zuri music

Pierrot Lunaire Program Notes


Arnold Schoenberg (1874–1951)

It is not often that the Playground plays a work that is more than one hundred years old. However, the pivotal place that Pierrot Lunaire holds in the history of modern chamber music makes it a natural choice.

Pierrot Lunaire grew from the creative forces of several individuals. In 1884, the Belgian poet Albert Giraud published his cycle of 50 poems Pierrot Lunaire: Rondels bergamasques. They were translated into German by Otto Erich Hartleben, and the German translation caught the attention of Albertine Zehme, an actress who specialized in what was then called melodrama, the spoken recitation of poetry accompanied by music.

In 1912, Zehme asked Arnold Schoenberg if he would compose music for her recitation of the poems. Schoenberg, who had recently turned the musical world upside down with his atonal innovations, enthusiastically agreed, selecting 21 poems for his cycle. The piece was originally planned for voice and piano, but Schoenberg was inspired to add seven additional instruments in the course of its composition.

The then unusual combination of instruments (piano, flute/piccolo, clarinet/bass clarinet, violin/viola, and cello) has proved so versatile and attractive to later composers that it has become a standard chamber ensemble, as important in the 20th century as the string quartet was in the 19th. The resulting repertoire for this ensemble has inspired the formation of numerous performing ensembles, including the Playground.

The poems are based on the naïve and clownish character Pierrot, from the Italian Commedia dell’arte tradition. They present a series of shifting perspectives on Pierrot’s main concerns: moonlight, love, religion, and death. Schoenberg’s evocative and highly original music perfectly complements the poems’ changing moods: at times gentle and atmospheric, intensely anguished, wistfully nostalgic, or with ironic detachment. The expressive range and power of Schoenberg’s setting of these remarkable poems is astonishing.

The Playground is pleased to collaborate with seven local visual artists for this performance: Henry Sanger, Kalin Baker, Tia Christine, mE (James Herbert), Peter Strange Yumi, Erik Matelski, and Tony Achilles. Each artist has created three works of art, each inspired by a different movement of Pierrot Lunaire. The twenty-one new works will be displayed in the venue before and after the performance, and images will be projected during the performance as the corresponding movement is played.