Moondrunk: Pierrot Lunaire at the Edge of Modernity

Click play for the first episode of No Sounds Are Forbidden.  “Moondrunk: Pierrot Lunaire at the Edge of Modernity” starts at the beginning — or beginning — of the avant-garde, when Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire shocked the music world, and ensured that nothing would ever sound the same again.

The ensemble following the premier performance of Pierrot Lunaire in 1912.
The ensemble following the premier performance of Pierrot Lunaire in 1912. Albertine Zehme is at center, with Schoenberg to her right.

The European concert season of 1912-1913 signaled the end of the old cultural order, even before the anciens régîmes marched into a suicidal conflict in the trenches of the Great War. In May 1913, Paris had rioted at the premiere of Igor Stravinsky’s Sacre du Printemps, the previous October, Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire served notice in Berlin that the old practices, conventions and tonalities of European music were to be shattered by a the modernist avant-garde.

Why “Avant-Garde?”

coverThere are those awkward moments – first dates, first grad school seminars, standing around at a conference mixer uncomfortably trying to find something to talk about not related to work or politics – when the question of musical taste invariably arises: “So what kind of music do you like to listen to?” I ask this question of my students, as a teaching moment, in the first class of the history of American popular music. They mumble, fidget awkwardly, glance uncomfortably around the room.

“What kind of music do you like?” is, in fact, an impossible question for all but that small minority of people who listen to the same two-or-three songs on shuffle. On one hand, it presumes that one’s tastes are narrow enough to come down to a single category. Already today, I have listened to Prince, Joy Division, Charlie Byrd, Anouschka Shankar, Shostakovich, and Luciano Berio; I’m not sure what category they all fall into except maybe “music.” On the other hand, it presumes that categories can be easily defined at all.

Continue reading “Why “Avant-Garde?””

Episode 1 Playlist: Moondrunk

schoenberg_quartetsArnold Schoenberg, String Quartet No. 2, Op. 10, IV – Entrückung (Sehr Langsam), New Vienna String Quartet, with Evelyn Lear

The Complete String Quartets, Philips Classics ‎– 289 464 046-2


schoenberg_craftArnold Schoenberg, Pierrot Lunaire, Part I, Anja Silja, with the 20th Century Classics Ensemble, directed by Robert Craft.

Pierrot Lunaire/Herzgewächse/Four Orchestral Songs/Chamber Symphony No. 1, Naxos ‎– 8.557523


schoenberg_eotvosArnold Schoenberg, Pierrot Lunaire, Part II, Phyllis Bryn-Julson, with the Ensemble Modern, directed by Peter Eotvos.

Pierrot Lunaire / Chamber Symphony, Op. 9, RCA Victor Red Seal ‎– 09026 61179 2


schoenberg_boulezArnold Schoenberg, Pierrot Lunaire, Part III, Yvonne Minton, with the Ensemble Intercontemporain directed by Pierre Boulez.

Pierre Boulez Conducts Schoenberg, Sony Classical ‎– 88765429572


stravinsky_boulezIgor Stravinsky, Le Sacre du Printemps, The Cleveland Orchestra, Pierre Boulez.

Stravinsky: Pétrouchka/Le Sacre Du Printemps, Deutsche Grammophon ‎– 435 769-2