Monday Musical Moment: Pierrot’s Tanzlied
Today, I wanted to share another piece of music that is special to me. I first heard Pierrot’s Tanzlied in 2018 when a good friend of mine sang it for a recital and I was totally enthralled with everything about the piece…the harmonies, the rawness of emotion, my friend’s interpretation, all of it… And not to over dramatize, but my life hasn’t been the same since. That’s the power of music after all!
Now for some background:
Pierrot’s Tanzlied (“Dance Song”) is an aria from the second act of the opera Die Tote Stadt (“The Dead City”) by German composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold when he was only 23 years old. The opera tells the story of the story of Paul, a young man torn between fidelity to the memory of his deceased wife, Marie, and a growing attraction to her living look-alike, Marietta. Paul enters a series of increasingly disturbing and violent visions, and the plot takes on the subtleties of a psychological thriller.
In act 2, while part of one of Paul’s visions, Marietta requests a nearby Pierrot – typically a male character in French pantomime, with a whitened face and wearing a loose, white, fancy costume – to sing a song for everyone. The Pierrot, named Fritz, sings Mein Sehnen, mein Wähnen (“My yearning, my obsession”), a tender, reflective aria in which Fritz sings of his past and a woman with blue eyes that he loved but could never have: “I followed her, my wonderful sweetheart, and learned from tears to kiss. Intoxication and misery, illusion and happiness. Ah, this is a clown’s destiny.”
Since its premiere in 1920, the opera has had a varying popularity. After being one of the most popular operas in the world in the 1920’s, the work was banned by Nazi Germany due to Korngold’s Jewish heritage and was performed sparingly throughout the latter half of the 20th century. Today, the opera isn’t particularly beloved, but this aria remains a staple in the lyric baritone repertoire and is regularly performed.
Last week, I attended the funeral of the husband of one of my dear friends, who was only 40 years old. A heartbreaking occasion to say the least, but in the middle of the memorial, they announced that they would be playing a video of him performing from when he was in college, singing none other than Pierrot’s Tanzlied.
Although I knew he and my friend both were world-class singers, I had never heard him sing before. I didn’t know him particularly well, but after that performance, I felt as if I had known him for years. He had a way of communicating that was authentic and profound, like an old soul who was decades older than he was. And wow, he had a resonant voice that both rang in your ears and pierced your soul. I couldn’t help but be struck by how this incredible person we were there to celebrate the life of was reaching out comforting us all with his voice.
What an incredible gift music is.
I hope you have a great week!