In 1884, Pierrot Lunaire: Rondels Bergamasques (Moonstruck Pierrot), a collection of 50 poems by symbolist Belgian poet Albert Giraud was published. The protagonist in the poems is Pierrot, that classic sad clown who dates back to the 16th century. Pierrot ached for the love of Columbine who broke his heart when she ran away with Harlequin. He is such a classic that Pierrot is the inspiration for the white-faced pantomimes in theaters and on city streets for more than 500 years.
Many composers have set the Giraud poems of Pierrot to music. However, it was expressionist composer Arnold Schoenberg who created one of the landmark musical masterpieces of the 20th century with 21 of the poems. His Dreimal Sieben Gedichte Aus Albert Girauds "Pierrot Lunaire" (Three Times Seven Poems From Albert Giraud's "Pierrot Lunaire"), more commonly known as Pierrot Lunaire, Opus 21 or Moonstruck Pierrot, premiered in 1912 in Berlin. Schoenberg used a German translation of the poems for his work.
Schoenberg, leader of the Second Viennese School of musical composition is best known as an atonal pioneer, and Pierrot Lunaire is atonal, but this work predates his famous twelve-tone technique of composition.
The narrator in Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire, typically a soprano, sings in the technique of Sprechstimme (spoken voice), an expressionist vocal technique that lives between singing and speaking.
Soprano Jessica Abel performed the difficult Sprechstimme in Arnold Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire with Ars Nova Dallas conducted by Jordan Randall Smith at the 2009 Dallas Festival of Modern Music.
The recordings of that performance are available at
The musicians are Jocelyn Goranson on flute/piccolo, Mary Druhan on clarinet/bass clarinet, Veronica Gan on violin/viola, Craig Leffer on cello, and Reuben Allred on piano.
Music License: all rights reserved
Image: Pierrot, by Mabel Dearmer (1872 - 1915), The Studio (magazine), Volume 11, page 262, 1897. (source)
Artist Location: Dallas, Texas and Baltimore, Maryland, USA