Arnold Schönberg’s Pierrot Lunaire reminds me about how, in my younger days, I tried many people’s patience. In the summer of 1976, I was listening to music like this. I hung around with Thom Klem, who was very well-read in art, literature and history, and Eric T, who was mathematically gifted. I developed a disdain for most conventional manners and customs, thinking that all intellectual pursuits were more important than archaic and bourgeois values like family, emotions and tradition. So it was logical that I would start listening to atonal and twelve-tone music.
Schoenberg came from Vienna and he began his career as a composer as the heir to the hyper-romanticism of Wagner and Mahler. Wanting to make music even more intellectual, he came up with the idea of making “atonal” or “antitonal” music. In that type of music the composer rejects all notions of key, meter, and traditional harmony. One of the best example of this is Pierrot Lunaire in which Schönberg made strict notations that the singer was supposed to utter each syllable at the appropriate pitch, but not string them together as a song. The words for the “songs” come from seven poems about madness by a Belgian symbolist poet (Albert Giraud). Fun stuff. But at the time, it suited my mood perfectly.
When my daughters were pre-teens about 13 years ago, I put on a copy of Pierrot Lunaire after dinner while we were sitting around having dessert. In about 2 minutes everyone had cleared away and I found myself alone. This music is challenging at best but I could see it somehow summing up the zeitgeist of a continent poised to rush off into that most insane waste of human life, World War I. Still, there seemed to be a lesson here. I found myself alone listening to this piece of music. What an un-human thing to do to music–make it so intellectually remote that it serves to separate rather than bring people together.
Still, I think it is interesting exercise to listen to it–once.
Wikipedia Entry on Pierrot Lunaire
Download MP3 or buy CD of Pierrot lunaire on Amazon