15. Heimweh

Sweet and sorrowful – a sigh of crystal

From Italy’s theater of old

Reaches us: Pierrot is so wooden now,

Has become fashionable kitsch.

“Homesickness” is a rejection. Of where we are now, a realization that something about this moment isn’t enough for us, that we don’t belong, that we should go back. “Homesickness” is a longing. For that other place, for a place of fantasy where we know what we know and things are as they are or should be. Giraud and Hartleben had it easy in playing with nostalgie (the title of the French original); however surreal their poetry, it was not an experiment with the substance of language or a rejection of poetic form or inheritance. Quite the opposite: the poems are rooted in inherited poetic form and pull stock from Europe’s storehouse of theater history. Not so with Schoenberg, whose project was one of the most provocative that any single musician has ever conceived or carried out, more profoundly upsetting to the status quo, I would argue, than Joyce’s challenge to syntax or Picasso’s to representation. It is the Everest of early twentieth-century avant-gardism. Can we climb it? Let’s give it a go.

Fuji-san, not Everest, but you get the point (Photo by the author).

If you’ve been reading these entries, you’ve likely gathered a few things from my approach in “blogging the 21 movements of Pierrot lunaire,” but I should perhaps name a few of them. First, I’ve refused to be intimidated by Schoenberg’s accomplishment, because it is intimidating, particularly if one is driven to understand (at some level) the composer’s musical language on its own terms. But if we act that way toward it, it can only exist at a remove, and I want to hold it close in the mind and ear. Second, I wanted to accept Schoenberg’s invitation to embrace a radical creativity, to play fearlessly in the funhouse that he opens the door to. That has meant trying out different media, trying out different tones in my writing, fostering a fruitful inconsistency within a consistent form. Third, I wanted to focus on a variety of analytical approaches, including ones that would be widely accessible (as opposed to, say, highly specialized pitch analysis). I could mention a few others, but these three are most relevant.

A crystal sigh, the sweet lament, the marionette clicking – all before the words! “Heimweh,” mm. 1-2.

And now it’s the third paragraph, and I’ve yet to say anything about the music of “Heimweh,” which opens the third, and in some ways most complicated, part of Pierrot. I wonder if you’re longing for another place by now? I wonder if I am. Longing for the days, just days ago, when I could write about moon-wine-light or black moths (butterflies!) or sparkling rubies on coffins or even crosses. But now we’re grown up, in a land of confusion, and we’re torn between this and that. What does it mean, Hartleben (and Giraud), for commedia dell’arte itself to send out a krystallnes Seufzen, a “crystalline sigh,” a lament that Pierrot is not relevant or only relevant because he’s irrelevant, a meme of forgotten origin in a sort of ennui-infested kitschiverse? What does it mean, Schoenberg, to layer, thrillingly but overwhelmingly, the sweetness of the violin line with the marionettish clicking of the clarinet and the piano’s evocation of the mysterious “crystal sigh” (before we’ve even heard a word from the vocalist) in a texture that is shockingly new, the opposite of nostalgic? Are you rejecting rejection, Schoenberg? Unboiling the egg, un-meming the meme, unkitsching the kitsch? Are you un-homesick?

Self assertion? The cellist furiously rejects. . .homesickness? “Heimweh,” mm. 28-31.

3. Der Dandy

With a capricious beam of light

The moon sets the crystal vials ablaze

On the sandalwood lavatory

Of our pensive dandy from Bergamo.

And just who is the “dandy from Bergamo,” listless at his toilette, rejecting first the red and then the green makeup in favor of moonbeam white? The German is elusive on this point, and English translations typically follow suit. Schoenberg’s title is “Der Dandy,” so the protagonist might arguably be another figure from the commedia dell’arte tradition – Arlecchino, perhaps? – who more neatly fits the descriptor. But Giraud’s poem leaves no room for doubt: his title is “Pierrot Dandy,” and that’s that. It’s a title that belittles its hero at every turn, emasculating him, making fun of him for imagining that makeup could make a difference. If we’re tempted to trace a narrative arc through Pierrot lunaire, “Der Dandy” follows “Colombine,” where Pierrot had longed to strew moon-petals over the object of his desire. Now, dejected, he paints on his mask. Passing over colors associated with his rivals in love, he will remain Pierrot, daub himself with his trademark cake, however painful that is. “Ridi, pagliaccio, sul tuo amore infranto,” as Canio has it in Leoncavallo’s I pagliacci.

This is a good time to mention that my plan to produce Pierrot lunaire was sparked by Opera San Antonio’s forthcoming production of Leoncavallo’s scorcher of a score. I thought it would be marvelous, frankly, to have Pierrot one weekend and I pagliacci the next, and as it turns out, that’s exactly what’s going to happen. The marvelous. For anyone attending performances of both works, I imagine that the redefinition of Pierrot – the “translation” of him by this assemblage of poets and musicians – will prove thought-provoking, especially since only two decades separate the works. This is one of the things that a tradition as rich as commedia permits: the possibility of infinite translations (even when temporally proximate), including willful and misleading ones.

Translation problems from the penultimate line of “Der Dandy”

Here’s one example to stand for the whole. I became a bit. . .obsessed about the “black sacrosanct washstand” (in Stanley Appelbaum’s translation from my trusty Dover score) in “Der Dandy.” What kind of thing must that be? Appelbaum did his best to accurately render Hartleben’s “schwarzen, hochheiligen Waschtisch,” although managing the explosion of hs and schs would give any faithful English translator fits. But take a look at Giraud’s original line: “Sur le lavabo de santal.” That’s santal as in sandalwood, a far cry from the ebony altar that Hartleben conjures. And when I’ve used “sandalwood lavatory” above, then I’m flying in the face of Schoenberg, whose piccolo-spiked, prism-sparking moonbeams doubtless derive from Hartleben’s black-and-white opposition: the washstand-as-abyss against the pale-as-moonlight face paint. To conclude these pensées on “translation,” take a listen to this: “Der Dandy,” in Erwin Stein’s arrangement of Pierrot for voice and piano, with Akane Kudo (voice) and Yumiko Meguri (piano) managing it all sans winds!

The moonbeam gleams and becomes Pierrot’s makeup, from “Der Dandy,” mm. 30-31