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Thread: What Is The Point Of Sprechstimme?

  1. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by suntower View Post
    I was vaguely familiar with the concept of 19th century melodrama but I hadn't heard that Schumann piece so, cheers for that.

    But to me, the sound of sprechstimme is frankly more like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UBRvZ6wSVGQ

    There's a line crossed from what I'd call 'preaching' or 'oration' (as Dieter is doing) to actual pitches (and of course the gliss thing). It's very much (for me) the sonic equivalent of eye-rolling--completely UN-natural. Whereas Dieter's hyper-dramatic speech just sounds like over-acting (or great storytelling--your choice) to my ear, sprechstimme crosses into another whole territory of weird. I could simply chalk it up as a creative way to depict mental illness but my understanding is that it is also meant as a more generalised form of expression and THAT's the part I don't get. It truly has a -pathological- quality and I use that word intentionally. I want to know if that's what Schoenberg (and Berg) meant... to be truly -pictorial- of that inner state.
    Judging from all of the contexts in which they used it, emphatically not.

    Berg uses it for the "deranged" characters of Wozzeck (the doctor, the protagonist, the madman in the tavern), but also for the "normal" characters (such as Andres).

    Moses in Schoenberg's opera is not insane, nor is the reciter in Ode to Napoleon Bonaparte. In Pierrot, as I said, the effect was there to be uncanny and match the talents of a performer who was a cabaret singer rather than a classically trained soprano.

    Performances of the work can differ greatly and thus affect one's perception; which one(s) are you referring to?

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    Pathological is so clinical I think it's supposed to be fun. Pierrot is wearing a clown suit. Lotte Lenya sings with irony and satire. I am confused that many listeners find the technique so perplexing.

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    Quote Originally Posted by brotagonist View Post
    Pathological is so clinical I think it's supposed to be fun. Pierrot is wearing a clown suit. Lotte Lenya sings with irony and satire. I am confused that many listeners find the technique so perplexing.
    There are certainly elements of play in Pierrot lunaire (the canonic and contrapuntal games, the waltz and other dance-themed movements), but irony and a dark satire underlie the whole work, I feel.

    Here's the Wiki article on Giraud's poems:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pierrot_lunaire_(book)

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    I'm gonna go all unPC here and wonder if perhaps sprechstimme isn't a very -German- concept. There are certain customs and gags in German that just don't translate into English. IOW: perhaps it may feel more 'normal' to the German musician. All I can tell ya is that to the average Irish (or American) person... that's my frame of reference... it is hard to understand. Again, back to the original question... seriously: what's the point? If you ask the average person from my frame of reference---regardless of education in music--it doesn't feel comical/ironic in any way. It feels like it is meant to shock more than anything else... as with what we would now call performance art... where getting a reaction is the most important point. That may not be the point at -all-. I'm just tellin' ya how it comes across to me... hence why I asked the question; to figure out what I'm missing.

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    Senior Member arpeggio's Avatar
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    Atonal rap music?

    Kidding aside I can only speak for myself. I have always preferred Survivor from Warsaw to Pierrot . Why? I do not know.
    It is impossible to make anything foolproof because fools are so ingenious. And I am a very ingenious fellow

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    Quote Originally Posted by suntower View Post
    I'm gonna go all unPC here and wonder if perhaps sprechstimme isn't a very -German- concept. There are certain customs and gags in German that just don't translate into English. IOW: perhaps it may feel more 'normal' to the German musician. All I can tell ya is that to the average Irish (or American) person... that's my frame of reference... it is hard to understand. Again, back to the original question... seriously: what's the point? If you ask the average person from my frame of reference---regardless of education in music--it doesn't feel comical/ironic in any way. It feels like it is meant to shock more than anything else... as with what we would now call performance art... where getting a reaction is the most important point. That may not be the point at -all-. I'm just tellin' ya how it comes across to me... hence why I asked the question; to figure out what I'm missing.
    I can empathize with your feelings about sprechstimme. I've always found it weird and unpleasant, and the sight of someone doing it a bit comical. But I just take it as a characteristic expression of a certain cultural milieu, the whole Expressionist movement in the arts. This movement originated in Germany, and among its chief traits were exaggerated gestures and a fascination with the dark emotions, the abnormal, the strange and the morbid. Here are some images of German Expressionist painting:

    https://www.google.com/search?q=germ...IVQymICh2mfwzC

    Then there's German Expressionist film:

    https://www.google.com/search?q=germ...IVQ5WICh3TGAYg

    In music, many of the works of Schoenberg and Berg are strongly Expressionistic, and I'd call Pierrot a classic Expressionist work (Schoenberg was also an Expressionist painter, by the way). Sprechstimme is exaggerated speech - I don't consider it singing, though it can hover between the two - and it seems perfect for expressing abnormal states of mind in a stylized way. It can also be humorous, in an ironic or grotesque way. I'm not sure what else can be done with it.

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    Senior Member isorhythm's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    I can empathize with your feelings about sprechstimme. I've always found it weird and unpleasant, and the sight of someone doing it a bit comical. But I just take it as a characteristic expression of a certain cultural milieu, the whole Expressionist movement in the arts. This movement originated in Germany, and among its chief traits were exaggerated gestures and a fascination with the dark emotions, the abnormal, the strange and the morbid. Here are some images of German Expressionist painting:

    https://www.google.com/search?q=germ...IVQymICh2mfwzC

    Then there's German Expressionist film:

    https://www.google.com/search?q=germ...IVQ5WICh3TGAYg

    In music, many of the works of Schoenberg and Berg are strongly Expressionistic, and I'd call Pierrot a classic Expressionist work (Schoenberg was also an Expressionist painter, by the way). Sprechstimme is exaggerated speech - I don't consider it singing, though it can hover between the two - and it seems perfect for expressing abnormal states of mind in a stylized way. It can also be humorous, in an ironic or grotesque way. I'm not sure what else can be done with it.
    Aw man. I was about to make basically this exact post.

    The whole reason to like all that Second Viennese School stuff (if you do like it) is related to this cultural/intellectual mileu, which for some reason doesn't get discussed too much on this site connection with it. think Freud, Klimt, Schiele, Brecht, Fritz Lang, Marlene Dietrich. The endpoint of the disintegration of Enlightment rationalism that began in the mid-19th century. Of course now, we know that an unimaginable darkness lay just ahead. You get the sense they felt that already.

    Pierrot was actually fairly popular with audiences at the time.

    A lot of can seem almost kitschy now, if you're not willing to suspend some modern prejudices and go with it.

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    For the last time, there is no reason to believe, based on all of the times Schoenberg and Berg used the technique, that it was meant to represent madness in itself.

    It's used for the narrator in the last part of Gurrelieder, for crying out loud!

    When Schoenberg spoke about Pierrot, he put the work in the genre of melodrama. Sprechstimme was from his perspective merely a way of notating the way of speaking used in melodrama more precisely.

    I haven't been able to answer your question "What is it trying to express?" simply because there is no one answer. Pierrot lunaire contains a wide range of expression; so does Moses und Aron or Der Jakobsleiter. It's like asking "What is the use of soprano trying to express?"
    Last edited by Mahlerian; Aug-05-2015 at 16:28.

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    If I've gotten up yer nose, I'm sorry. As -I- wrote, the reason for -my- perplexion (hey, I can invent a word if -I- want to! ) is that it -is- so frankly alien to me.

    I am no 2nd Viennese expert for sure. I only asked about the 'madness' thing as a way of explanation. It went against the small amount of listening I've done (frankly all I can stomach of the technique in small doses).

    What intrigues me is how the people who 'get it' find it simply 'evolutionary'... in the way I view early 'atonality' as no big leap from late romanticism. But there is something about -voice- that makes this not at all evolutionary to -me-. Despite repeated listenings it is not life 'coffee' where one learns to like it.

    I -love- expressionist painting (I'm looking at a Kandinsky print right now.) But it doesn't creep my out on a -visceral- level like sprechstimme does.

    Anyhoo, I'll close my blather by disagreeing with one thing you wrote. I do NOT see 'what's the point' as an unanswerable question. Schoenberg must have had a reason for using it that was -unique-; something he was trying to convey that could not be gotten using 'conventional' techniques. So I would be very surprised that such a detail-oriented guy (a teacher after all) never held forth on the -why- of using the technique. Specifically: what made it -necessary-. I've read lots of articles with Stravinsky and Debussy discussing why they chose certain techniques and I figured he must've done so as well. So perhaps, in the end, I should've titled this "Are there articles where Schoenberg discusses -why- he used this technique?"

    Good discussion. Learned a few things... which is gettin' rarer and rarer on the interwebs.

    Cheers.


    Quote Originally Posted by Mahlerian View Post
    For the last time, there is no reason to believe, based on all of the times Schoenberg and Berg used the technique, that it was meant to represent madness in itself.

    It's used for the narrator in the last part of Gurrelieder, for crying out loud!

    When Schoenberg spoke about Pierrot, he put the work in the genre of melodrama. Sprechstimme was from his perspective merely a way of notating the way of speaking used in melodrama more precisely.

    I haven't been able to answer your question "What is it trying to express?" simply because there is no one answer. Pierrot lunaire contains a wide range of expression; so does Moses und Aron or Der Jakobsleiter. It's like asking "What is the use of soprano trying to express?"

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    Quote Originally Posted by suntower View Post
    Anyhoo, I'll close my blather by disagreeing with one thing you wrote. I do NOT see 'what's the point' as an unanswerable question. Schoenberg must have had a reason for using it that was -unique-; something he was trying to convey that could not be gotten using 'conventional' techniques. So I would be very surprised that such a detail-oriented guy (a teacher after all) never held forth on the -why- of using the technique. Specifically: what made it -necessary-. I've read lots of articles with Stravinsky and Debussy discussing why they chose certain techniques and I figured he must've done so as well. So perhaps, in the end, I should've titled this "Are there articles where Schoenberg discusses -why- he used this technique?"
    He used it in Pierrot lunaire because the work was commissioned by a cabaret performer and suited her abilities and style of performance. Artistically, it also works well with the nocturnal atmosphere and dream-like logic of the work.

    The following are my speculative reasons for why he used it in other works.

    He used it in Gurrelieder to indicate a different perspective from the characters who sung, earlier in the work, and the chorus that sings at the end.

    He used it in Moses und Aron because it helps to make a sharper separation between the seductive, mellifluous Aron and the introspective, slow-tongued Moses (who has exactly one sung line in the entire work).

    He used it in A Survivor from Warsaw as in Gurrelieder to separate a narrator from the events he is narrating.

    In his settings of Psalm 130 and the Kol Nidre, he used it in imitation of Jewish ritual, with its call and response patterns.

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    OK, then why did -she- like it?

    Maybe it was a fad like disco? I'm only half kidding. I started listening to Pierrot again today and it strikes me as kinda like Renaissance (maybe that's the wrong term) 'Madrigals' what with the tone-painting (upward scales when I'm walking upstairs. downward as I look at the ground, etc.) Kinda gimmicky in a way. (eg. in the Washerwoman she stttttreeetches her arms!) As I earlier wrote, maybe there's a certain joke in there that only Germans of that era would get.

    Quote Originally Posted by Mahlerian View Post
    He used it in Pierrot lunaire because the work was commissioned by a cabaret performer and suited her abilities and style of performance. Artistically, it also works well with the nocturnal atmosphere and dream-like logic of the work.

    The following are my speculative reasons for why he used it in other works.

    He used it in Gurrelieder to indicate a different perspective from the characters who sung, earlier in the work, and the chorus that sings at the end.

    He used it in Moses und Aron because it helps to make a sharper separation between the seductive, mellifluous Aron and the introspective, slow-tongued Moses (who has exactly one sung line in the entire work).

    He used it in A Survivor from Warsaw as in Gurrelieder to separate a narrator from the events he is narrating.

    In his settings of Psalm 130 and the Kol Nidre, he used it in imitation of Jewish ritual, with its call and response patterns.

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    Pierot was a dangerous sociopath! Dr. Phil said so! Come to think of it, Schoenberg was a sociopath too! He was out of work most of the time, couldn't support a family...he'd never make it in Dallas!

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