Schoenberg’s controlled chaos

Jun 8, 2005 at 12:00 am
If Beethoven can be considered rock ’n’ roll, than 20th century composer Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951) was punk rock. The Viennese composer was a non-conformist; his music defied traditional structural elements such as melody and harmony and his dissonant chords made people angry.

He was also a guy so radical that he inspired his enemies. Even though Igor Stravinsky and Schoenberg hated each other, when Stravinsky first heard Schoenberg’s expressionist interpretation of Pierrot Lunaire, a song cycle of 21 poems by Albert Giraud, he called it the music world’s solar plexus, after which everything shifted. A performance of Pierrot Lunaire by soprano concert singer Lucy Shelton and Chicago’s Eighth Blackbird, produced by Blair Thomas and Company puppet troupe, opens the Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival.

Pierrot Lunaire is about a female writer tormented by a muse, and Thomas’ production is a cabaret opera in an unreal world, with the scene set as a colorful interior landscape of the writer’s imagination, evoking a late night of creative raging and purging between the poet (singer Shelton) and the life-sized papier-mâché Pierrot. The six instrumentalists have memorized the score and Thomas choreographed them into the piece, wearing costumes, makeup and wigs while standing on furniture. With Pierrot Lunaire, visual chaos seems an appropriate accompaniment to Schoenberg’s variety in this three-part piece, featuring songs of freeform counterpoint and controlled fugues.

Most audiences thought Schoenberg’s ideas were vulgar, that the atonality offended their ears. But those who embraced dysfunction back then found a new order, tuning out the repressed formality of all that came before it. —Rebecca Mazzei


Gabrielli’s Selected Baroque Arias, Fauré’s Sonata No. 1 for Violin and Piano in A Major and Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire are at 8 p.m., Saturday, June 11, Seligman Performing Arts Center (22305 W. 13 Mile Rd., Beverly Hills;