Schoenberg/Nureyev: Moondrunk (1921/77)

June 23, 2007

Here is Rudolf Nureyev’s interpretation of “Moondrunk,” the opening movement of Arnold Schoenberg’s classic, PIERROT LUNAIRE. Nureyev is magical in his treatment of a moonstruck clown. (For my non-new music readers, the vocal technique heard here is called “sprechstimme” or “speaking voice” where a dramatic style of speaking/singing is emulated through notation. This technique comes from early 20th century German cabaret tradition.)

“Moondrunk” from PIERROT LUNAIRE (1921) by Arnold Schoenberg.

The wine which through the eyes we drink
Flows nightly from the moon in torrents,
And as a spring-tide overflows
The far and distant land.
Desires terrible and sweet
Unnumbered drift in floods abounding.
The wine which through the eyes we drink
Flows nightly from the moon in torrents.
The poet, in an ecstasy,
Drinks deeply from the holy chalice,1
To heaven lifts up his entranced
Head, and reeling quaffs and drains down
The wine which through the eyes we drink

Albert Giraud

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Rebcamuse June 23, 2007 at 10:04 pm

Definitely a new take on traditional pole dancing. ;-) Great find!!

Daniel Wolf June 24, 2007 at 12:29 am

Roger –

It’s a bit misleading to identify Sprechstimme with a cabaret tradition. Schoenberg did indeed have a connection to Cabaret (he arranged for a Cabaret and also composed a number of songs, revived by Marni Nixon in the Monday Evening Concerts in the 1970′s), and while Viennese Cabaret singing was more speech-like than art song, the more immediate predecessor is the Sprechstimme as practiced in the Melodrama, an art music genre with origins in the late 19th century, in which the rhythm but not pitches of the spoken voice were typically notated. Schoenberg himself identified Pierrot as a Melodrama. Humperdinck was probably the leading composer of the Melodrama and there are notable Melodrama passages in several works by Weill.

Roger Bourland June 24, 2007 at 5:54 am

Thanks Daniel, I knew you’d be able to expand on this. You’re right in pointing out that melodrama was NOT notated. Even Schoenberg abandoned this overly difficult practice later. I seem to remember his Napoleon piece has three lines for hi med and lo with the rhythms precisely notated.

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