A Snapshot of the Pierrot Ensemble Today

Dromey, Christopher ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-3275-4777 (2013) A Snapshot of the Pierrot Ensemble Today. Proceedings of the Third International Meeting for Chamber Music . [Article]

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2012 was the centenary of the first performance of Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot lunaire, Op. 21, and over the last hundred years its mixed chamber ensemble has become, in all its protean forms, a principal line-up for modern music. As scholars have awoken to this phenomenon, so the term ‘Pierrot ensemble’ has gradually entered the lexicon of music criticism to describe such works, as well as the groups that perform them. At the same time, it is clear that music written for conventional chamber-music groupings has become increasingly rare since the early twentieth century, and that the preference of composers for more colourful and heterogeneous types of ensemble has grown. Because of these tendencies, the Pierrot ensemble’s line-up could be popular but never absolutely fixed: as we shall see, nearly all Pierrot ensembles deviate in some way from Schoenberg’s prototype.

My paper scrutinises recent Pierrot ensembles against the backdrop of a century of composition and performance: a lineage of Pierrot ensembles instigated by Schoenberg, modernised by Peter Maxwell Davies, the Pierrot Players and The Fires of London during their twenty years of domestic and foreign tours (1967-87), and nourished by many others since. When Steve Reich scored his Pulitzer Prize-winning Double Sextet (2007) for Pierrot ensemble, it joined a repertory of hundreds. The last twenty years, indeed, have seen an outpouring of music for the line-up, in stark contrast to its first half-century. Analysing case studies composed by the likes of John Zorn (Chimeras), Tansy Davies (grind show: electric/unplugged) and Mercedes Zavala (La apoteosis nocturna de Andoar), I assess what the term ‘Pierrot ensemble’ means in the twenty-first century.

Why, and for whom, do composers continue to write works for Pierrot ensemble? How useful are established subcategories – Pierrot quintet, Pierrot or ‘Fires’ sextet, Pierrot-with-percussion – to our musicological discourse today? While their prevalence is undoubted, with more Pierrot ensembles than ever sustaining their repertory through performance and commissions, no real attempt has yet been made to survey the long-term impact beyond Britain. What, then, can a modern, international perspective on the Pierrot ensemble teach us about music-making today and the Pierrot ensemble at large?

Item Type: Article
Research Areas: A. > School of Media and Performing Arts > Performing Arts
Item ID: 9885
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Depositing User: Dr Chris Dromey
Date Deposited: 30 Jan 2013 09:36
Last Modified: 07 Jun 2022 20:05
URI: https://eprints.mdx.ac.uk/id/eprint/9885

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