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  4. Musical Modernism and the Commedia dell’arte Study Day




Musical Modernism and the Commedia dell’arte Study Day




Series: City Summer Sounds

Study Day Programme

  • 14:00 - Introduction/Welcome
  • 14:15-15:00 - Rosalind Crone (Open University), ‘Mr and Mrs Punch in Nineteenth-Century England’.
  • 15:00-15:45 - Genevieve Arkle (University of Surrey), ‘Schoenberg after the Death of Mahler: The years of 1911 and 1912, and the beginnings of Pierrot lunaire’.
  • 15:45-16:15 – COFFEE
  • 16:15-17:00 - Jorge Balça (University of Portsmouth), ‘Commedia dell’Arte: origins, structure, characters and dissemination’.
  • 17:00-17:45 - Chris Dromey (Middlesex University), ‘A Century (and a bit) of Pierrot ensembles: Perspectives on Barcelona, London and São Paolo’.
  • 18:00-18:45 - Michael Finnissy and Roger Redgate interviewed by Ian Pace on their works.

Evening Concert

19:00 - City Pierrot Ensemble, conducted Roger Redgate.

If you are attending only the evening concert, please reserve a place.

  • Alwynne Pritchard and Adam de la Cour, voices.
  • Nancy Ruffer, flute; David Campbell, clarinet; Chris Brannick, percussion; Ian Pace, piano; Madeleine Mitchell, violin/viola; Joseph Spooner, cello
  • Roger Redgate, Pierrot on the Stage of Desire (1998)
  • Michael Finnissy, Mr Punch (1976-77, rev. 1979)
  • Arnold Schoenberg, Pierrot Lunaire, op. 21 (1912)


Rosalind Crone (Open University)

‘Mr and Mrs Punch in Nineteenth-Century England’

The Punch and Judy show, as we know it today, was a nineteenth-century creation. This paper looks at how the comic buffoon, Punchinello was transformed into a violent, wife-beating glove puppet around 1800, and then domesticated by the middle classes from c1850, the end product being a family entertainment with a pertinent message about social, and especially marital, relations in modern Britain.

Genevieve Arkle (University of Surrey)

‘Schoenberg After the Death of Mahler: The years of 1911 and 1912, and the beginnings of Pierrot lunaire

The years of 1911 and 1912 proved to be particularly significant for the development of Arnold Schoenberg’s musical career. During this short period, a series of important events unfolded that undoubtedly influenced the progress of both his musical and aesthetic ideas. In May 1911, the iconic composer, and Schoenberg’s close friend, Gustav Mahler, passed away. After learning of Mahler’s death, Schoenberg chose to honour the composer through a variety of compositions, essays and paintings, and in numerous letters Schoenberg expressed his loss and admiration for the life and works of his dear friend. By October of the same year, Schoenberg chose to leave Vienna and return to work Berlin, where he was greatly influenced by the new Berlin musical scene. Although, initially, this was not a period of significant compositional development for Schoenberg, by the beginning of 1912 he had been commissioned to compose the work that would go on to become one of the most influential and iconic of his entire career: Pierrot lunaire.

In this paper, I aim to explore these three events that happened between the years of 1911 and 1912, providing a glimpse into the life and works of Schoenberg during this period. I will begin by examining Schoenberg’s relationship with turn of the century composer, Gustav Mahler, discussing the impact of Mahler’s musical modernism and nineteenth-century aesthetics on Schoenberg’s new musical style. Here I will also explore Schoenberg’s response to Mahler’s death, and the ways in which Mahler influenced Schoenberg’s compositions and development during the year of 1911. I will go on to discuss Schoenberg’s decision to move to Berlin in Autumn of 1911; By giving a historical discussion of his time in the city, I aim to provide a discussion of the surrounding context and culture that would have undoubtedly influenced his work. Finally, I would like to briefly examine the composition of Pierrot lunaire, and provide an introduction into its conception, musical style and contextual setting.

By tracing Schoenberg’s development from his relationship with Gustav Mahler through to the conception of Pierrot lunaire, I aim to demonstrate the contrast between Schoenberg’s fin-de-siècle past and his avant-garde, modernist present, the combination of which enabled him to become the pioneer of a new wave of 20th-century music.

Jorge Balça (University of Portsmouth)

Commedia dell’Arte: origins, structure, characters and dissemination’.

Commedia dell’arte was born in the mid-sixteenth-century marketplace as a professional, largely improvised performance with masks and simple costumes staged on outdoor temporary platforms, and was a commentary on the socio-cultural context in which it arose. This paper analyses the structure of these performances, considering the creative tension between improvised and non-improvised elements. The use of masks impacts greatly on the acting style adopted, while dramaturgically ensuring that individual personality is replaced by an archetype. Commedia characters are, therefore, stock characters and this paper explores their characteristics and hierarchy, focusing in particular on Pulcinella (Polichinelle/Punch) and Pedrolino (Pierrot). Commedia characters and performance style were later fixed into text by the plays of Molière, Marivaux and Goldoni, and into music by the operas of Rossini and Donizetti. Later resurgences can be found in the work of Satie, Meyerhold, Schönberg, Falla, Copeau, Picasso, Prokofiev, Stravinsky, Birtwistle and – as we will see tonight – Finnissy.

Chris Dromey (Middlesex University)

‘A Century (and a bit) of Pierrot ensembles: Perspectives on Barcelona, London and São Paolo’.

Over the last 105 years, the mixed chamber ensemble of Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot lunaire has become, in all its protean forms, a principal line-up for modern music. This paper offers a panoramic view of the musical, intercultural and historical contexts that underlie the Pierrot ensemble’s enduring appeal. In particular, the paper falls into three main parts to scrutinise how the medium has been adopted by musicians and composers in different parts of the world. Scholars have tended to focus on either Berlin, the site of Pierrot’s premiere, or on Anglo-American efforts to sustain and reinterpret the medium, especially in the late twentieth century. Instead, we begin in Barcelona to examine the Pierrot ensemble as a Spanish phenomenon, from its 1925 premiere, which also marked the premiere of Anton Webern’s Pierrot quintet arrangement of Schoenberg’s First Chamber Symphony (1906/22–23), to Mercedes Zavala’s Senegal-inspired La apoteosis nocturna de Andoar (2001). Such histories are inevitably interwoven, so the paper next probes the legacy of the Pierrot Players (1967–70, later The Fires of London), one of the most galvanising ensemble’s in post-war British music. A comparison of this group’s wide-ranging achievements with those of Grupo Novo Horizonte de São Paulo (1988–99), Brazil’s leading ensemble of the late twentieth century, can cast new light on how musical media and genres evolve. The paper therefore finally explains how Grupo Novo Horizonte, founded by the Briton Graham Griffiths, took then outgrew the Pierrot ensemble as its cornerstone, forging a localised spectacle with a richly internationalist heritage.

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When and where

2.00pm - 9.00pmTuesday 6th June 2017

Performance Space College Building City, University of London St John Street London EC1V 4PB United Kingdom

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