Schoenberg’s Wider Circle comes to a close


A small crowd of music lovers gathered in Stretansky Hall on Thursday night to attend the final concert of the “Schoenberg’s Wider Circle” concert series. Although three weeks of music were featured on the program, audience members were anxious to hear the second half
of the concert: a performance of Arnold Schoenberg’s “Pierrot Lunaire.” When asked what came to his mind when he heard the name “Schoenberg,” senior Joshua Druckenmiller’s first response was “Sprechstimme.” This was an apt answer as “Pierrot Lunaire” is well known for its employment of the technique. Druckenmiller went on to express that atonal music does not generally interest him, but he acknowledged that learning, performing, and even listening to atonal music is a “fantastic challenge to take on.” Manuel Huembes, a firstyear, was drawn to the concert by curiosity. Huembes admits that atonal music did not greatly interest him before coming to college, but since arriving at Susquehanna he has made several friends who are enthusiasts of twentieth century classical music. Huembes said, “Live music is incredible and that seeing a live performance helps [me] better appreciate the music.” The first work on the evening’s program was the film
score “Fourteen Ways to Describe Rain” by Hanns Eisler, a student of Schoenberg. Associate
Professor of Music David Steinau stated that the piece was a birthday present from the
composer to his mentor. The instrumentation Eisler used for “Fourteen Ways” wasa direct reference to Schoenberg’s “Pierrot Luniare,” an instrumentation now known as “Pierrot Ensemble.” The chamber group was comprised of Adjunct Professor Leslie Cullen on flute, Adjunct Professor Colleen Hartung on clarinet, Associate Professor Jennifer Sacher Wiley on violin/viola, Adjunct Professor Andrew Rammon on cello and Associate Professor Naomi Niskala on piano. The group was conducted by Associate Professor Patrick Long while Joris Iven’s film “Regen” (Rain) was projected above the performers. To complete the first half
of the concert, Hartung, Rammon, and Niskala performed Alexander Zemlinsky’s “Trio
for Piano, Clarinet and Cello in D minor.” Zemlinsky was Schoenberg’s only formal teacher in composition and his musical works were in the style of the late Romantic period. Such a work was probably a relief to concert-goers who were more acquainted with tonal music. After a short intermission, the musicians reconvened on stage for the spectacle of the concert. Long took a few moments to speak about “Pierrot Lunaire” before its performance. In his lecture, he explained that Schoenberg was striving to produce a work which the world had never heard before. Schoenberg achieved this goal by implementing what we now label the “Viennese trichord.” This dissonant chord is scattered throughout “Pierrot Lunaire” and is how the composer managed to create an atonal work. To answer the question of why Schoenberg produced this work, Long offered three explanations.
The first was to resist the emerging “kitsch,” which was becoming prevalent at the beginning of the century. Recording technology was in its infancy at this time and could not support the duration or nuance of art music. Secondly, Schoenberg sought to make history and, as Long pointed out, managed to do so. The final reason was to explore the psyche. Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung were becoming household names around Schoenberg’s time and their ideas of the subconscious would soon take Europe by storm.
Schoenberg used 21 translated poems of French poet Albert Giraud to present images
of violence and lust. These attributes of human nature’s “dark side” were prevalent across early European art movements, especially where the works of Freud and Jung had disseminated. The ensemble for the performance of “Pierrot Lunaire” consisted of the same musicians and conductor from “Fourteen Ways to Describe Rain” with the addition of two more individuals. Senior Ryan Woodward played bass clarinet. Woodward expressed that what makes the work so difficult to prepare is the unidiomatic writing for each instrument. This is nowhere more apparent than for the vocalist who performs the part of the “reciter” who must use a technique called “Sprechstimme.” Although pitches are indicated, the vocalist recites rather than sings the poetry.The reciter for the concert was Bernadette Boerckel, director of curriculum and instruction for Warrior
Run School District. Boerckel said, “I have never spent more hours on a single work like I have for this one.” In such a difficult work, Boerckel gave a compelling performance. The score for “Pierrot Lunaire” includes an instruction for the vocalist, which asks that they “do not interpret too much for they will only get in the way.” In this way, Schoenberg was using the vocalist as just another instrument. Boerckel’s performance, however, may not have been exactly to the composer’s liking due to her loose adherence to Schoenberg’s instruction. Boerckel said “[This was] the most incredible experience
of a lifetime.”