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Pierrot lunaire, Op. 21, No. 8 “Nacht” (1912)

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Luis Simmonds

on 5 March 2014

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Transcript of Pierrot lunaire, Op. 21, No. 8 “Nacht” (1912)

Pierrot lunaire, Op. 21, No. 8 “Nacht” (1912)
More background...
In 1912 Schoenberg selected twenty-one of the poems to create a
song cycle
-a set of vocal pieces that are connected in some way, sometimes by musical motifs, and sometimes by the text.
Some of the songs have religious connotations that might be viewed as sacrilegious.
Schoenberg divides his twenty-one songs into three sets of seven each, so the eighth song, “Nacht” is the first piece in the second set.
About the song
“Nacht” translates to “night” (Yes, I am stating the obvious)
The poem implies that it seems like night to the inebriated Pierrot because the sun has been obscured by the giant wings of enormous, black moths.
These terrifying creatures have not only succeeded in blocking out the sun, but they are also headed toward human hearts—truly, this is ominous, Expressionist poetry.
Yes, more information
Schoenberg has a subtle way of creating unity in the course of the song
He indicates the connecting device in the subtitle of the piece: “
Passacaglia.

Passacaglia-
an old term, stemming from the Baroque period, describes a variation form in which new melodies appear over a repeating bass line.
Yes
Schoenberg’s
passacaglia
bass line is a tiny motif, only three notes long. It consists of a rising minor third followed by a descending major third, usually using the pitches E-G-E.
Because it appears over and over again, we could also describe it as an ostinato.
Schoenberg uses only the lowest instruments of his ensemble: the piano, the cello, and the bass clarinet.
After presenting the ostinato motif at the start of the song, they all prolong their last pitches at the end of the short introduction, using a device called a
fermata
.
Fermata
-
a symbol of musical notation indicating that the note should be prolonged beyond its normal duration or note value would indicate
The players frequently produce a trembling effect through rapid oscillations, and at times the cellist is asked to play
on the
bridge
-g
lassy and chilly sound.

Background
Madness is a main theme
Title translates as “Moonstruck Pierrot.”
The name “Pierrot” is drawn from a traditional commedia dell’arte character.
In 1884, the Symbolist poet Albert Giraud published a set of fifty poems in French that described various (mis)adventures of Pierrot
Although “Nacht” is full of Modernist twists, Schoenberg does employ older devices as well, such as the occasional use of
word-painting
–setting the music so that it illustrates the literal meaning of a particular word.
ALMOST DONE WITH THE PIECE!!
Expressionism
Artistic movement that confronts human reality, rather than escaping from it.
Seeks for emotional responses (sometimes distorted)
A common feature of this is that reflects uneasiness
Characteristics
Seldom relaxing to view
Colors are often non-naturalistic
Shapes are exaggerated or distorted
Reflects destruction of the traditional trust between humans and world

Arnold Schoenberg
Expressionists care about conveying heightened, extreme feelings.
Sometimes the result seems clumsy or unskilled
Approach as “a violent storm of emotion beating up from the unconscious mind.”
Way of conveying “inner reality,” or “truth”
Truth that demanded emancipation from the ‘lie’ of convention and tradition.
MORE ABOUT EXPRESSIONISM
Most prominent Expressionist painters worked in Germany and Austria. Examples: Franz Marc, Max Beckmann, Wassily Kandinsky, and Egon Schiele.
The Scream (1893), was painted by a Norwegian, Edvard Munch.
Munch returned to that startling image multiple times, twice in oil paint, twice in pastels, and in many prints and woodcuts.

Arnold Schoenberg, also painted; he used himself as a model for a number of self-portraits, producing images that sometimes seem stressed or even anguished.
He thought that, “Art comes not from ability but from necessity”.
MUSICAL CHARACTERISTICS
Listening to Expressionist music might be unsettling.
For many people, Expressionism = avantgarde -rejection of the past and attempt to create new and innovative music
Often avoids clear cadences and balanced phrases.
Rhythm can be erratic, contributing to a destabilized feeling, or it might be forceful and inescapable

In nearly all Expressionist works, dissonance will dominate over consonance.
Expressionist composers can employ common-practice harmony or atonality
Many Expressionist compositions are based on texts that themselves are Expressionistic; the circumstances of unhappy people would clearly justify distressing music.
Characteristics
As with visual Expressionism, the leading composers of musical Expressionism worked in close proximity to each other, with Vienna as their hub.
Arnold Schoenberg is usually regarded as the earliest composer to employ this style
One of his landmark achievements was Erwartung (1909).
Composers
Text expression-
the composer might make very general associations between the poetry and the musical setting, such as selecting the minor mode when composing a song about a funeral.
Examples: Rise
Word-painting in Natch:
“Duft” (fragrance). A melodic jump might not seem to convey the exact meaning of “fragrance,” but the full poetic phrase is “Steigt ein Duft”—“arises a fragrance”—so the
leap upward
depicts the verb.
“verschwiegen”—which, as noted earlier, is the only word in this song to be performed by conventional singing rather than by Sprechstimme—can be translated as “mutely.” There is a prolonged silence by a fermata.
Word Painting
Last Facts
The impact of Pierrot lunaire on subsequent composers of the Modern era cannot be overestimated. Even Igor Stravinsky—seldom one to have a kind word for anything written by his rival Schoenberg—called this cycle “the solar plexus of the twentieth century.”
Structure: Intro, A B A C A, Coda.
Full transcript