This is a project I’ve been thinking about and working on for a few years now. I’ve been looking to write a modular piece for voice and electronics that I could use as a solo set in a bunch of different situations and thought the poetry of Pierrot Lunaire had a lot of potential. I had the good fortune of coming across this new translation of Pierrot Lunaire by scholar Gregory Richter, who has given me permission to use his translation for my piece.
When I started going through the poems, the first thing I noticed was that there are way more than the 21 poems set my Schoenberg; there are, in fact, 50 in the original set, and a few extras by Giraud written later in his career. As I read and re-read the poetry, learning more about their structure, motivic elements, and the background of the Commedia dell’arte, I also started seeing a through-line between the poems that tell Pierrot’s story, rather than them being a collection of snapshots.
Musically, I wanted to find a way to tie the poems together and offer the same aural thread a listener could follow along with the story, and decided to use the recurring color/symbolic themes in the poetry as a harmonic and motivic foundation. I went through the set and analyzed when certain colors and symbols appeared, and from whose perspective the poem was being spoken.
Here’s a sample:
I noticed a couple of things: certain characters have consistent color associations. Pierrot, for instance, is white and black and is often coupled with imagery of the moon and night. Harlequin, by contrast, is just about every color except black and white and coupled with ideas of magic, fantasy, and theater. Green is for intoxication and absinthe. Using my own color/harmonic associations, I created a series of chords for each of the colors to guide the harmonic language of each poem and musical motifs for the symbols derived from the harmonic colors or combinations thereof (the moon, for instance, was a combination of white and black, while wine had some of the red and some of the green).
Because the first performance of these songs will be at my DMA 2 Recital with my vocal ensemble HEX, I’ve decided to create them mostly a cappella, but with some electronics. I’ll create a separate version for solo voice using live electronics and pre-recorded tracks for potential touring down the line. Here’s an example of one of the pieces:
Once I saw the deeper theatrical possibilities of the work, I brought the project up with my frequent collaborator André Megerdichian who was equally taken with the visual drama of the poems, and we started talking about the possibilities with a larger dance/vocal ensemble, maybe a film down the road, etc. It’s a rich amount of material, so we’ll see where it goes!