below metronome markings”. 

This view of seeking to understand an objective musical object (or spirit, if you like) while expressing it with vitality of an “organism” was also the performance aesthetics of Arnold Schoenberg, a contemporary and friend of Schnabel.   

On the one hand, on 24 August 1909 he wrote a letter to Busoni criticizing the latter’s transcription of Schoenberg’s Op. 11 No. 2. Trying to understand why Busoni had decided to create his version of this piece, a matter that seemed to irritate Schoenberg, he enquired of Busoni: ‘I would like to ask you if you have perhaps taken too slow a tempo. That could make a great difference. Or too little rubato. I never stay in time! Never in tempo!’ (Ferruccio Busoni, Selected Letters, trans. and ed. Antony Beaumont (London, Boston: Faber and Faber, 1987), p. 395.) Here Schoenberg admitted that his approach to performance transcended his own score indications. 

On the other hand in 1912 Schoenberg cited Mahler saying: ‘I consider it my greatest service that I force the musicians to play [spielen] exactly what is in the notes’. (Schoenberg, Style and Idea, ‘Gustav Mahler‘, 464-5.) In the preface to the first edition (1914) of Pierrot lunaire, Op. 21 Schoenberg argued quite clearly that actions originating with the interpreter, which are not included in the score, have a negative effect. 

For Schoenberg and Schnabel, therefore, extensive tempo fluctuations that go beyond the score indications, was not contradictory to being a servant of the composer’s intentions. In 1912 Schoenberg claimed that playing the right notes results in the performer’s participation in ‘the spirit of the music’. (Schoenberg, Style and Idea, ‘Gustav Mahler’, 464-465.) A work of art which is a spiritual entity demands spontaneity in performance.

Pianist Arthur Schnabel Home Movie 1937


Artur Schnabel plays Beethoven Sonata #32 in C min Op. 111


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On being a critical author

On being a critical author

Now that about two years passed since I finished my PhD, it is enough time to look back and think how it affected my writing. I will relate in this post to one aspect: being critical.

I remember that my supervisor taught me how to be critical towards various kinds of sources and what people say and write. This was one of the best lessons that I have learnt during my postgraduate studies. However, looking back, it had also some negative affects. Paul Banks told me several months ago, that when you publish a book you write in a different way than when one writes a PhD. One is less defensive. Paul, who was one of my examiners (the other one was Jonathan Dunsby), knows very well what he was talking about. During my viva I sat in a beautiful room before two examiners who are world experts about Schoenberg and/or performance (my PhD subject) and the period I wrote about. They read every sentence of my PhD and I had to prove that all my arguments are solid. Believe me this is quiet scary. Once feels like be judged in a court of law. During the last year of my PhD I had the viva event at the back of my mind. I had to make sure that everything that I write is defensible. This created a certain kind of thinking and writing. In the following I will try to explain what I mean.

            A leitmotif in Schoenberg’s writings on performance is his demand for many rehearsals. In an article entitled ‘Gustav Mahler’ from 1912, he argued that Mahler ’still [had] something to say’ to the performers in the tenth rehearsal. Mahler, he claimed, had a clear ‘image’ (Bild) of what he wished to reproduce.(Schoenberg, Style and Idea, pp. 449-71) The main issue in the quotation above has to do with a musical image that was in the mind of the composer, which is reproduced by the conductor and which should be communicated through performance. Having many rehearsals while forcing performers to play the right notes, served the aim of reproducing an image, and this resulted in the performer’s participation ‘in the spirit of the music’.

            When I read this during my PhD, it seemed to me very idealistic of Schoenberg to think this way. It seemed to me a Romantic view, placing the composer as a prophet who communicates a divine image to the listener, given to him by God.

            I still think that this view is terribly idealistic and it does not stand scrutiny if one closely examines what performers do. Yet, during a lecture on management, the lecturer argued that a manager should have a clear image of what he wants to achieve. This reminded me of Schoenberg.

            Perhaps Schoenberg did not want a perfect image in the mind of the performer. Yet, he did expect a conductor, to have a clear image of the music before he stands before the performers and manages them.

            Now there are various kinds of management techniques, which give various degrees of freedom to the people who are managed. In any case, today I can sympathize with Schoenberg’s demand. Today’s economic crisis demands from managers to be alert and make focused decisions. One needs to have a clear image of ones goals. Otherwise, one’s company can disappear.

            Looking back at my PhD, it was right to criticize Schoenberg for being idealistic towards the role of the composer in relation to that of the performer (especially before 1933). However, it is true that a composer and similarly, a performer, should have an image of what they want to achieve. I feel this clearly from great performers such as Glenn Gould.

            It is good to be critical, yet one should learn also to respect the perspectives of other people, even if at first sight they seem wrong. Becoming a good writer about music demands a balance between writing with authority and weighing various ideas and perspectives.

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On fear: Schoenberg, Stravinsky and the Israeli music scene

The problem

One of the things that make me sad about the Israeli music scene (including musicologists, composers, performer and critics) is the problem of miscommunication and isolation. People are working alone and find it hard to make mutual projects and co-operations. I felt it strongly in the Music department in the Bar-Ilan University as well as in the Israeli Musicological Society. In both places one can find talents on different levels. Yet, the ability to create something together was usually sabotaged by fear.

In the Bar-Ilan Music department there was no conversation on how one should educate the students. This was left (presumably) to very few people. In any case no conclusions of such discussions were communicated to the teachers or students. In the Israeli Musicological society there was some discussion on how to promote Israeli musicology and music, yet this was usually sabotaged by few noise people, others who promised and did nothing and others who simply gave up. It seems that everyday troubles and the fear from one another paralyze any mutual action and cooperation.

 

Schoenberg and Stravinsky

I have no idea whether this is a problem which occurs only in Israel (I have little to compare with). History seems to indicate that one can find the problem also in other places and periods. The most famous and perhaps the saddest case is that of Schoenberg and Stravinsky. Peter Yates wrote in a letter dated 17 May 1952: ‘Nowdays artists work in closed boxes… Our artistic life is typified by Stravinsky, who lived here more than fifteen years without ever meeting Schoenberg in public or private, but now attends performance of the old man’s work like a devotee.’ (Quoted in Dorothy Crawford, Evenings On and Off the Roof (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), p. 127). Only after Schoenberg died, Stravinsky allowed himself to be influence by Schoenberg’s music in a more open way than in the past. Now it is understandable that this happened. Schoenberg wrote a piece titled Three satires that was partly against Stravinsky. He also wrote and talked against him in various occasions. Also Stravinsky attacked Schoenberg. Yet could they not find a way to go beyond this nonsense and communicate with each other during those years that they were practically neighbors?

 

The future

In the age of Social web sites, it seems sad that one can connect with people on the other side of the world, yet find it hard to communicate with their neighbors. If there is any chance that Israeli classical music (including composition, musicology and performance) will become less provincial, than it will be by overcoming fear and mistrust, and by starting to work together.     

 

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Listening to performance of Pierrot lunaire and Sprechstimme

Listening to performance of Pierrot lunaire and Sprechstimme in the Music Beit Midrash of Mazkeret Batya

The Music Beit-Midrash met last Tuesday for the first time. In the following you will find a brief report of the meeting which might be useful for those who wish to listen again to some of the music, read more (see some of the links below), or comment on the music or the meeting (in the form below). Note that the last link in this post leads to interesting related videos.

The first meeting was dedicated to Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot lunaire. I introduced the aims of the meetings and started it by giving a short review of Schoenberg’s life, musical contributions, and relation to Judaism. Since the meeting was mainly on Pierrot lunaire, I felt that we should listen also to Verklarte Nacht, Op. 4, in order to receive a perspective of Schoenberg’s musical development. We listened to a modern performance of Schoenberg from the last few years, and to the historical recording with Schoenberg conducting the piece (see the first recording in the page). The people who took place in the meeting noticed that Schoenberg’s conducting is much slower than that of the other recording. It was fascinating to see the reactions of the people who listened. Some of the people commented that Schoenberg’s conducting seems more confident. My impression is that people are very sensitive to what they hear even if they do not have any musical education. I mentioned some of the historical and cultural reasons of why Schoenberg’s conducting is slower.

The next part of the meeting was about Pierrot lunaire. We listened to four performances. The first one was quite brutal and the last one was (as one of the people present remarked) ‘anemic’. It seemed that people were quite shocked from the music. Yet I think that they were simultaneously interested in the fact that these performances are so different. We discussed the performance indications for the vocal technique titled Sprechstimme and we moved on to discuss the ‘problem’ that there are multiple categories for deciding which performance is better.

Some argued that they just want to enjoy the music. Others claimed that the composer communicates something with the music and they want to understand it. Therefore, a performance that communicates the ‘message’ better is superior. Others wondered how can one define what is the ‘original’ demand to perform this music. An interesting dicussion developed concerning the various value that one can promote in performance. For example: faithfullness to the score, faithfullness to the atmoshphere the composer intended, and expressing the individual interpretation and insight of the performer.

I suggested that the idea of communication is not without problems and that the performer must make decisions that involve their own identity and values. I think (and hope) that most people enjoyed this first session. You can click here to see 8 video performances of Pierrot lunaire.  This could give you an idea of the verity of interpretaions that one can hear in recorded (video and audio) performance of the piece.

For those who did not participate in the first session, please note that you are very welcome to join at any stage. There is no need for any prior knowledge in music, and the sessions are not built one on the other.

Participate and comment

If you took part in the meeting please comment on this post in the form below. Did you enjoy the session? Any thoughts or suggestion?

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Pierrot lunaire, Sprechstimme in video performance

 

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


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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

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[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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