Roger Marsh Composer

Pierrot Lunaire op 21 English translation

In 1996 I translated op 21 into English for a performance by Black Hair.  I did this because we wanted to stage the piece in English and the existing translations were either old fashioned (Cecil Gray) or un-singable. The translation is below.

With the help of a Yorkshire Arts new project grant we secured the services of opera director Chris Newell, who created a stunning staging for the work.  Our aim was to bring the vocal part – and the English text – to the foreground, in contrast to traditional performances in which the singer has to compete for attention with the ensemble.  Historically this makes sense, because the original performer (Albertine Zehme) gave the premiere in front of a screen, with Schoenberg conducting the ensemble behind and to the side.  Zehme was costumed as Colombine, although the identity of the ‘speaker’ is more often Pierrot.  In our production Anna Myatt, who performed the work from memory, was seated on a high industrial-looking bar stool, specially constructed for us, which turned.  She was in the centre of a large circle of wine glasses each containing a small nightlight.  The floor being covered with black plastic sheeting, the candles were reflected in the shiny surface.  A large mag light (torch) was suspended above Anna’s head; on occasion she sent it swinging.  For some numbers she leaped down from the stool and approached the front of the circle.    Meanwhile the ensemble sat behind a silver glitter screen at the back of the stage, their backs to the audience, so that the conductor had sight of the soloist through the silver strips.  For the solo numbers (flute and cello) the player swivelled on their stool to face front, and was picked out by an individual spotlight.

In this way, the meaning and drama of the poems was brought to the fore, my hope being that the audience would for once be able to follow the delicious imagery of the poems.  Even in this arrangement however, because of the density or speed of the instrumental writing in some numbers, words were sometimes hard to come by.  This is an insoluble problem in Op 21.

We premiered the production at the Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall in 1997, and subsequently in Newcastle, Stockton-on-Tees and Hull.

English translation of Pierrot Lunaire op 21 (Schoenberg) from the German of Otto Hartleben. (copyright Roger Marsh 1996)