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'A multicoloured Alphabet': rediscovering Albert Giraud's Pierrot Lunaire

Marsh, R. (2007) 'A multicoloured Alphabet': rediscovering Albert Giraud's Pierrot Lunaire. twentieth-century music, 4 (1). pp. 97-121. ISSN 1478-5722

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Albert Giraud’s cycle of fifty rondels bergamasques, Pierrot Lunaire (1884), famously became, in Otto Erich Hartleben’s German translation, the basis of Schoenberg’s Op. 21 (1912). But for many decades the work of the Belgian poet was either straightforwardly denigrated for its anachronism and ‘mediocrity’ (Boulez), or at least declared inferior to its ‘vivid, Angst-filled transformation’ (Youens) in Hartleben’s hands. This article questions some widely held beliefs concerning the original Pierrot and its subsequent reworking. The claim that Schoenberg’s selection and reorganization of the poems imposed logic and order on an otherwise jumbled collection is found to be belied by the striking narrative coherence of Giraud’s original sequence, which is unified by a clearly defined set of symbols. Meanwhile, Hartleben’s putative ‘infidelity’ to Giraud is challenged by evidence both internal (his careful preservation of the rondel structure) and contextual (an esteem for his Belgian contemporary manifested in further poetic homages). While there is no doubt that Hartleben’s translations distance the poems from their background in Parnassian aesthetics – omitting crucial references to Brueghel, Shakespeare, Watteau, and the painter and lithographer Adolphe Willette – it is Giraud himself who deserves the credit for the most strikingly memorable images later absorbed into the expressionistic milieu of Schoenberg’s melodrama.

Item Type: Article
Institution: The University of York
Academic Units: The University of York > Music (York)
Depositing User: York RAE Import
Date Deposited: 20 May 2009 14:23
Last Modified: 20 May 2009 14:24
Published Version: http://dx.doi.org/101/S1478572207000540
Status: Published
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Identification Number: 10.101/S1478572207000540
URI: http://eprints.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/7711

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