Singer's intonation and atonal music

Posted by: tomasino

Singer's intonation and atonal music - 05/06/12 01:51 PM

I was just listening to a bit of Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire in a different thread, and some questions came up regarding pitch unrelated to the thread.

The singer used a great deal of portamento and sometimes a quasi sort of sprachstimme. On the few times she actually sustained a pitch, she was never on pitch, and usually nowhere near the note. All of the instrumentalists were spot on the note.

My questions:

To what standard is a singer held in atonal music, given that most singers do not possess perfect pitch?
What is your reaction to a lower standard?

Note” I found the clip on YouTube, and tried to post it here, but I simply don’t know how, nor do I want to hijack the other thread with a change of topic. But if you care to listen, the other thread, currently active, is titled “About (modern) art.”

Tomasino
Posted by: Mark_C

Re: Singer's intonation and atonal music - 05/06/12 02:05 PM

Originally Posted By: tomasino
To what standard is a singer held in atonal music, given that most singers do not possess perfect pitch?
What is your reaction to a lower standard?....

I'd guess that it's not that the singer had poor intonation but that it was an expressive choice. I happened to be at a concert on Friday which had 'modern' pieces in which the singer as well as the instrumentalists constantly did that (i.e. not being on exact pitches) and the way they did it, you could tell it was choices (and IMO good ones).

Granted, in the recording you're talking about, it's a bit different because only the singer did it. I'd still make that guess, and in fact I can easily imagine that there would be such a difference in how the instruments and voice are approached.

I realize it's possible I might have a different opinion if I heard it.
Posted by: mrenaud

Re: Singer's intonation and atonal music - 05/06/12 02:29 PM

Generally, singers should be able to hit the right pitches even in contemporary music (which is why you'll quite often see them use tuning forks during performances), though every composer worth his/her salt should be aware that hitting the right notes in a run of unusual intervals is more difficult for singers than it is for instrumentalists and therefore, note-perfectness in a piece by e.g. Ferneyhough is neither expected nor usually achieved (the same applies, to a lesser extent, to instrumentalists as well, especially string players).

Pierrot Lunaire, on the other hand, is a special case because the speaking-singing you describe is actually what Schoenberg calls for in the score. See here.
Posted by: beet31425

Re: Singer's intonation and atonal music - 05/06/12 02:33 PM

Originally Posted By: tomasino
I was just listening to a bit of Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire in a different thread, and some questions came up regarding pitch unrelated to the thread.

The singer used a great deal of portamento and sometimes a quasi sort of sprachstimme. On the few times she actually sustained a pitch, she was never on pitch, and usually nowhere near the note.

Tomasino,

To some extent, you're describing the exact desired effect in Pierrot. In the score, most of the vocalist's notes are marked with an "x" through the note stem, indicating sprachstimme.

I can't judge the success of the particular vocalist you heard, but I do think that what you're describing is particular to that piece, not atonal music in general. For atonal Schoenberg that's sung more traditionally, consider Friede auf Erden for unaccompanied choir, or the beautiful song Herzgewächse.

-Jason
Posted by: BruceD

Re: Singer's intonation and atonal music - 05/06/12 02:53 PM

On a - somewhat - related topic, I was present at a concert a few evenings ago at which the composer/organist present a work for organ and voice. The soprano line started at the upper level of the singer's range and descended, half-step by half-step, in fairly long, held notes, for two and a half octaves against the organ accompaniment. The organ accompaniment was a soft series of impressionistic-like pitch-vague chords using a strings stop. I guess, in a case like that, the vocalist would simply have to concentrate on her own innate sense of relative pitch but it must nevertheless have been difficult, given the atonality of the accompaniment to have any point(s) of reference.

I would say that it was an "interesting" work.

Regards,
Posted by: tomasino

Re: Singer's intonation and atonal music - 05/06/12 03:03 PM

No, it's not true that Schoenberg expected sprachstimme here. The clip I was listening to showed the score as the music moved along. Only in one or two places of less than two measures was sprachstimme indicated with x's. (I really do wish I could post it).

Also, to Mark C, it did strike me that the choices made were deliberate, and arguably effective, but it also seemed to me that the style of singing employed probably developed over time from the inability of singers to sing the notes.

Also, her vocal style was not what we've come to think of as sprachstimme, or at least it was a very singy kind of sprachstimme. The vocal sound was usually that of a female head voice, not the more chesty sound I associate with sprachstimme. Let me try to say this again--it was sung off pitch, it wasn't spoken off pitch. Also, there was a nearly continuous use of portamento.

Tomasino
Posted by: Mark_C

Re: Singer's intonation and atonal music - 05/06/12 03:06 PM

Originally Posted By: tomasino
....it did strike me that the choices made were deliberate, and arguably effective, but it also seemed to me that the style of singing employed probably developed over time from the inability of singers to sing the notes.

What made you think that?? It seems like a pretty damning way of thinking about singers. In some instances that's probably why singers are off-pitch, but I think we can be pretty sure it's not any kind of general thing as you state it. Sounds to me like if someone said the origin of rubato was that people couldn't keep time.

BTW, sprechstimme. smile

(Comes from sprechen, to speak.)
Posted by: tomasino

Re: Singer's intonation and atonal music - 05/06/12 03:08 PM

One other thing. It's true that the piece isn't serial, but it sure sounds atonal to me. At least, I could not hear logical chord progressions. There wasn't even a pedal tone giving it a sense of tonality.

Tomasino
Posted by: beet31425

Re: Singer's intonation and atonal music - 05/06/12 03:26 PM

Originally Posted By: tomasino
No, it's not true that Schoenberg expected sprachstimme here. The clip I was listening to showed the score as the music moved along. Only in one or two places of less than two measures was sprachstimme indicated with x's. (I really do wish I could post it).

Here's my score. The x's are hard to see, but there. Maybe they were difficult to see in the youtube clip?

Posted by: Goof

Re: Singer's intonation and atonal music - 05/06/12 03:39 PM

This is jibberish. If you are going to contribute to a dialogue, do so in correct English, without abbreviations (IMO?): otherwise it just becomes pompous opiniated posturing.Silence is preferable to meaningless hot air. HR Lee.
Posted by: Damon

Re: Singer's intonation and atonal music - 05/06/12 03:40 PM

Originally Posted By: tomasino
No, it's not true that Schoenberg expected sprachstimme here. The clip I was listening to showed the score as the music moved along. Only in one or two places of less than two measures was sprachstimme indicated with x's. (I really do wish I could post it).


If you were listening online, you could just copy the address in the address bar of your browser and paste in a post here. Someone here could certainly reformat it for the rest.

edit: I guess this was it?
Posted by: DameMyra

Re: Singer's intonation and atonal music - 05/06/12 03:47 PM

Sprechstimme is to be used throughout. Perhaps, as someone suggested above, the score was reduced and the x didn't appear clearly on the video.
Posted by: tomasino

Re: Singer's intonation and atonal music - 05/06/12 04:12 PM

Damon found the clip and posted it--thanks--and if I squint through my new glasses, it does appear that there are little x's on the stems. So that answers that.

Aside from this piece, though, the question remains, to what degree are singers expected to be true to pitch in atonal music? I'm a singer before a pianist, and at one time, when I was young and ambitious, I attempted to learn a Webern piece--Vier Stuecke, or something like that. I found it to be nearly impossible. I would have to do things like remember an instrumental pitch from two measures before my entrance, and then proceed by intervals through a series of ascending and descending tritones followed by a tenth.

Tomasino
Posted by: Mark_C

Re: Singer's intonation and atonal music - 05/06/12 05:17 PM

Originally Posted By: Goof
This is jibberish. If you are going to contribute to a dialogue, do so in correct English, without abbreviations (IMO?): otherwise it just becomes pompous opiniated posturing.Silence is preferable to meaningless hot air. HR Lee.

IMO that's the worst 1st post I've ever seen on any site. ha

(But of course make sure to note the IMO.) grin
Posted by: tomasino

Re: Singer's intonation and atonal music - 05/06/12 06:42 PM

Originally Posted By: Mark_C
Originally Posted By: tomasino
....it did strike me that the choices made were deliberate, and arguably effective, but it also seemed to me that the style of singing employed probably developed over time from the inability of singers to sing the notes.

What made you think that?? It seems like a pretty damning way of thinking about singers. In some instances that's probably why singers are off-pitch, but I think we can be pretty sure it's not any kind of general thing as you state it. Sounds to me like if someone said the origin of rubato was that people couldn't keep time.

BTW, sprechstimme. smile

(Comes from sprechen, to speak.)


What made me think that? I thought that because, with the information at hand, it seemed like a reasonable speculation. What made you think that "we can be pretty sure it's not any kind of general thing as you state it." Please note, I stated nothing. I made a speculation hoping to get a response to see if others had a different or similar take. As to thinking of singers in a damning way, I'm unlikely to damn myself, having been a semi-professional singer for many years. This experience has made me very knowledgable and sympathetic to the problems vocalists deal with, and keenly interested in how various vocal styles have developed over time--the reason for my starting the thread. As to your taking it upon yourself to correct me on the sprech/sprach thing, I stand corrected. Please understand, I try to write carefully with the hope that others will appreciate the effort and do likewise, but once in awhile, even though possessing a sound knowledge of German, something like that goes awry. But even if accompanied by a smily face, why should it matter to you?

Tomasino
Posted by: Mark_C

Re: Singer's intonation and atonal music - 05/06/12 07:12 PM

Originally Posted By: tomasino
....I stated nothing. I made a speculation....

Dunno....I thought that 'stating' is when someone says something.

As indicated, I was just commenting on your having said:

Quote:
....it also seemed to me that the style of singing employed probably developed over time from the inability of singers to sing the notes.

....which is rather a strong and arguably offensive view, and, I think, odd.

If you want to put some verb besides "stating" on that, I have no problem with it. smile

Speaking of offensive, I'm not sure why you took such offense from my posts. All I can say is that I was replying to your posts, and as near as I can tell, it all looks appropriate. And it looks like you're annoyed about the "sprechstimme" thing. If it were me, I'd have been grateful and thanked the person. I sure as heck wouldn't be angry over it.
Posted by: dfan

Re: Singer's intonation and atonal music - 05/06/12 08:05 PM

Originally Posted By: tomasino
, though, the question remains, to what degree are singers expected to be true to pitch in atonal music?


The standards for atonal singing are depressingly low, although I think they're improving. I remember a while ago desperately searching for a recording of Wozzeck in which all the singers were accurate (and that's a score in which the pitch really matters!) and being continually disappointed.

BTW, it's sprechstimme, not sprachstimme.
Posted by: tomasino

Re: Singer's intonation and atonal music - 05/06/12 09:44 PM

Mark,

If there is a criticism in what I wrote, it is not of singers, but of composers, who may be expecting the impossible--but even then, I'm not damning anybody. In the case at hand, Schoenberg seems to have been aware of the difficulties, and made allowances. Is he always as understanding? And are other atonal composers as accommodating? If not, how do singers deal with the very real difficulties of pitch in their compositions? What stylistic changes have come about in the wake of atonal vocal writing? That's what I'm curious about. It seems an unsettled area, and ripe for speculation.

In a post above, you wrote "Sounds to me like if someone said the origin of rubato was that people couldn't keep time." But that's just the point. Isn't it possible, (I don't claim a scholarly knowledge of rubato), but isn't it possible that keyboard artists were playing rubato "off score," so to speak--couldn't keep time, or just liked to play it differently, the reason doesn't matter--well before rubato was deemed an appropriate style? It must have started someplace, and it seems to me just as likely to have come from a performer's performance as from a composer's pen.

Has something similar been happening in the performance of atonal vocal music? That's what I'm curious about, and it seems an unsettled area of speculation. If we ever find out for certain, the resulting performance practice is no one's fault. Nobody is damned. It's not even a bad thing. In my mind it will just be an observation of how composers and performers accommodate one another, and in the process, of how styles change.

Tomasino

Posted by: Orange Soda King

Re: Singer's intonation and atonal music - 05/06/12 10:02 PM

Originally Posted By: Mark_C
Originally Posted By: Goof
This is jibberish. If you are going to contribute to a dialogue, do so in correct English, without abbreviations (IMO?): otherwise it just becomes pompous opiniated posturing.Silence is preferable to meaningless hot air. HR Lee.

IMO that's the worst 1st post I've ever seen on any site. ha
...


LOL!
Posted by: Mark_C

Re: Singer's intonation and atonal music - 05/06/12 10:28 PM

Originally Posted By: Orange Soda King
Originally Posted By: Mark_C
Originally Posted By: Goof
This is jibberish. If you are going to contribute to a dialogue, do so in correct English, without abbreviations (IMO?): otherwise it just becomes pompous opiniated posturing.Silence is preferable to meaningless hot air. HR Lee.

IMO that's the worst 1st post I've ever seen on any site. ha

LOL!

That's what I did over it too. grin

I think it's almost certainly a put on, which isn't hard to figure, not just because of what kind of "1st post" it is but also because of the name. ha

I'm betting it's either an alter ego of a venerable member, or a real-life friend who came on here to goof on me.

If we see any more posts from Goof, look for them to be equally, uh, 'constructive.' ha
Posted by: Goof

Re: Singer's intonation and atonal music - 06/08/12 12:44 PM

Actually not posted by goof but by his buddy H.R.L. Who is a 1960ties graduate of RSM but not too knowledgable on computers or like me on present day abreviations LOL ! whome