The Voice | Sprechgesang | Modern Era | Classical
Sprechgesang (also called Sprechstimme) is a type of vocal production lying somewhere between speech and song. The idea of combining speech, sometimes rhythmical, with music (familiar from the well-established genre of melodrama) was taken a step further by Schoenberg at the conclusion of his oratorio Gurrelieder (1911) where the intended rise and fall of the speaker’s voice is notated precisely using diamond-shaped noteheads on the stave. Sprechgesang proper emerged for the first time in Pierrot lunaire (1912). Here the notes in the vocal part have crosses in the middle of their stems: the singer is instructed to touch briefly on the notated pitch, gliding from there to the next note, thereby creating a disembodied effect entirely suited to the work’s eerie, moonlit atmosphere. Schoenberg demonstrated the technique’s adaptability to a variety of dramatic contexts: it underlines the biting satire of Ode to Napoleon Bonaparte (1942), where a less precisely pitched notation is used, and characterizes the voice of the prophetic in the unfinished opera Moses und Aron (1930–32), soloistically in the character of Moses and chorally in the voice from the burning bush. As well as Berg, who used it in both his operas, Britten and Boulez have used varieties of the technique.
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