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ClassicsOnline Home » SCHOENBERG: Pierrot Lunaire / Chamber Symphony No. 1 / 4 Orchestral Songs (Schoenberg, Vol. 6)
Arnold Schoenberg sought to write music that avoided traditional tonal implications, which
eventually led him away from tonality altogether. Herzgewächse is a short piece for high soprano
and what has been called ‘an awkward ensemble’. It is an example of the ‘sound of colour’, the
result of Schoenberg’s collaboration with his friend, the avant-garde painter Kandinsky. One of
Schoenberg’s best-known works, Pierrot Lunaire marks a return to counterpoint. His Four
Orchestral Songs balance the traditional settings of texts with innovatory instrumentation, while
the propulsive power of the earlier Chamber Symphony brings to mind the music of Beethoven.
By William Yeoman
Given his interests in both early and contemporary music, writer, critic and conductor Robert Craft is in many ways the ideal interpreter for Pierrot. Not to mention the fact that he recorded much of Schoenberg’s music as far back as 1963, and all of Webern (1957). Naxos has been busy reissuing the Schoenberg recordings Craft made for Koch International Classics; this is volume six. I originally bought Schoenberg’s Gurre-Lieder when it was still on Koch, and was impressed not so much by the soloists as by the focused delineation of the score under Craft’s baton. That same precision is brought to all the works here, but this time the soloists are also excellent. Herzgewäschse for coloratura soprano, celesta, harmonium and harp sees Eileen Hulse effortlessly sailing into the heavens, while mezzo Catherine Wyn-Rogers bring s some nice timbral shadings to the Rilke in Four Orchestral Songs. Most, though, will be buying this disc for the Pierrot, and they won’t be disappointed. Anja Silja perfectly captures a dreamlike clarity and mystery; she is not as overtly expressive as Christine Schäfer with Pierre Boulez (DG), but this works in Silja’s favour by creating an even more distancing effect. This excellent disc concludes with a superb performance of Schoenberg’s pre-atonal Chamber Symphony No. 1.
By David Denton
Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951)
Herzgewächse • Pierrot Lunaire • Four Orchestral Songs • Chamber Symphony No. 1
Herzgewächse, Op. 20 (1911), for coloratura soprano, celesta, harmonium and harp
Completed on 9 December 1911, Herzgewächse was not performed until April 1928, when Marianne Rau-Hoeglauer sang it in Vienna under Anton Webern's direction. The harmonium, the first instrument to sound, plays more continuously than the other two, having less than a single full beat of rest as against a total of six silent bars in the celesta and four in the harp. The stops employed are flute, oboe, English horn, clarinet, bass-clarinet, bassoon, muted trombone, violin, viola, cello, and percussion (unspecified). They alternate according to the phrasing of the music. Curiously, no timbres are indicated in the nine next-to-last bars.
After a brief instrumental introduction and the first couplet of the vocal part, the music is harmonically dense: chords of nine, ten, and eleven pitches occur frequently. Schoenberg's setting of the text parallels the sense of the words; thus at " sink to rest " the pitches descend, quietly and without accompaniment, to the lowest vocal note of the piece, and those for " imperceptibly ascending " climb slowly and softly from a low note to C in alt. The vocal range is that of the Queen of Night in The Magic Flute and of Blonde in Abduction from the Seraglio.
Schoenberg chose the 21 poems of his Pierrot Lunaire from the cycle of fifty by the Belgian poet Albert Giraud (Albert Kayenbergh, 1860-1929), published in 1884. The verse form is the same for all but one of them. They are rondeaux of thirteen lines, in which lines seven and eight repeat lines one and two. (Number thirteen, the exception, repeats line one only.) Schoenberg used the 1911 edition of the German translation made by Otto Erich Hartleben in the 1890s, which is more vivid in language and stronger in feeling than the French original. Hartleben also changes the tense from past to present, substitutes more colourful images of his own, and transforms a flat, even recitation in octosyllabic lines into an agitated, exclamatory, fragmentary style in a variety of metres with considerable use of enjambement. In Hartleben, the moon is a washerwoman, and not, as in Giraud, "comme une lavandière".
Schoenberg chose poems with related subject-matter and grouped them into three cycles of seven poems each. The subjects of the first are the poet's ecstasy—the moon is the symbol of poetry—and artistic rebellion; of the second, his frustration, weakness, and despair; and of the third his reconciliation with the past and tradition, and the return from Venice to his native Bergamo. The form of recitation is the Melodramen, in which the words are spoken with musical accompaniment. This genre seems to have originated with J. J. Rousseau's Pygmalion (1762), but the best-known examples are by Mozart and Schubert. In Schoenberg's case, the recitation, called Sprechstimme, is a combination of speech and song notated in exact pitches and rhythms. Despite the composer's insistence that the part should not be sung, clearly the pitch functions of the recitation are essential to the melodic-harmonic conception of the piece. In a few places the Sprechstimme is required to sing normally, but for only a very few notes.
Pierrot's most distant ancestor is the Commedia dell'Arte Pulcinella, but in France the farcical Neapolitan impostor and prankster became the harlequin, the prototype of the melancholy artist. Watteau called him Gilles; Théophile Gautier's play, Pierrot Posthumous, marries him to Columbine; Verlaine transforms him into a madman, blasphemous, and the "personification of the death-obsessed soul"; Théodore de Banville, publishing in the same year as Giraud, praises Pierrot's "joie", and Jules Laforgue introduces irony as a principal ingredient. Giraud's inspiration was the poetry of Les Fleurs du mal.
Part I establishes that the time is night, that Pierrot, a poet and dandy from Bergamo, is "moondrunk," and intends to present his beloved Columbine with blossoms of moonlight. He daubs his face with moonlight, and the moon washes clothes made of moonbeams. A "Valse de Chopin" evokes a drop of blood on the lips of a consumptive. Pierrot presents his verses to the Madonna "of all sorrows", and the poet is crucified on his verses. The moon is pale with lovesickness.
The images of Part II are morbid and violent. Night descends when the wings of a giant moth eclipse the sun. Pierrot becomes a blasphemer and a grave-robber whose life will end on the gallows, though between-times he sees the moon as a scimitar that will decapitate him.
The theme of Part III is homesickness, the nostalgia for the "Italian Pantomime of old", and eventual homecoming to Bergamo from, it seems, Venice, since the penultimate piece is a barcarolle, and since a moonbeam is the rudder of Pierrot's water-lily conveyance. Enacting bygone grotesqueries and rogueries, he drills a pipe bowl through the gleaming skull of Cassander, fills it with Turkish tobacco, inserts a cherry pipe stem in the polished surface, and puffs away. He interrupts his midnight serenade (cello) to scrape the instrument's bow across Cassander's bald pate. Then, discovering a white spot on the collar of his black jacket, he tries to rub it out, thinking it a fleck of plaster, only to discover, in the light of dawn, that it was the moon. In the final piece, the poet invoking the fragrance of a world long past, attains peace.
The musical content of Part I is comparatively simple. That of Part II is increasingly complex, while Part III, the most intricate of all, ends tranquilly. Eight instruments are required, but only five players, since the violinist also plays the viola, the flautist the piccolo, the clarinettist the bass clarinet. Piano and cello complete the ensemble. All eight instruments are used only in the last piece. Schoenberg's intent was to draw new sounds from traditional instruments, not to experiment with new instruments, as Stravinsky did with percussion in Histoire du Soldat.
Four Orchestral Songs, Op. 22
In a 1932 Frankfurt broadcast talk on the Four Songs, Schoenberg stated that "my feeling for form, modeled on the great masters, and my musical logic … must guarantee that what I write is formally and logically correct, even if I do not realise it.… [The third and fourth songs] do not dispense with logic, but I cannot prove it." He goes on to say that he hears relationships in the work that he is unable to discern through the eye, and that "Only in this way is it possible to perceive the similarity between the first bar of the orchestral introduction [to No. 3] and the first bar of the voice part." Then, turning to the question of form—shapes and proportions—he concedes that "compositions for texts are inclined to allow the poem to determine their form, at least outwardly," and he identifies the "outward" as the correspondence of "declamation, tempo, and dynamics."
It seems characteristic of Schoenberg that his most original and lapidary orchestration is found in a vocal work, one in which, moreover, he had composed the singer's part in the first and the fourth songs even before beginning to sketch the orchestral accompaniment. Further, in that balance of tradition and innovation which is the foundation of his musical philosophy, the traditional element in the Songs, Op. 22, is in the setting of the texts. Thus he generally follows Brahms in duplicating the accent patterns of the verses in the music, even though the "logic" in Brahms's songs, as distinguished from the inexplicable logic in his own, can be demonstrated through "melodic analysis." Also on the traditional side are the ostinati and pedal-point harmonies, a feature of ' Seraphita', used as well in the third and fourth songs, in the case of the latter with a distribution of accents spread through four lines of violins and violas, an interesting idea not developed in any later work.
The innovatory side is most handily exemplified in the instrumentation. Consider the spatial relationships. At the end of ' Seraphita', the 24 violins sustain a long note in the highest range, while pizzicato cellos and a xylophone play a repeated note, and the basses play a descending line to their lowest register. The distance between highest and lowest levels has never been greater. The final, four-note cadence, under the sustained high violin note, begins with a parallel downward half-step in ten parts followed by the simultaneous drop of an octave in four parts. Yet the effect is the same as that of a classical close.
Schoenberg himself singled out the "preponderantly soloistic" style of the orchestration. In the brief second song, which reduces the ensemble to only sixteen instruments from sixty in the first song, each part is a "solo", until the broadening, climactic middle section, underscoring the word "Eitelkeit", where both the lower treble and lower bass lines are doubled. But the size of the ensembles in each of the four songs is remarkably different, and only ' Vorgefühle' requires a normal symphony orchestra. In ' Seraphita', the only woodwinds are clarinets. Six of the same (mid-range) kind begin the piece playing a unison cantilena, an unheard of, plaintive, whining sound, then fan out to six parts. The articulation and volumes change with every note of the long-line legato melody, in correspondence with the mainly minor-second and minor-third ambitus of the intervallic construction. The new dimensions of dynamics and mode-of-attack opened up here, is one that Schoenberg did not pursue.
In fact, clarinets are the featured instrument in all of the Songs, playing in extraordinary combinations. Five of the only sixteen instruments in ' Alle, welche dich suchen' are clarinets representing three different ranges. In the third song, three bass clarinets are joined by a contrabass, adding new, richly dark colours to the orchestral palette. Three normal and one bass clarinet are required in the last song, and the clarinet colour still remains dominant. Heretofore, the art of instrumentation had been concerned chiefly with contrasts and mixtures, not with exploring the deployment of several of the same instruments on the same part, nor with the exploitation of family combinations.
In ' Seraphita', the strings do not include violas, and the 24 violins are not divided into the traditional firsts and seconds, but into smaller groups, with the important exception of two unison passages, one of them in the storm-music interlude, the other in the stratospheric concluding bars. The twelve cellos are divisi until their last twelve bars, which they play in unison. The basses, which play very little, nevertheless become the principal melodic voice in two places. Percussion instruments, most prominently the xylophone, are used only in ' Seraphita', where, also, the only brasses are three trombones, a single trumpet, and a tuba.
The Four Songs are at an opposite pole from Erwartung (1909) and Gurre-Lieder, Schoenberg's other great creation for female voice and orchestra. Whereas the text of the dramatic monologue Erwartung is comprised entirely of the thoughts and anacoluthons of a hysteric—the musical settings, correspondingly, to fragments and stops and starts—the texts of the Op. 22 Songs (the three by Rilke are beautiful poems in themselves) inspired long-line melodic phrases of a kind that Robert Schumann would have understood. But first of all the instrumental (six-clarinet) introduction to ' Seraphita' is itself the longest-line melody that Schoenberg had written since his earliest years.
The musical images evoked by the texts are remarkably traditional in kind. The cymbal-crashes, the loud, rapid, wide-interval bursts in the brass, and the jagged forte ones in the violins in ' Seraphita' are not different in genre from the storm music of Wagner. The setting of Rilke's beautiful line, "auf deiner Meere Einsamsein" ("the vastness of your oceans lone"), which begins with the recapitulation of the first three notes of the vocal part in ' Seraphita' —the songs are linked by the recurrence in each of the same or similar melodic cells—slowly rises in pitch with the word "Meere", then on the word "Einsamsein" falls in a great arc to the deepest vocal register.
In his 1932 analysis, Schoenberg acknowledges that the "poetry assisted my feelings, insights, occurrences, impressions." Let it be said that the musical emotion, during World War I's darkest days, is personal, in its feelings of resignation and agitation—conveyed by the orchestra at the beginning of ' Vorgefühle' ("I sense the winds which come and must endure them")—and of the sense of abandonment at the end of the same song, where the composer must have believed that the poem was addressed directly to him:
…I can already sense the storm, and surge like the sea.
And spread myself out and into myself downfall
and hurtle away and am all alone
In the great storm.
Chamber Symphony No. 1, Op. 9 (1906)
Introducing the composer's pre-atonal works, programme annotators often begin by attempting to explain the piece's anticipation of atonality, while at the same time tracing its antecedents in Tristan and Parsifal. But the single-movement Symphony requires total concentration on itself alone, and no part of the listener's mind, if he or she is to digest it fully, can be spared for musings about where the composer once was and where he is going. It is the densest, most compact and rapidly moving music up to its time (1906).
Schoenberg himself outlined the form in terms of rehearsal numbers in the score:
I Sonata-allegro (Beginning to No. 38)
II Scherzo (Nos. 38–60)
III Development (Nos. 60–77)
IV Adagio (Nos. 77–90)
V Recapitulation and Finale (Nos. 90–100)
I Sonata-allegro (Beginning to No. 38)
II Scherzo (Nos. 38–60)
III Development (Nos. 60–77)
IV Adagio (Nos. 77–90)
V Recapitulation and Finale (Nos. 90–100)
The overt Wagnerisms in the Adagio may seem surprising at this stage in Schoenberg's evolution, but the never-mentioned, though blindingly obvious, Beethoven ancestry is more germane. The propulsive power and the tug and pull of impending tonal-harmonic resolutions bring to mind the work of no other composer. So does the cohesiveness of different movements within a single one—the recapitulation of the Scherzo in the Finale of Beethoven's C minor Symphony —the repeated hammer blows near the end of Schoenberg's exposition in the passage for the horn up-beats to tutti chords, which recalls the repeated forte chords in the first movement of the Eroica.
Utterly new in Schoenberg are the sudden rhythmic interchanges in the Scherzo, the transferring of the time-value of the beat to a note of greater (or lesser) value, and the constantly changing tempi. No sooner is a steady pulsation established than the word "steigernd" — quickening, intensifying—appears, the mood begins to shift, and the music is soon charging ahead and off the emotional fever chart.
In later years Schoenberg claimed that the Symphony was "a first attempt to create a chamber orchestra". He might have added "and the last", since no one has subsequently composed anything comparable to it. A criticism sometimes leveled against the piece is that an ensemble of ten winds and five strings is inherently unbalanced. Schoenberg knew this, of course, but his fifteen instruments never play "one on one". In full ensemble episodes they are carefully doubled, which was the composer's chief means of obtaining balanced volumes, as well as differentiations of colour.
Instruments of different timbres play in unison in Bach cantatas. Similarly, in one triple forte unison passage near the beginning of the Symphony the upper woodwinds combine on a single line, producing a new, wonderfully plangent, sonority. Among the novel doublings, those of the flute and small clarinet in their lowest registers with the bassoon in a medium high one, and of a violin playing a fast triplet accompaniment figure pizzicato together with the piccolo playing it legato, must be mentioned. But it should also be said that some of Schoenberg's instrumental demands have become possible only with a new generation of virtuoso players, a bassoonist who can double-tongue groups of six notes at a metronomic 160 to the beat, a double-bassist whose treble harmonics are full tones at exact pitch instead of out-of-tune pipsqueaks, a violinist who executes wide intervals perfectly in tune in the top register—and with players who know the whole as well as their own parts. Only then does a coherent performance of the piece become a possibility.
Sung texts can be accessed at www.naxos.com/libretti/557523.htm
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