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Avior Byron

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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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


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