A Centenary Celebration

Schoenberg’s classic work "Pierrot Lunaire" moves front and center at Tufts this spring semester

This spring the Tufts community is exploring in the classroom, concert hall and gallery one of the most influential musical works of the 20th century, Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire. The piece, which will turn 100 this fall, was written for voice and chamber ensemble. It consists of 21 poems that Schoenberg set with music that cover a vast expressive range including nostalgia, terror and transcendence. The words are recited in a vocal technique called Sprechstimme, somewhere between singing and speaking. 

The Tufts Pierrot Project is one of numerous centennial celebrations around the world of a work that has inspired many composers, including Stravinsky, Ravel and Boulez, while establishing what has become the core ensemble for contemporary music.

To celebrate the centenary of the work, Joseph Auner, chair of the Music Department, and Donald Berman, lecturer and pianist, are team-teaching a course investigating the historical and cultural context of the composition. Students are exploring the piece in the context of trends in poetry, theater and the visual arts in Vienna and Berlin, building on guest lectures by professors Laurence Senelick of the Drama and Dance Department, Gérard Gasarian from the Romance Languages Department and John Heiss of the New England Conservatory.

Students will have a chance to study the piece in master classes and workshops offered by faculty and guest performers. An exhibition about Pierrot Lunaire, curated by students in collaboration with the Arnold Schoenberg Center in Vienna, will be shown at the Slater Concourse at the Aidekman Arts Center on the Medford/Somerville campus from March 6 to April 12.

The highlight of the semester will be an ensemble performance of Pierrot Lunaire, featuring Berman on piano, guest soprano Susan Narucki and a group of faculty musicians on Thursday, April 5, in the Granoff Music Center’s Distler Performance Hall. The concert will include new settings of the Pierrot texts by student composers working with Professor John McDonald.


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