In February, 1988, I was asked by Leonard Stein, Director of the Arnold Schoenberg Institute at the University of Southern California, to participate in the "Pierrot Project." A group of some sixteen American composers had been invited to set the remaining 29 poems in the collection, "Pierrot Lunaire: Rondels Bergamasques," by the Belgian poet, Albert Giraud, first published in 1884, from which Schoenberg had selected the twenty-one poems in his own composition, Pierrot Lunaire, in 1912. The project was created with funds from The National Endowment for the Arts and the California Arts Council to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Schoenberg's seminal masterpiece.
Schoenberg used the 1893 German translation of Otto Erich Hartleben in his settings. All participating composers used the same. In addition we were confined to the original Pierrot instrumentation (flute-piccolo, clarinet-bass clarinet, violin-viola, cello, piano). We had the option of using sprechgesang, as in the original, if we so chose.
Der Koch (The Chef) is the first of three poems in the collection which I have chosen to set. The others are Nordpolfahrt (Arctic trip) and Selbstmord (Suicide). The three are intended to be performed as a cycle. They use the same harmonic and melodic material, and grow one from the other. There is also a related textual progression, whereby the dramatic tension increases with each song. The first is whimsical and not without humor; the second starts to despair, although not without whimsy; the third carries despair to its logical or ultimate solution. The color, white, found in all three poems, binds them together visually in a way suggesting the common harmonic and melodic material that binds them musically.
The first and last song utilize the traditional Pierrot instrumentation (flute, clarinet, violin, cello, and piano). The second becomes more somber (flute, bass clarinet, muted viola, muted cello, and piano). The soprano voice is called for throughout with no attempt made to use sprechgesang, a technique which I have found unsuitable to my own style. All three songs were written during a summer residency at Yaddo. Der Koch was premiered November 7, 1988, on the Monday Evening Concerts at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Christine Schadeberg, soprano, with The New York New Music Ensemble, Robert Black, conductor. Nordpolfahrt and Selbstmord were premiered on January 25th, at the Arnold Schoenberg Institute in Los Angeles, Lucy Shelton, soprano, with the Da Capo Chamber Players.
The first complete performance took place on the American Music Festival of The Ohio State University, February 5, 1989, Lucy Shelton, soprano, accompanied by a faculty ensemble, Craig Kirchhoff conductor. The work is recorded on a CRI compact disc No. 666. This recording can be heard on the Internet at http://composerver.sss.arts.ohio-state.edu/ as part of the streaming-audio project of the SCI (Society of Composers Inc.)