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In 1912, our friend Arnold Schönberg wrote a piece called Pierrot Lunaire, for a soprano soloist and a small instrumental ensemble. It’s a bunch of songs on poems by Albert Giraud, only translated from French into German. As if that weren’t enough of a travesty, he also directed the soprano soloist to use a technique called Sprechstimme, which is like half-singing, half-speaking. It kind of goes against the way classical singers are trained, and ends up sounding similar to how your average shower singer really sounds, without knowing that s/he is doing some high-fallutin’ advanced music technique.
I took a friend of mine to hear a performance of this piece at U.C. Berkeley several years ago. He referred to it ever after as “that German appendectomy you made me sit through.” It’s a really cool piece though, if you can get over the oddness of it — I swear!
Anyway, the only reason I bring it up is, the particular set of instruments Schönberg chose has become a standard ensemble for composers to write for. It consists of flute, clarinet, violin, cello, and piano. Somewhere along the way somebody added percussion to the mix, and a weapon of mass destruction was born.
I’m not sure what possessed me to write for this ensemble today, because writing a piece in one day for one or two instruments is enough — six is just asking for trouble. But I guess I was feeling troubled today. The news has been bothering me… in spite of a recent event that should feel like an early Christmas present in my opinion, certain things are getting me down, like this stupid war and the hypocrisy of politicians of all stripes. So I wanted to write something that simulated beating your head against the wall, ’cause sometimes that’s what I feel like doing.
I also really like music that sounds machine-like, only the machine isn’t functioning 100% properly — you can hear little glitches here and there (similar to the broken clock idea I talked about on Day 6). Very true-to-life, some days…
Click play to listen:
Thanks for listening!