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University of Iowa News Release

Feb. 20, 2004

Iowa Chamber Music Coalition Will Perform 'Pierrot Lunaire' March 2

The Iowa Chamber Music Coalition, a collaborative effort among musicians across Iowa, will present one of the most influential musical works of the 20th century, Arnold Schoenberg's "Pierrot Lunaire," in a free concert at 8 p.m. Tuesday, March 2 in Clapp Recital Hall on the University of Iowa campus.

The Iowa Chamber Music Coalition (ICMC) involves music faculty at the UI, Grinnell College and other institutions around the state. The ICMC was founded to foster good relations among colleagues through performances of chamber music.

Performers for the March 2 presentation of "Pierrot Lunaire" will be Susan Bender, soprano; Eugene Gaub, piano and music director; Nancy MacFarland Gaub, violin; Nathalie Cruden, viola; Kara Santos, flute and piccolo; Christine Bellomy, clarinet and bass clarinet; and David Evenchick, cello.

In the collaborative spirit of the ICMC, the performance brings together faculty and students from the UI and Grinnell College. Eugene and Nancy McFarland Gaub and Cruden are members of the faculty at Grinnell; Santos, Bellomy and Evenchick are graduate students in the UI School of Music; and Bender, an alumna of the UI, teaches at the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point.

One of the iconic works of the early 20th century, "Pierrot lunaire" was composed in 1912, after Schoenberg had abandoned traditional tonal composition that relies upon a consistent key center as a means of organization, but before he had developed the 12-tone "serial" style of composition that dominated much musical composition in the mid-20th century.

The piece is a setting of 21 German translations of poems by the Belgian poet Albert Giraud, grouped in three sections of seven songs each. The score calls for an instrumental ensemble of five or six players and a singer who performs in "Sprechstimme," a semi-melodic style of speaking voice that Schoenberg initiated. The accompanying instruments are used in a different combination for each of the 21 songs.

Although reviews of the first performance of "Pierrot lunaire" were extremely negative, the work has been very influential on later composers, and it has come to be regarded as a masterpiece of the highly emotional expressionist style in music.

"Pierrot" was one of the first works to use a mixed instrumental ensemble, as opposed to a standard chamber music group such as the string quartet, the woodwind quintet or the piano trio. As an example of the work's influence, use of a mixed ensemble has since become accepted practice, starting soon after the score became known by other composers.

What's more, the specific instrumental combination of the "Pierrot" score -- violin/viola (written for one player, but often shared by two), cello, clarinet/bass clarinet, flute/piccolo and piano -- has been used by many later composers, both for its effectiveness and as an homage to Schoenberg.

Sprechstimme, considered at the time to be a bizarre and baffling distortion of the singing voice, has become a recognized, if highly specialized, vocal technique. Its highly expressive qualities were exploited by numerous 20th-century composers.

The score's greatest strength is probably its expression of Giraud's disturbing and highly emotional poetry. The title -- loosely translated as "Moon-struck Pierrot" -- refers to the lovelorn clown from the tradition of improvised comedy known as "commedia dell'arte." "Lunaire" has the same derivation as the English words "lunatic" and "looney," and indeed the text seems to imply mental breakdown and a twisted view of reality. The claustrophobic, distorted qualities of the text are especially well expressed by Schoenberg's music.

Gaub explains in notes written for the performance, "Part I introduces us to a very unsettling sonic world in which Pierrot, intoxicated by the moon, fantasizes about love, sex and religion. Part II becomes darker, grotesque, even blasphemous. In Part III, Pierrot becomes nostalgic and journeys home to Bergamo. The final song, 'O Ancient Scent,' seems to be pervaded by nostalgia for tonality itself. It is also the only song in which all the instruments participate.

" 'Pierrot Lunaire' is permeated by bizarre Christian imagery, perhaps most notably in the work's centerpiece, the 11th song, 'Red Mass.' Here Pierrot, in the guise of a priest, tears out his own heart and offers it for Holy Communion. The ninth and 14th songs -- 'Prayer to Pierrot' and 'The Crosses'-- are other instances of twisted religious symbolism."

The School of Music is part of the Division of Performing Arts in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

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