3. Pierrot & Bilitis

A moonstruck Commedia dell’Arte Pierrot and a courtesan from ancient Greece are the rather bizarre combination of personnel for this week’s page.

Debussy’s Trois Chansons de Bilitis are settings of (mostly) erotic poems by Pierre Louÿs, supposedly (though Louÿs’ deception was soon discovered) written by the courtesan Bilitis, an imagined contemporary of Sappho.

Debussy also wrote incidental music for Louÿs’ work, and thought sufficiently well of the music to arrange it, as Six épigraphes antiques, firstly for piano duet (version below) and then for solo piano.

Pierrot Lunaire is very different. Schönberg set, for his opus 21, twenty-one poems (in three groups of seven) by the Belgian Symbolist poet Albert Giraud, in a free German translation by Otto Hartleben. They are, however, not songs but melodramas for speaker and chamber ensemble, with the composer notating not only the rhythm of the recitation but also its relative spoken pitch – Sprechstimme:

(the Sprechstimme‘s indicated by the small crosses (x) on the stem of each note.)

In this work Schönberg takes the ‘atonality’ – the lack of key centre – of the finale of his f-sharp quartet as the basis of his musical language throughout.

Pierrot Lunaire, Op. 21

Part 1:
1. Mondestrunken 0:56
2. Colombine 2:39
3. Der Dandy 4:30
4. Eine blasse Wäscherin 5:52
5. Valse de Chopin 7:25
6. Madonna 8:50
7. Der kranke Mond 10:58

Part 2:
8. Nacht 13:16
9. Gebet an Pierrot 15:48
10. Raub 16:41
11. Rote Messe 17:54
12. Galgenlied 19:45
13. Enthauptung 20:09
14. Die Kreuze 22:22

Part 3:
15. Heimweh 24:55
16. Gemeinheit 27:10
17. Parodie 28:20 18.
18. Der Mondfleck 29:50
19. Serenade 30:49
20. Heimfahrt 33:16
21. O alter Duft 35:03


Trois Chansons de Bilitis

I – La Flûte de Pan (English translation)
II – La Chevelure (English translation)
III – Le Tombeau des Naïades (English translation)


Six épigraphes antiques

1. Pour invoquer Pan, dieu du vent d’été
(for summoning Pan, god of the summer wind); 0.00
2. Pour un tombeau sans nom
(for a tomb without a name); 2:18
3. Pour que la nuit soit propice
(In order that the night be propitious); 5:18
4. Pour la danseuse aux crotales
(for the dancer with crotales); 7:34
5. Pour l’Égyptienne
(for that Egyptian girl…); 9:59
6. Pour remercier la pluie du matin
(thankful for the morning rain) 12:52

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