Tag Archives: composers

Pierrot Lunaire by Arnold Schoenberg at Endler Hall, Stellenbosch

On 21 May 2011, the Endler Concert Series in association with KEMUS, will present a performance of Pierrot Lunaire by Arnold Schoenberg, in the Endler Hall at the University of Stellenbosch. This work, which is seldom performed in South Africa, is one of the most interesting and musically significant works composed in the 20th century, and this performance promises to be one not to be missed.

Pierrot Lunaire, composed in 1912, is one of the best examples of Schoenberg’s ‘atonal’ style, where the composer first experimented with what he termed ‘the emancipation of dissonance’. All traditional concepts of harmonic tension and release are discarded, all accepted ‘rules’ of tonality are broken, and the result is a listening experience that has a powerful emotional and intellectual impact. Pierrot Lunaire is often credited as being one of the most significant and revolutionary works of the 20th century, and few compositions that followed it could remain free from its influence.

The texts for Pierrot Lunaire are originally by Albert Giraud, translated into German by Otto Erich Hartleben. The ‘Pierrot’ from the title is taken from the traditional commedia dell’arte – he is the sad clown, pining for the love of Colombine, his unfaithful wife, who often breaks his heart. In the course of the 21  poems, we meet several fantastical figures: Pierrot and Colombine, the ‘sick, pale moon’, Cassander, the Madonna, the Pale Washerwoman and others. Pierrot steers his boat across the ocean with the moonbeam as rudder, he tries to get rid of the ‘moonspot’ on his shoulder, he does his make-up like a dandy, he bores a hole in Cassander’s head to ash his cigar in, he finally makes his way home to Bergamo.

This is the last work of Schoenberg’s expressionist period : expressionism is generally defined as an art movement in which representation of nature is subordinated to expression of emotion, where artists aimed for as direct an expression of emotion as possible, using non-representational images to project these emotions directly, rather than looking towards the ‘outside world’ for inspiration.

The expressionist setting of the poems is inspired by the morbid and often macabre aspects of expressionist painting, and is combined with echoes of the satirical and often biting German cabaret,  with which Schoenberg was intimately familiar. Through these influences he brings the poems vividly to life. Schoenberg’s use of ‘sprechstimme’ is one of the most original features of the work: the vocal technique is a combination of singing and speech, with pitch approached with a level of freedom unprecedented in western vocal literature at the time. The part will be played by Vanessa Tait-Jones. The rest of the ensemble comprises piano (Mareli Stolp), violin (Tricia Theunissen), viola (Jan-Hendrik Harley), cello (Joachim Müller-Crepon), clarinet (doubling on bass clarinet) (Becky Stelzner) and flute (doubling on piccolo) (Liesl Stolz).

Tickets: R99 /R75 at Computicket or on 083 915 8000.
Box office at the Endler Hall will open at 19:00 on the night.
For further enquiries, please call the Endler Hall Concert Series on 021 808 2343 during office hours.

(Mareli Stolp)

Frauenliebe und Leben

I am giving a recital of this celebrated cycle on the 11th Sept in the Odeion Concert Hall in Bloemfontein, and thought I would share the programme note I wrote for it here. We are discussing the articles I refer to below in a postgraduate research seminar group this Friday.

Robert Schumann se befaamde siklus Frauenliebe und Leben is in 1840 gekomponeer. Hierdie uiters produktiewe jaar (soms sy “Liederjaar” genoem) waaruit die meeste van sy groot en bekende siklusse insluitende ook Dichterliebe dateer, was die jaar dat hy en Clara Wieck uiteindelik met mekaar kon trou, ná ’n uitgerekte hofsaak teen haar pa.

Die teks van Frauenliebe und Leben is ’n stel gedigte deur Adelbert von Chamisso wat in 1830 gepubliseer is. Hierdie gedigte probeer die lewensloop en veral die innerlike of verbeeldingslewe van ’n vrou vasvang, maar die stereotipe wat hierdie tekste uitbeeld van ’n vrou wat haar identiteit en lewensin vind in haar rol as onderdanige eggenoot en moeder, het selfs so vroeg as die 1870s kritiek uitgelok (Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Robert Schumann, Wort und Musik: Das Vokalwerk (Stuttgart, 1981), 87).

’n Belangrike feministiese aanslag op die teks én musiek het in 1992 uit die pen van Ruth Solie verskyn (Whose life? The gendered self in Schumann’s Frauenliebe songs in Scher (red.) Music and text: critical inquiries). Sy voel veral ongemaklik daarmee dat Chamisso en Schumann, as mans, die onderwerping aan die man en haar selfopgawe in moederskap as die vrou se hoogste ekstase voorstel, in die teks en (besonder effektief) in die musiek. Sy verstaan dus die sg. “cultural work” wat deur die siklus verrig word as ’n aktiewe bevordering van die onregverdige stereotipe, eerder as ’n onskuldige uitbeelding van die destydse sosiale werklikheid.

Daar het egter in die afgelope dekade ’n nuwe wending in musikologiese beskouings van die siklus ingetree, waarin skrywers registreer dat sangers, ten spyte van die ongemaklike en vir sommige aanstootlike stereotipe, steeds genoeg estetiese waarde uit die siklus put om dit herhaaldelik uit te voer:

To judge by the remarkable number of new recordings over the last decades, however, singers’ interest in the songs has not diminished with the feminist critique – even if this viewpoint has dominated the accompanying program notes. Performers have evidently found it possible to draw from these songs something that continues to appeal to them and to put it forth persuasively (Muxfeldt, K. 2001. Frauenliebe Now and Then, in 19th-century music 25:1, 28-29).

In die artikel wat ek hierbo aanhaal, onderneem Muxfeldt dus ‘n tipe “rehabilitasie” van die siklus deur verby die geslagstereotipe na die res van die estetiese inhoud van die kunswerk te kyk. Een van die antwoorde wat sy aanbied, is ook die een wat dit vir die huidige uitvoerder moontlik gemaak het om die siklus op ‘n outentieke wyse te interpreteer, naamlik die klem op die tipies Romantiese verbeeldingsin en emosionele fynbesnaardheid wat die hoofkarakter in die siklus het:

Frauenliebe und Leben is a paradox. Even as its more concrete subject matter has died out in the world, the intensity of Schumann’s engagement with the figure of this woman remains deeply affecting. To my mind, it is precisely the uninhibited imagination of Schumann’s act of empathy, his remarkable effort to portray his character’s process of mind, which stands to account for the work’s continued effectiveness in the present – against all shifting social odds (Muxfeldt, K. 2001. Frauenliebe Now and Then, in 19th-century music 25:1, 48).

(Matildie Thom Wium)