The wine we imbibe with our eyes
Flows nightly in floods from the moon. . .
What do you really know about Pierrot lunaire? Only what you’ve been told? Or did you have a Pierrot-obsessed moon-phase, a craze? Did you drink it in, drink it up, a fine madness? Twenty-one gems – baroque pearl-wonders, each movement a new proposal for putting together sound and image, deeply rooted in the future-fevered past. This is a story, told in twenty-one parts, of a thing that will have happened: a production, staged, of Arnold Schoenberg’s masterpiece, spun from the fabric of Albert Giraud’s poems, translated into German by Otto Erich Hartleben.
First things first: a form for us. In threes. Each of Giraud’s poems is rendered in three stanzas, and in each there’s the ritual repetition of a line. In each of the twenty-one poems, 3 stanzas: 4 lines + 4 lines + 5 lines = 13 lines. In each of the twenty-one poems, the ritual line is placed first, then third, then last, as if it’s slipping, falling, fallen: first a prophecy, then an action, then a memory and summary. In “Mondestrunken” – “moondrunk,” “drunk with moonlight,” “moon-soused,” “moontoxicated” – the ritual line is, “Den Wein, den man mit Augen trinkt,” which I’ve adapted above to get a triplex of the diphthong “long i.” So, we are warned: Pierrot will drink wine with his eyes. Then it happens: Der Dichter. . .berauscht sich (“The poet. . .gets drunk”). Then, finally, we remember what transpired here in a riot of instrumental color and expressionist vocalization.
And that’s what we come back for, isn’t it? The music showing us, bizarrely suggesting to us the world of this bizarre poetry. In “Mondestrunken” Schoenberg shows us as much as he can: the twinkling of the wine-light, falling in the piano, with drops of the stuff plunking in the pizzicato violin. The rush and trilling flute flutter of the high-tide of moonwine, the throaty yearning gestures in the violin sounding the poet’s sweet and gruesome longing. The ensemble eruption of the poet in ecstasy, the strings’ soaring with the poet’s head, lifted moonwards to drink in as much as possible, the grotesque gurgling as it floods the body – that moonwinelight, imbibed through the eyes. This is the first and quasi-prophetic part of the ritual, in anticipation of the staged production – on October 28 and 29, 2022, in San Antonio, Texas, at the University of the Incarnate Word. Full of anticipation, we raise our heads heavenward to quaff Schoenberg’s heady brew.