Pierrot Lunaire: the Model Experiment?

Listening to Pierrot Lunaire is akin to reading absurdism: there are certain familiar elements that anchor the piece but its art and creative process are ephemeral and lost to me. The music was clearly not written to be aesthetically pleasant, as Zehme, Schoenberg’s patron, points out. She wanted to express emotions so extreme that she felt that singing was no longer an acceptable medium with which to explain them in an honest natural way. That explains the soprano’s eerie, witch-like timbre that is not unpleasant by itself, but is definitely uncanny combined with the atonal, arrhythmic composition of Schoenberg.

As I read through the resources and the poems and listen, I notice and begin to identify many details of all kinds of musical devices such as polyphony, word painting, imitation which make the piece into a Wagnerian-like total music opus. Remarkable that Schoenberg composed this out of a simple request for a piano accompaniment to a set of translated poems. This is undoubtedly a masterpiece of musical expressionism whose subtleties escape me and the critics that first reviewed it at the premiere in 1912. What I can say is that he admirably reflected the eerie, supernatural theme of the moon in a listener who knew nothing about the work beforehand.

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