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.
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.
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?