Pierrot Lunaire

Pierrot Lunaire
Melodrama by Arnold Schoenberg
Blaues Selbstportrait.jpg
Self-portrait by Schoenberg, 1910
FullDreimal sieben Gedichte aus Albert Girauds "Pierrot lunaire"
OpusOp. 21
StyleFree atonality
TextAlbert Giraud's Pierrot lunaire
DurationAbout 35 to 40 minutes
ScoringPierrot ensemble plus narrator
Date16 October 1912 (1912-10-16)
LocationBerlin Choralion-Saal
ConductorArnold Schoenberg
PerformersAlbertine Zehme (voice)
Hans W. de Vries (flute)
Karl Essberger (clarinet)
Jakob Malinjak (violin)
Hans Kindler (cello)
Eduard Steuermann (piano)

Dreimal sieben Gedichte aus Albert Girauds "Pierrot lunaire" ("Three times Seven Poems from Albert Giraud's 'Pierrot lunaire'"), commonly known simply as Pierrot Lunaire, Op. 21 ("Moonstruck Pierrot" or "Pierrot in the Moonlight"), is a melodrama by Arnold Schoenberg. It is a setting of 21 selected poems from Albert Giraud's cycle of the same name as translated to German by Otto Erich Hartleben.

The work is written for narrator (voice-type unspecified in the score, but traditionally performed by a soprano) who delivers the poems in the sprechstimme style accompanied by a small instrumental ensemble. Schoenberg had previously used a combination of spoken text with instrumental accompaniment, called "melodrama", in the summer-wind narrative of the Gurre-Lieder,[1] which was a fashionable musical style popular at the end of the nineteenth century.[2] Though the music is atonal, it does not use Schoenberg's twelve-tone technique, which he did not first use until 1921.

Pierrot lunaire is among Schoenberg's most celebrated and frequently performed works. Its instrumentation – flute, clarinet, violin, cello, and piano with standard doublings and in this case with the addition of a vocalist – is an important ensemble in 20th- and 21st-century classical music and is referred to as a Pierrot ensemble.

The piece was premiered at the Berlin Choralion-Saal on October 16, 1912, with Albertine Zehme as the vocalist. A typical performance lasts about 35 to 40 minutes.


Ensemble who premiered Pierrot lunaire.

The work originated in a commission by Albertine Zehme, a former actress, for a cycle for voice and piano, setting a series of poems by the Belgian writer Albert Giraud. The verses had been first published in 1884 and later translated into German by Otto Erich Hartleben. Zehme had previously performed a 'melodrama' by composer Otto Vrieslander based on the translated poems. But, according to Eduard Steuermann, student of Schoenberg and pianist of the premiere, "the music was not strong enough, and someone advised her to approach Schoenberg..."[3]

Schoenberg began work on March 12 and completed the piece on July 9, 1912, having expanded the forces to an ensemble consisting of flute (doubling on piccolo), clarinet in A (doubling on bass clarinet and clarinet in B), violin (doubling on viola), cello, and piano.

After forty rehearsals, Schoenberg and Zehme (in Columbine dress) gave the premiere at the Berlin Choralion-Saal on October 16, 1912. Reaction was mixed. According to Anton Webern, some in the audience were whistling and laughing, but in the end "it was an unqualified success".[4] There was some criticism of blasphemy in the texts, to which Schoenberg responded, "If they were musical, not a single one would give a damn about the words. Instead, they would go away whistling the tunes".[5]