101 years Pierrot lunaire

Reading time: 2 min. Arnold Schönberg

Dear Mr Schönberg. [...] You put all ideals of an artist’s fantasy into sounds – It is wonderful, I can’t say anything else! I am entirely cocooned by these harmonies, partly sweet and partly expressing the soul’s final screams. People who have encountered suffering will be familiar with that. (Albertine Zehme to Arnold Schönberg, Mid-March 1912)

Arnold Schönberg’s Pierrot lunaire had its official première exactly 101 years ago, on 16 October 1912, at the Choralion Hall in Berlin. Eduard Steuermann wrote of that occasion: [...] And the success? There was, of course, a scandal […] but also an intense ovation. (Juilliard News Bulletin)

From the preface of the Arnold Schönberg Center’s recently released pierrot lunaire companion:

In terms of its genre, Pierrot lunaire was historically unique at the time Schönberg composed it and marks the high point of his expressionistic period: The famous melodrama is placed in the extreme danger zone of post-Romantic composition. Pierrot, “with waxen countenance”, is a bizarre and nervous figure, enticed into a counterworld of nighttime phantasms and hopeless passions. A cosmos of tonal shading in the colorful realm between singing and speaking.

Unrestricted freedom of tone!

(Eike Feß, Therese Muxeneder)

Here are excerpts from the pierrot lunaire companion of how the work was received and how it is viewed today:

I was too occupied with the copy of the score Schönberg had given me to notice anything else. I also remember that the audience was quiet and attentive and that I wanted Frau Zehme to be quiet too, so that I could hear the music.
(Igor Stravinsky on the performance of Pierrot lunaire, cited from Robert Craft, 1968)

You should never be afraid of imitating. I joined the Schönberg school to write my Poèmes de Mallarmé.
(Maurice Ravel, La revue musicale, 1931)

Pierrot is a transitional discipline, a Zwischenfach for which there is neither school nor tradition to speak of today. […] It is certainly a work which – once you have become immersed in it – never lets you go again.
(Friedrich Cerha, Zur Interpretation der Sprechstimme in Schönbergs Pierrot lunaire, 1974)

Find further information regarding future performances of Pierrot lunaire on our performance calendar.

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