William Kraft: Settings from Pierrot Lunaire

William Kraft


Settings from Pierrot Lunaire

Jane Manning, soprano

Vintage Renaissance

Symphony of Sorrows

Kennedy Portrait

John Shea, narrator

Royal Liverpool

Philharmonic Orchestra

Czech Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra

Paul Polivnick, conductor

William Kraft was appointed to the Dorothy and Sherrill C.Corwin Chair in Music Composition at the University of California at Santa Barbara in September, 1991, in recognition of his long and distinguished career as a composer, conductor and teacher. He served as percussionist (1955-1962) and timpanist (1962-1981) with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and was the orchestra's first composer-in-residence (1981-1985) during which time he founded and directed the Philharmonic New Music Group. He also served as regular guest conductor and was assistant conductor for three seasons.

A musician of international acclaim, Professor Kraft has received dozens of awards, commissions, and nominations including two Guggenheim Fellowships, two Ford Foundation commissions, grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Rockefeller Foundation, two Kennedy Center Friedheim Awards, the Norlin/MacDowell Fellowship, and the American Academy and Institute of Arts & Letters Award. His works have been commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, Library of Congress, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Boston Philharmonic, Kronos Quartet, San Francisco Contemporary Music Players/Contemporary Music Forum (Washington, DC)/Speculum Musicae (New York), San Francisco Symphony, and many others. In 1991 Professor Kraft's composition, Settings from Pierrot Lunaire, a piece for soprano and chamber ensemble, was premiered in its entirety in Boston. In addition to composing several film and television scores, he conducted the orchestra for the recent films Dead Again, Carlito's Way, and Indo-Chine. Professor Kraft has served on the Board of the Monday Evening Concerts, the Music Panel of the National Endowment for the Arts, as musical director and chief advisor for the Young Musicians Foundation Debut Orchestra of Los Angeles, the board of the American Music Center, and was Chairman of the ASCAP Board of Review. Currently Mr. Kraft is president of the board of directors of the American Composers Forum/Los Angeles and professor emeritus.

Settings from Pierrot Lunaire (1987-90)

Settings from Pierrot Lunaire was commissioned by the Arnold Schoenberg Institute in honor of the 75th anniversary of Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire (1912).

In connection with a conference at the Arnold Schoenberg Institute to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Pierrot Lunaire, Leonard Stein the director of the Institute conceived a project that would provide a more lasting commemoration: “The commissioning of musical settings of the other 29 poems of the Pierrot cycle not included in the original 21 of Schoenberg's work.” The performing ensemble would be, of course, that of Schoenberg's Pierrot — vocalist, flute, clarinet piano, violin and cello.

I thought at first of using the original French but Leonard convinced me of the superiority of the German translation. He was quite right, but I did look at verses rich in color and imagery that would be compatible with my Impressionistic tendencies.

That being done, it was decided to pay homage to Schoenberg and, at the same time, to allude to Pierrot's strange and exotic mentality. Therefore, the settings are an odd mix of a 12 tone row; double-mode hexachords formed into another row, an octatonic scale and the overtone mode (raised 4th and lowered 7th). All this will be exemplified in notes taken from various programs where the individual settings were premiered.


(first performance February 1, 1988, Arnold Schoenberg Institute, Los Angeles, San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, Jean Louis Le Roux, conductor, Miriam Abramovitch, vocalist)

I chose to set Feerie because of its rich imagery and its equally rich allusion to color — two attributes which are germane to my compositional style. Just the first line is sufficient to exemplify this: “Powerful, golden purple birds.” Also the mention of Breughel in the poem brings the work in line with my Gallery pieces: 1) Gallery 83 which referred to Monet's “Waterloo Bridge,” Pollock's “Convergence” and my own graphic piece, “Kandinsky Variations;” 2) Gallery 45 which referred to the Rothko Chapel and two Kandinsky paintings, “In Gray” and “Painting with a White Border.”

Pitchwise, Ferrie is primarily based on the mode I have used in most of my music since 1980 — a seven-tone scale incorporating a raised fourth and a lowered seventh (CDEF#GABflat). In homage to Schoenberg I extended the mode by the addition of five pitches to make a 12-tone row:

(Additions) D# C# G# F B

(Mode)D C F# E GA A#

Rather than adhering to characteristic 12-tone technique the D# C# and G# are used as “color” tones while the F and B are rarely used (both in measure 11 and the B alone in measure 54, the last measure) since these two tones disturb the harmonic field too much and I do wish to maintain the aura of the mode.

At first I had thought to emulate the master in his settings, but this only served to show how incredibly masterful he was. Suffice to say the competition was too keen. But aside from that, I would hope in consideration of his attitude that one should find his own way — whether in 12-tone or not, that he would have approved of the approach I have taken.

Mein Bruder (first performance January 25, 1989, Arnold Schoenberg Institute, Lucy Shelton, vocalist, with the Da Capo Chamber Players).

Mein Bruder, veiled and subdued as it is (perhaps with a bit of “grotesquerie”) works well between the more vibrant and colorful Feerie and Harlequinade. To emphasize those qualities, the vocal part in Mein Bruder employs much more Sprechstimme and more of the lower register of the voice than do the others. Pitchwise, Mein Bruder is based essentially on the interval of a second (major, minor, and very rarely, augmented) paired to represent the brothers and expressed in cells of two, three, and four notes. Each of those intervals of a second is represented in the opening chord.


(first performed January 25, 1990, Arnold Schoenberg Institute, Carol Plantamora, vocalist, Keith Humble, conductor, Sonor Ensemble)

Harlequinade is the third of three settings of poems from Albert Giraud's Pierrot Lunaire. Composition was begun in June 1989 and completed July 11. I chose this poem because of its colors, textures, images and the fascinating thread of sinuously sensuous deception — deceptive particularly in its contrasts of images. In short, it is more impressionistic rather than expressionistic.

There are three interweaving types of pitch discrimination:

1. A 12-tone row (E G F# F A A# G# B C C# D# D) interweaving between the original and two transpositions.

2. An octatonic scale (E F# G A Bb C C# D#) and a seven-tone modification (E F# G A Bb C D

3. Free; i.e., arbitrarily chosen.

The cello opens with the seven-tone mode, playing the role of a side show drummer. When I was 15 years old, in San Diego, I went to see a carnival. Upon entering the grounds I could hear an archetypical circus drum pattern alternating between the bass drum's head and shell. One will find it also in Stravinsky's Petrushka wherein the alternation is between the bass drum and a pair of mounted cymbals. In the first section (first verse) the cello/drummer part hovers, for the most part, quietly behind the scene. The voice and the violin dominate the texture, weaving in and out of the row and its first transposition, just as Pierrot weaves through the crowd. This section is written for only the soprano, violin, and cello.

The second section is introduced by the piano striking a chord containing all seven pitches of the mode. Now the entire ensemble, voice and instruments, weaves through the mode (the octatonic scale and the row).

When Pierrot, in the third section (verse), struts and makes fanciful claims, the pitches become free of control — i.e., they are improvisatory, and this mixes with the scale, mode, and row to conclude the piece.


(first performance September 27, 1991, Currier Gallery, Boston, by Musical Viva, Richard Pittman, conductor, Christine Shadeburg, vocalist)

How fascinating it was to come across Selbtsmord. To one literally minded, Pierrot's suicide indicates his death. But to another mind, the poem represents another marvelous thrust into the transcendental realm of the imagination. From Giraud's disorganized collection of poems. Schoenberg, as expounded by Susan Youens, carved “…the tripartite cri de coeur of a modern artist's rootless rebellion and frenzied édereglement des sens, the surreal psychic dissolution that follows, and finally, the journey home…” As in Feerie and Harlequinade, there is an interplay of mode and scale extended to form a 12-tone row.

The orchestration of Settings from Pierrot Lunaire took place over a period of five years, 1990-94. As of this date, October, 2002, there have been no performances. The work was recorded October 12, 2001 by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Paul Polivnick conductor, Jane Manning, soprano. Solos in the orchestra were played by Thelma Handy, violin, Jonathan Hasgaard, cello, Alison Hayhurst, flute/alto flute, Myra Bennett, piccolo, Colin Pownall, bass clarinet, Ian Wright, timpani, Donna Maria Landowski, percussion, and Ian Buckle, piano.

Vintage Renaissance (1989)

(First performed June 10, 1989, Boston Pops Orchestra, John Williams, conductor.) Commissioned by the Boston Pops Orchestra.

In the 1980's the Boston Pops Orchestra started on a project funded by the Chiles Foundation of Portland, Oregon, of commissioning new works as well as special arrangements from the Broadway, film and popular music world. Among those commissioned to write new pieces were two British composers — Peter Maxwell Davies and Oliver Knussen, and several American composers; among them, Joseph Schwantner, John Adams and myself.

I suppose those of us from the symphonic world felt the challenge of writing something for the Boston Pops; that is, the challenge of writing something meant to entertain. Davies for example wrote An Orkney Wedding which involved a traditional bagpipe. I seized the opportunity to exhibit my love of Medieval and Renaissance music , and decided to create a work that would exhibit the old music in a transcription in its original form and then to compose my commentary or variation.

Two tunes are incorporated: 1. Danza by Francesco de la Torre. 2. A Bransle (pronounced “Brawl”) — composer unknown. Not much is known about Francesco de la Torre. He sang in the chapel of the Aragonese court from 1483 to 1500 and later because a curate at the cathedral of Seville. Nothing is known about him after 1504, suggesting that he died in that year. Only about a dozen works are extant; in addition to sacred and secular vocal music, there is one instrumental dance, a danza alta, (“high dance”) which is Spanish for the Italian saltarello (“saltare” = to leap, “alta” = high).

The second tune, a branle or bransle was a popular group dance of the 16th century. In English — its derivation being French, it is called a “brawl,” “braule” or “brangill.” There are several localized varieites, many of which resemble the French “farandole” (I.e.: last movement of Bizet's “l'Arlessienne Suite) and the cotillion — more “earthy” than the danza alta.

Vintage Renaissance opens with the danza alta played by two instruments that very likely played it in the 15th century —the piccolo (fife) and tambourine. It is quoted in its entirety for two reasons: 1.) There are no convincing closing points within. 2.) I didn't wish to impose one. The orchestra intrudes gently towards the end of the quote to suggest we are going to leave the 15th century and open this “vintage wine” into the 20th century. Indeed, a pop gun (cork sound) does announce the opening and consequent celebration in a 20th century manner.

Towards the end of this commentary/variation on Francesco's danza alta, a band of wandering musicians introduce the Bransle. This time the instruments are two oboes, English horn, and a bassoon (double reed descendants of shawms, which were more earthy and rough), plus a big drum. Again the orchestra joins in to make its 20th century commentary, but this time with more of an interactive partnership. Actually, throughout Vintage Renaissance there are aural windows in the commentary sections that give a brief view of the Renaissance, just as Renaissance interior paintings so often had windows that offered a view of the world outside.

After the second commentary (on the Bransle) both the piccolo/tambourine and the oboe/drum perform their respective tunes simultaneously. Originally the conception was to have them conclude Vintage Renaissance by walking off stage while playing but the small stage of Boston's Symphony Hall didn't allow it. Add to this, the constant activity — the continual serving of food and beverage — and the frequent intrusions of conversations precluded this “tender” conclusion so a new and celebrative ending was added — introduced by the opening of another bottle — this time a dessert wine.

Symphony of Sorrows (1995)

(first performance, 1995, Seattle Symphony Orchestra, Gerard Schwartz, conductor)

The Age of Anxiety has evolved into the Age of Sadness The anxious desires for peace and happiness — both personal and universal — have been defeated by the mixed forces of, on the one hand, political, economic and personal greed, and on the other hand by the desperation of poverty and supression. Concern for others has been replaced by self-aggrandizement, self-interest and the glorification of power accompanied by submission to demagagory and escape into drug induced ephemeral and dead-ended feelings of tension free happiness.

For intelligent and thinking people, the dream of a unified world has evaporated into the nightmare war, of indiscriminate, as well as discriminate, killing, plus racial, political and religious strife.

The result is resignation to the helplessness of those with a knowledge of history who know and may have experienced the effects and results of war. But this, of course, applies to anyone who feels the pain and misery of the tragedies of our — or any generation, thus the Symphony of Sorrows.

A Kennedy Portrait (Contextures III)

(commissioned by the Boston Philharmonic orchestra and Charles J. Kelley)

In May of 19xx I received a telephone call from Christopher Wilkins, Associate Conductor of the Utah Symphony Orchestra and a mutual friend of Ben Zander and me. He told me that Mr. Zander was coming to Los Angeles, and while there would contact m to discuss the possibility of my composing a musical portrait of John F. Kennedy to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the assasination. He had warned Mr. Zander that I would, most likely, not have the time. However, I was immediately very excited by the idea, since Kennedy had such a profound effect on me, as he did on so many others. Furthermore, I was ahead of schedule on the large French Horn Concerto I was then composing, and, if the muses continued to cooperate, there would be a good chance I could do the Kennedy portrait.

Mr. Zander and I discussed various approaches to the work, keeping in mind my own musical style. I played for him a recording of my Timpani Concerto, the style of which comes closest to what I thought would fit the Kennedy portrait. He was pleased; we had an aesthetic rapport and a philosophic kinship. So, challenging the odds, a commitment was made.

I was surprised that so many books on Kennedy were unavailable — many being out of print — but I was extremely fortunate to find a relatively rich collection at the Salt Lake City Public Library which greatly amplified the quotations generously given to me by the Kennedy Library. The quotations fall into four loosely defined areas, each separated by an orchestral interlude.

1. Brief introductory quotes expressing Kennedy's vision of America — its position and relationship to humanity.

2. Kennedy's belief in the arts — their significance and relevance to the nation's well-being; also, the effect of the arts on America's place in history.

3. Social justice and Kennedy's view of liberty and democracy.

4. Brief concluding remarks taken from the speech Kennedy was to deliver November 22, 1963.

The words which introduce each area are my own.

Musically, it was impossible for me to ignore Copland's Lincoln Portrait, nor would I necessarily want to, for it is a wonderfully effective work that I have long loved and respected and one which has such a fine “American” feel to it.

Fortunately, two intervals characteristic of Copland's “American” style, the major second and the perfect fifth, are common to the mode I have used since 1980 to effect my own style.

Thus, heavier emphasis was applied to these intervals than found otherwise in my music.

Certain metaphorical references are involved.

1. At time the major second is used linearly and ascending to suggest “We Shall Overcome,” so clearly associated with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights campaign.

2. When the second is set rhythmically in a dotted eighth, sixteenth, quarter note pattern (i.e. long, short, long) it refers to a brief but poignant motive in Mahler's Symphony No. 9 (1908). A work foreshadowing cataclysmic events and contemplating the evanescence of earthly life.

3. Most significant is the prominent incorporation of a Colonial song “Jefferson and Liberty,” paraphrased later as “Lincoln and Liberty.”

A Kennedy Portrait is subtitled Contextures III because of its relationship to Contextures I: Riots Decade '60 and Contextures II: The Final Beast, a piece opposing war and its atrocities.

If I may, I would like to say that to me, and of course many others, the profoundly tragic trilogy of assasinations — John and Robert Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. — are tantamount to the assasination of the nation for no one has more clearly epitomized the necessary concern for humanity with the courage and vision to implement that concern regardless of the potential consequences.

If I have done anything to breathe new life into the words, thoughts and image of John F. Kennedy, I am grateful, as I am to Ben Zander and the Boston Philharmonic for giving me the opportunity to, at least, try.

A Kennedy Portrait is dedicated to Benjamin Zander and the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra who premiered the work November 19, 1988.

—William Kraft

Texts for A Kennedy Portrait

by John Fitzgerald Kennedy and William Kraft


Must we forever live in a world of mourning

Because those from the dark cannot

Bear the blaze of insight and caring?

Born in and of Massachusetts, John F. Kennedy knew and cared.

Yes, he said: “Ask not what your country can do for you…ask what you can do for your country.”

And then:

“Ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.”

“Our goal is not the victory of might but the vindication of right…

…not peace at the expense of freedom but both peace and freedom here in this hemisphere and, we hope, around the world.”

“God willing that goal will be achieved.”

Orchestral Interlude


Must we forever live in a national whose soul is never fully touched nor identified because we do not invite the gifts of our artists to penetrate our hearts and minds throughout our lifetime?

It was over 2000 years ago that Confucius observed: “When music leads people to the right ideals and aspirations, we may become a great nation.”

It was in 1963 that John F. Kennedy observed: “… The life of the arts, are from being an interruption, a distraction, in the life of a nation, is very close to the center of a nation's purpose — and is a test of the quality of a nation's civilization.”

“I think politicians and poets share at least one thing, and that is that their greatness depends upon the courage with which they face the challenges of life.”

“There are many kinds of courage — bravery under fire, courage to risk reputation and friendship and career for convictions which are deeply held. Perhaps the rarest courage of all — for the skill to pursue it is given to very few men — is the courage to wage a silent battle to illuminate the nature of man and the world in which he lives.”

“If sometimes our artists have been the most critical of our society it is because their sensitivity and their concern for justice, which must motivate any true artist, make them aware that our nation falls far short of its highest potential.”

“I see little of more importance to the future of our country and our civilization than full recognition of the artist. If art is to flourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it take him.”

“[In a] democracy…the highest duty of the writer, the composer, the artist is to remain true to himself and let the chips fall where they may.”

“In serving his vision of the truth, the artist best serves his nation. And the nation which disdains the mission of art invites the fate of having nothing to look backward to with pride and nothing to look forward to with hope.”

Orchestral Interlude


Must we forever live in a nation where the fruits of liberty and democracy are blemished by bigotry, self-interests and petty grievances?

One hundred years had passed since Abraham Lincoln had said, “As I would not be a slave, I would not be a master. This expresses my view of democracy. Whatever differs from this, to the extent of the difference, is no democracy.”

Yes, one hundred years had passed since Abraham Lincoln when John F. Kennedy said, “We are confronted primarily with a moral issue. It is as old as the Scriptures and is as clear as the American Constitution. The heart of the question is whether all Americans are to be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities, whether we are going to treat our fellow Americans as we want to be treated.

“If an American, because his skin is dark, cannot eat lunch in a restaurant open to the public, if he cannot send his children to the best public school available, if he cannot vote for the public officials who represent him, if, in short, he cannot enjoy the full and free life which all of us want, then who among us would be content to have the color of his skin changed and stand in his place?

“Civil rights are not merely of importance to minority groups. If the full rights of our Constitution, the full values of human dignity are not available to every American, then they no longer have the same meaning for any American.”

Conviction and courage were hallmarks of John F. Kennedy's personality. Conviction and courage formed the core of action. They formed the force that overrode fears and easy solution.

And from this core, this force, he spoke for the principles of justice and freedom. Recognizing the threats to democracy, both from within and without our country, John Kennedy said, “We cannot escape our dangers — neither must we let them drive us into panic or narrow isolation. In many areas of the world where the balance of power already rests with our adversaries, the forces of freedom are sharply divided. It is one of the ironies of our time that the techniques of a harsh and repressive system should be able to instill discipline and ardor I its servants — while the blessings of liberty have too often stood for privilege, materialism and a life of ease.

“But I have a different view of liberty.”

Orchestral Interlude


Should we not live in the world of John Fitzgerald Kennedy's vision — to recognize and respect our responsibility to humanity? What he was going to say on that fateful November twenty-second, nineteen hundred and sixty-three, and what will remain his legacy is this:

“…This country is moving and it must not stop. It cannot stop. For this is a time for courage and time of challenge neither conformity nor complacency will do. Neither the fanatics nor the fainthearted are needed…

“So let us not be petty when our cause is so great. Let us not quarrel amongst ourselves when the nation's future is at stake. Let us stand together with renewed confidence in our cause — united in our heritage of the past and our hopes for the future — and determined that this land we love shall lead all mankind into new frontiers of peace and abundance.”

Music Director of the New Hampshire Music Festival since 1993, Paul Polivnick has also served as Music Director of the Oberlin Conservatory Orchestras from 1997 to 2002 and of the Alabama Symphony Orchestra from 1985 to 1993. Polivnick has guest conducted orchestras across the United States and around the world including the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Czech Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra, Seoul Philharmonic and the Brooklyn Philharmonic, among others. He earned his degree in orchestral conducting from the Juilliard School and attended Tanglewood as a student of Leonard Bernstein.

Jane Manning has long been established internationally as a leading exponent of contemporary music with more than 300 premieres to her credit. Her extensive discography includes works by Messiaen, Schoenberg and Ligeti, with conductors such as Boulez and Rattle, and her interpretations of major contemporary classics such as Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire are widely admired. Ms. Manning was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the University of York in 1988, and the O.B.E. by the Queen in 1990.

Emmy Award winner John Shea has diverse film and television credits, which include Windy City opposite Kate Capshaw, in a role that earned him the Best Actor Award at the Montreal Film Festival; Disney's Honey, I Blew Up the Baby with Rick Moranis; and the Sundance indie hit The Adventures of Sebastian Cole. He made his Broadway debut in Isaac B. Singer's Yentl, garnering the prestigious Theatre World Award for Most Promising Actor. A native of Massachusetts, Shea received his B.A. from Bates College and a Masters of Fine Arts in Directing from the Yale School of Drama.

Settings from Pierrot Lunaire was recorded for Albany Records by RLPO Live, the recording company of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra (www.rlpo-live.com).

Producer: Michael Ogonovsky; Sound Engineer: David A. Pigott; Executive Producer: Jonathan A.C. Small

Vintage Rensaissance, Symphony of Sorrows and Kennedy Portrait were performed by the Czech Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra, recorded by Czech Radio Prague.

Producer: Pavel Prantl; Recording Director: J. Gemrot; Recording Engineer: J. Kotzmann

John Shea's narration was recorded by Darcey Kite, Tattersall/Casablanca Studios, Toronto, Ontario.

Mastering: Kevin Kelly, University of California Santa Barbara Recording Studio.

This recording is made possible in part by a grant from the Aaron Copland Fund for Music and the Corwin Fund.