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Schoenberg: Pierrot Lunaire; Herzgewächse; Ode to Napoleon

Schoenberg: Pierrot Lunaire; Herzgewächse; Ode to Napoleon

1 Jan 1998
4.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review

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Product details

  • Original Release Date: 1 Jan. 1998
  • Release Date: 24 Aug. 1998
  • Label: Decca (UMO)
  • Copyright: ℗© 1998 Deutsche Grammophon GmbH, Berlin
  • Record Company Required Metadata: Music file metadata contains unique purchase identifier. Learn more.
  • Total Length: 52:23
  • Genres:
  • ASIN: B001N5DGBG
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 163,274 in Albums (See Top 100 in Albums)
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By KaleHawkwood TOP 100 REVIEWER on 24 Feb. 2016
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
This original issue of these three pieces by Schoenberg conducted by Boulez is a fine thing to own, with its comprehensive booklet and full libretti.
I am enamoured of two-thirds of this disc. The famous title piece is a totally beguiling 33-minute work to a text by Belgian poet Albert Giraud, sung-spoken here ('fur eine Sprechstimme' as designated) by versaitle soprano Christine Schaefer in what to me is an almost unimprovable performance. I could have listened to it for another half hour, so beguiling is it.
Next comes the three-minute Herzewachse for Soprano, Celesta, harmonium & harp, to a text by Maeterlinck. It's a lyrical and lovely miniature.
The final work, Ode to Napoleon Buonaparte is odd, to say the least: a recitation of Byron's poem for baritone and string quartet. Despite the pleasant enough string backing, I found it close to unendurable. It doesn't help that the vocal of David Pittman-Jennings is abrasive and unlovable. I simply fail to see the point of it. As should be obvious I rather like Schoenberg, but occasionally he can try the patience of even the most devoted listener, as - to my ears, anyway - he does here.
No matter, you still get 36 minutes of brave and, in its way, beautiful music, and that's just about enough. The late Pierre Boulez is a pair of safe hands, and Schaefer shines.

Reservedly recommended.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars 21 reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Masterpiece 11 Oct. 2011
By scholarboy - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
Pierrot Lunaire is one of (along with Erwartung) the greatest examples of German Expressionism, and of the most precise and concise application of sounds to ideas. In that way, it "expresses" what the words mean, more than any other musical genre was able to do up to that point. In many ways, it is the German answer to French Impressionism, both in painting and music. Yet in somewhat opposing but still complimentary ways, German Expressionism, via Schoenberg, was able to tie musical meaning, ultra-musical meaning and musical structure together in the most profound way, and here Schoenberg is particularly the master of those forms. There is a visual element, a sense of place, not just sound, that could be seen in so many early German films, such as the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari; in these pieces Schoenberg's ability to conjure up such images is to me what makes him such a truly great composer. And this is, again for me, the greatest performance of Pierrot, and one of the great performances of any piece in the twentieth century repertoire.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Pallid, Disappointing Pierrot 9 Oct. 2016
By jt52 - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
I’ve enjoyed the series of Anton Webern discs Pierre Boulez made for DG, part of the same general series as this recording of “Pierrot Lunaire.” Though they lacked some of the tension and inherent emotion within Webern’s music, their precision, technical assurance and aesthetic beauty overcame their emotional dryness. Boulez’s “Pierrot” reflects the same performance approach, but instead generates a pallid and pedestrian final result. The mix of expressionist horror and burlesque humor in Pierrot’s “7X3” cycle is removed surgically, leaving a series of perfect song miniatures that don’t have much impact – or interest.

Comparison with the classic Jan De Gaetani recording leaves the performance from Boulez and soprano Christine Schafer wanting. De Gaetani gives us a melodramatic version of the cycle, committed and extreme in bringing out its frightening and burlesque elements. Schafer instead is restrained and the whole effort is fussy and academic, as if the initial impulse that inspired Schoenberg has dissipated into thoughts of pitch cells and extensively rehearsed playing of the cycle’s complex rhythms. For me, the De Gaetani was the reference recording of Pierrot” before this Boulez disc was released in 1998, and it remains so afterwards. A less well-known version which shares the De Gaetani’s vivid qualities is the more recent release from Marianne Pousseur and conducted by Philippe Herreweghe, a rewarding version from an unexpected source.

Schafer and Boulez have also included a short expressionist song named “Herzgewachse”, from 1911, the year before “Pierrot” was written. This was my first time hearing “Herzgewachse” and I found it worthwhile. It is more precious than “Pierrot” and so I found Boulez’s conducting style works pretty well. The disc concludes with a longer twelve-tone work Schoenberg wrote in California in 1942, the “Ode to Napoleon Bonaparte.” Like some of the other reviewers, I found the Ode ugly, and it is entirely irrelevant to my world.

Sound engineering is very good, but this is a disappointing effort which shows Boulez unable to adapt his very strong musical personality to music that comes from a very different impulse.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The soft, fluffy side of mature Schoenberg 7 April 2010
By Christopher Culver - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
Though the long song cycle that is "Pierrot Lunaire" might be the big draw of this DG disc that features some of Arnold Schoenberg's music performed by soprano Christiane Schaefer and the Ensemble Intercontemporain cond. Pierre Boulez, the piece I recommend the strongest is the shortest. "Herzgewäsche" op. 20 for soprano, piano, harp and celesta (1991) is three minutes of lovely, gentle music that is the aural equivalent of eating rich chocolate. The soprano begins in the depths with this setting of Maeterlinck, but as the work proceeds she climbs higher, ending the piece with a glorious high note that might be conventional but is too sublime to be called cliche. Whenever those tiresome claims arise that Schoenberg turned to the avant-garde because he couldn't write music that is simply beautiful, "Herzgewäsche" stands as a strong refutation.

"Pierrot Lunaire" (1912) is a setting of 21 poems by Albert Giraud for female voice and chamber ensemble. The scoring is novel, with piano, violin (doubling viola), cello, flute (doubling piccolo), and clarinet (doubling bass clarinet), violinist, flutist. The recital of its text employs the technique called Sprechstimme, whose interpretation is controversial, though Schoenberg allowed great freedom. Here Christine Schaefer chooses to speak in most passages but sing at moments of great expressiveness. "Pierrot Lunaire" is not among my favourite Schoenberg pieces, but what makes it a noteworthy achievement is how very expressive it is. This is not an abstract song cycle like Webern's late works, but rather Schoenberg's music is tied to the text, only more intense than anything the Romantic era could come up with with its prettifying conventions.

The "Ode to Napolean Buonaparte" op. 41 for baritone and piano quintet (1942) is a late work in the twelve-tone idiom. Its presence here shows just how true Schoenberg remained to his already-established personal style even as he pursued a new theoretical rigour. The music is quite fine if you like the twelve-tone technique as practiced by the Second Viennese School -- it ends with a waltz, showing just how rooted in turn-of-the-century Austria the music of Schoenberg remained in spite of his fresh harmonic language. And indeed, it doesn't sound like any radical departure from the days of "Pierrot Lunaire" for all its theoretical rigour. Still, I am slightly irked by the setting of the English text. Schoenberg learnt English late and imperfectly, and he had a bad feel for the flow of this language -- I have the same complaint about his otherwise amazing piece "A Survivor for Warsaw".

None of these three pieces are among my favourite Schoenberg works. Still, "Pierrot Lunaire" is a pivotal work in 20th century music, and the EIC and Boulez give a flawless performance in DG's crystal-clear sound.
5.0 out of 5 stars Marvelous 9 Jun. 2011
By G.D. - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
Well, what can I say. If you ever doubted the captivating expressive intensity, drama and memorability of Schönberg's Pierrot Lunaire this disc will convince you otherwise, and if you aren't convinced I suspect it will because you have already decided that "atonal" music is a dead end and couldn't possibly have produced anything really riveting. With the Ensemble InterContemporain for his second (or third?) recording of the work, Boulez achieves a sharper, clearer and more biting version; intense, sometimes deliberately harsh but with an enormous range of expressive resources - it captures the work's strange hovering between the music hall and the concert hall perfectly. Christine Schäfer contributes a well-neigh ideal take on the vocal part. It is (generally) sprechgesang,but her tone is rich, full, clear and gorgeous, and she doesn't avoid some beautifully sung tones where appropriate. The overall result is intensely dramatic, vehement, stirring, and occasionally gorgeous.

Even though Schäfer's Pierrot gets the star billing, this version of the Ode to Napoleon is no less successful. David Pittman-Jennings sounds as if he makes all the right interpretive choices (Schönberg's notation apparently leaves a lot to the performer here) and the contribution from the Ensemble InterContemporain is again stirringly powerful, dramatic and expressive. We also get a brief 1911 setting of a Maeterlinck poem with celesta, harmonium and harp, and Schäfer navigates the enormously difficult vocal lines with aplomb - a magical interlude between the harsher and more stridently dramatic main offerings. The sound is rather dry, but that only lets the menace and bite of the music to be even more in the listener's face. A superb disc, and something of a must for anyone with an interest in modern music.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars When the mmon announces apocalyptic history 5 Mar. 2009
By Dr Jacques COULARDEAU - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
The first striking element is that the text is long and not at all sung: a rich poetic text dramatically spoken along several totally innovative lines. Three dimensions of the language are used to create vocal music. First the rhythm created with syllables, making them long or short. This is a basic musical element of the language and many poets have used it, even in languages that do not have such a characteristic, very often it is true in songs but also in the stage directions of a play. But such a trait was essential in Shakespeare and was basic in Purcell and Handel. The second element is intonation: Schoenberg uses something that is going to become extremely common later on with the radio. He widely uses high dives and high jumps and all variations in between to create another type of music that is amplified by the first element making the tips of the intonation lines long and thus multiplying the effect. The third element is the force and intensity of each syllable from very weak to very powerful, and this trait is a very common dramatic way to emphasize one's discourse in everyday life. Even without listening to the words we are able to hear that music that is extremely expressive. The instrumental music is then nothing but an accompaniment that also plays on the same outer aspect. It is not a melodious line, certainly not the music of a song since the text is not sung. It is a real accompaniment as it existed for example in the Middle Ages, in the Gregorian and even late Gregorian traditions and polyphonies, with variations in the balance between text and music. At times the music takes over, at other times the text is dominant. The music does not really create an atmosphere but sustains, supports and increases the atmosphere created by the voice, the diction, though a longer musical sequence can occur, for instance at the end of the 13th piece, "Enthauptung" as if the text was the beheading itself: the text is cut off from the music at the end and the music alone remains like a head or a body severed from its host. This is new though we cannot know how things were done before the recording technology made it possible to keep a trace of evanescent artistic interpretation. But it is possible to find spoken elements in operas and oratorios of previous periods, at least in the score. Prosody was a tradition in our music, a tradition that goes back to King David's codification and his music school in the Temple. Prosody as opposed to psalmody, two forms of poetry in the Bible and two forms of musical rendition of these two types of poetry (that was to become ternary with Bach's Passions: the Evangelist's prosody, the hymnal psalmody and the arias' virtuoso psalmody. But one can hear another poetical music. It is the regularity of the stanzas. Each piece is composed of three stanzas, two four-lined stanzas and one five-lined stanza. These stanzas are supported by no rhyming of any sort though, at the most some assonances and an obvious play on German feminine and masculine endings. But the pieces are built on a complex musical pattern. The first two lines of the first stanza are repeated at the end of the second stanza and the first line of the first stanza at the end of the third stanza, thus embracing the whole poem. This music of a double fading out echo creates a resonance in the text that also gives some depth to the text itself. The length of the lines is very regular, though the 12th piece "Galgenlied" has very short lines (five syllables instead of eight or nine). Moreover the whole work is divided in three parts, each composed of seven pieces. Some other numerical elements are signifying in this poem. Each piece has 13 lines. The 21 (3 x 7) pieces count 63 stanzas (6 + 3 = 9) and the complete number of lines is 819 (8 + 1 + 9 = 9 + 9 = 18 = 6 + 6 + 6). The beast of John's Book of Revelation is ever present: 666 (Revelation, 13) and three times 9 (idem, Jerusalem Bible's notes on 666). The night is dominant and the main luminary is the moon which is associated to blood and red, and to the dead and death. The negative linguistic elements are overpowering, particles for verbs, negative for nouns and words with negative meanings (blind, mute). This extremely negative vision of the night, the moon and Pierrot, the embodiment of both, is in perfect continuity with the Oscar Wilde's vision in "Salome" and Franck Wedekind's in the Lulu plays. Oscar Wilde's "Salome" was adapted to the operatic stage in 1915 by Richard Strauss. We can note that Wedekind's Lulu plays will be adapted to the operatic stage by Alban Berg in the 1930s. We could also think of the morbid vision of the moon Apollinaire develops in the same period. This artistic vision can also be found in Picasso's clowns and circus people in his blue period just before his cubist revolution. These artists are producing new forms of art due to the great technical inventions, but also they are conscious of a drama that is going to come soon, starting in 1914 and ending in 1945. The means used are images and semantic references, new forms of music and poetry, numerical rhythms and tempos, both prosody and psalmody, and vast cultural, even anthropologically meaningful references. The moon though seems to be very pregnant in that crucial period when the industrial revolution is shifting from mechanical forms to electrical forms, from machines to knowledge.

Dr Jacques COULARDEAU, University Paris 1 Pantheon Sorbonne, University Versailles Saint Quentin en Yvelines, CEGID.
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