Pierrot Lunaire (1912) by Arnold Schoenberg
for soprano, flute, clarinet, violin, cello, and piano

Schoenberg's early music was clearly marked by the style of the late nineteenth century, and influences of Brahms, Mahler, and others can be seen in pieces such as his Verklärte Nacht. But as his compositional style developed, it became more concise and contrapuntally intricate. At the same time, Schoenberg's chromaticism intensified to the point that any strong tonal focus disappeared. Such works as Pierrot Lunaire are in a fully atonal style. The music of this period is also marked by a style that is referred to as expressionist, and Schoenberg had contact with, and a great deal of admiration for, the expressionist painters and writers (Schoenberg himself painted in an Expressionist style). These ideals can be seen in the dark and dreamlike atmosphere conveyed in Pierrot Lunaire, based on the expressionist poetry of Albert Giraud. The kinds of internal conflicts we associate with Freud and his school of psychoanalysis are played out in exquisite musical detail.

Arnold Schoenberg wrote Pierrot Lunaire in 1912 at the request of actress Albertine Zehme, whose aquaintence the composer had made soon after he moved from Vienna to Berlin in 1911. Pierrot Lunaire ("Pierrot in the Moonlight", or "Moonstruck Pierrot") consists of three groups of seven poems each, each poem being of two four-line verses followed by a five-line verse, and each begins and ends with the same line. Schoenberg composed Pierrot very quickly, all but two of the pieces were composed between March 12 and May 30, and fourteen of them were each written within a day.

Schoenberg here plays puppeteer, presenting through Pierrot (a traditionally love-sick and petulant character from European theatre) an array of contradictions: the instrumentalists are soloists and orchestra at the same time. Pierrot is both hero and fool, acting in a drama that is also a concert piece, performing cabaret as high art and vice versa, and doing it with song that is also speech. The latter is one of the most famous things about Pierrot Lunaire: the use of Sprechgesang (literally "speech-song", a means of dramatic declamation first used in German opera at the end of the 19th century) allows Schoenberg to veer freely from song and speech.

[from program for November 12, 2001 concert]