On August 4th, 1996, Björk appeared at the Verbier Festival, and performed Schöenberg's Pierrot Lunaire, with conductor Kent Nagano, the Opera orchestra of Lyon, and Murray Hipkin, who later worked with Björk on John Tavener's Prayer of the Heart.

The performance required three months of rehearsals, and was never officially released.

Very little is known about the performance. Rumors say there are a few audio recordings, and even a video recording filmed by Björk's manager. So far, only two small audio clips have surfaced.



01. Mondestrunken
02. Columbine
03. Der Dandy
04. Eine blasse Wäscherin
05. Valse de Chopin
06. Madonna
07. Der kranke Mond (Part II)
08. Galgenlied

click for german and english lyrics

While an official setlist is not online, and the Verbier Academy won't return my email, thanks to the internet, I think this is correct. If you have any additions or corrections, please contact me!




When Kent Nagano convinced Björk to tackle the speaking part of Arnold Schoenberg's 1912 atonal masterpiece Pierrot Lunaire, he was bridging cultural divides with customary cool. The most exciting conductor of his generation and the most idiosyncratic vocalist of hers, exploring the thorniest composer of the 20th century? The Icelandic electro-songbird was anxious over the classical music world's perceived arrogance, but Nagano told her that Schoenberg wrote the piece because "he'd had it with the snobs in Germany," she recalled recently. "They'd become so self-obsessed and the gap between educated music people and the common people had become massive."

So the titan of 12-tone music wrote Pierrot for "more of a street person." Björk could relate, and Nagano insisted she experiment. "I do strongly believe in chemistry, which of course is an inexplicable human phenomenon," he said last week, adding that Schoenberg was one of Björk's favourite composers as a classically-trained child, pre-Sugarcubes. "She's at ease reading the music and her very imaginative and intense creative skills combined for a working environment that was deeply inspiring."

Great repertoire will impart different meanings at various stages of the listener's life. But the fear of the unfamiliar, or of instrumental music in general, keeps some from taking the plunge. There's also the snob factor that initially intimidated Björk. Says Nagano: "I totally sympathize with that nearly overwhelming, fragile feeling of thinking you're not quite understanding things that everybody else appears to be getting."

By comparison, Nagano confesses it was only relatively recently that he began to appreciate the subtleties of wine, strange for a cultured Californian. "Everyone who attends a concert goes to discover something that is unknown, and that shared sense of discovery is what makes live music so extraordinary. If you go with an open mind, the opportunity for discovery and tremendous emotional reaction can be more invigorating than you could possibly imagine. It's the opposite of cynicism."


DOWNLOAD Mondestrunken clip (0:59)
Galgenlied clip (0:15)

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The wine that through the eyes is drunk,
at night the moon pours down in torrents,
until a spring-flood overflows,
the silent far horizon.

Desires, shuddering and sweet
are swimming through the flood unnumbered !
The wine that through the eyes is drunk,
at night the moon pours down in torrents.

the poet ... .

She is a true virtuoso vocalist, the likes of whom popular music has rarely seen. Her operatic range and seemingly effortless pitch control have been demonstrated not only in her own music, but in her performances of Arnold Schoenberg's notoriously difficult "Pierrot Lunaire." Her voice can be perfectly clear, and she often phrases in an intentionally tentative way, bringing the childlike quality of her singing to the fore. But that can be undercut immediately by an extraordinary guttural sound, as if the note were too fragile to support the energy coming out of her body. It is a sound no child could ever make. Salon.com review


“It was an amazing experience for me,” she recalled. “The songs left so much to the imagination of the singer—you know, they were originally written for a cabaret singer or an untrained singer like me. Kent Nagano wanted to make a recording of it, but I really felt that I would be invading the territory of people who sing this for a lifetime.” - Björk
(The New Yorker Aug 23 2004)

Pierrot Lunaire achieves it's astonishing sound first by use of speech-contours called Sprechstimme, second by vastly imaginative treatment of the five instrumentalists, such that no two of the 21 total songs begin with the same isntrumental force. Pierrot, the poet, comes from the Commedia dell'Arte tradition; the settings are strongly Expressionistic and symbolic, focusing on cold, white moonlight—tinged in the Chopin waltz by a drop of blood—and drunkenness.

Written by Albert Giraud in 1884, Pierrot Lunaire was based on the commedia dell'arte figure of Pierrot. In 1912, composer Arnold Schönberg set a German language version of selections from his Pierrot Lunaire to innovative atonal music.

Choosing twenty-one poems, Schoenberg planned a three-part work. In Part I, Pierrot, intoxicated by the moon, fantasizes about love, sex, and religion. Part II finds him in a violent nightmare world of plunder and blasphemy. In Part III he journeys home to Bergamo, haunted by nostalgic thoughts of a fabled past. The eight instruments played by five performers (piano, flute/piccolo, clarinet/bass clarinet, violin/viola and cello) are arranged differently in every number and produce an amazing variety of sound.






Lyric transcriptions provided by Mimmi Fulmer and Ric Merritt, for The Lied and Art Song Texts Page. Used with permission.

Thank you to US magazine, salon.com, Montreal Mirror and Wikipedia for use of quotes, articles and information about Pierrot Lunaire.

Photo © Paul Bergen.