If we’re to not use adjectives to describe Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, the next best option seems to be verbs, and to use these verbs to say what the piece does. This “parlour game” seems to be based on the idea of experiencing and engaging the music, rather than attempting to define it from the outside looking in. There are things, and the things in the piece do certain things. Nouns that “do” verbs is the only way to elaborate on the music in place without using adjectives. I think it applies well to this particular musical piece; because if you are dealing with a piece of art that is different than the norm, and you can’t “describe” what is happening, you can experience it and explain what it is doing in your perspective.
The introduction flutters around, seemingly twittering about with an occasional banging of keys, with a woman’s voice that interjects and punches through the noise of the piano. The instruments change their positions from being background noise to being leading characters in any given instant. The music clashes with itself. It seems to refuse to harmonize, it refuses to flow, and the woman refuses to guide the music along. The flute refuses to be ignored. They, more than the piano, and more than the other instruments, dominate their sections as they pierce the space. The piano is the life of the music, without a doubt. Whenever there is a lull the piano carries the piece along. The woman, early on, disrupts the music while the piano continues to carry it and push the piece forward. She fluctuates between singing and speaking. At times she projects and at times, she merely is present. There are times where the piece floats more in certain places, and the flutes make this effect. It should be said that piano is capable of doing more, however. It can be a force and it can be forgettable, depending on what surrounds it. When the piano bangs, the mood changes aggressively, and the flutes bring it back to a place where the music can be a calming agent.
Oof. I’m not sure if this is an easier or more difficult way to approach music. In certain places, using verbs is the best way to describe what is happening. The flow of the piece is so disjointed, and in some places so abrupt, that the only way to explain what is happening is to just say what is happening, rather than try to add an extra layer of confusion and disconnect by describing the actions. I think that the lesson that can be gained from this exercise is that music is much more of an action than a subject, and that it “does” more than it “is.” The way that the woman performs seems to accurately depict the effects that Schoenberg mentions in the Albright anthology.
“It is never the task of performers to recreate the mood and character of the individual pieces on the basis of the meaning of the words, but rather solely on the basis of the music… where the performer finds it lacking, he should abstain from presenting something that was not intended by the author. He would not be adding, but rather detracting.” (38-39)
The music is the star, the music is the backbone, and the woman is merely there to play a part. Her words seem to be meaningless, partially because I can’t understand them, but more so because it is more important “how” she says them, and how those words interact with the music, rather than what is actually being communicated. The “Sprechstimme mode of Pierrot Lunaire” (39) serves as a perfect mode to have singers be a supplement, rather than the feature or main event of the piece. It’s interesting that the singer has to differentiate between what Schoenberg describes as the “singing tone,” and the “speaking tone.” She seems to do a fantastic job of this, and it has the effect of really complementing the tone of the music. Harsher music, non-harmonic sections, places that seem to “bang” go very well with the spoken tone, and the areas where we hear flutes and softer instruments flow more smoothly work very well with the singing tone.