• The Music of Lulu

    The Music of Lulu


    Lulu: Soprano capable of a wide range singing, with top easy notes, but solid middle and low registers. Not a big deal of coloratura is needed.

    Schön: Dramatic baritone, with a wide range too. He must solved quick transitions between his low and top notes.

    Alwa: Heroic tenor, Berg's inspiration was the first act of Tannhäuser.

    Painter:: Typical lyrical tenor, with a range between A1 and A3.

    Countess: Dramatic mezzo, not a difficult role to sing, but some acting skills are required.

    Schigolch: Bass-baritone, usually sung by veteran singers.

    Like in Wozzeck, there are different vocal techniques used in Lulu: plain singing, recitative, arioso, sprechgesang, spoken voice,...

    The orchestra

    Similar to Wozzeck's, though with some less instruments. A great flexibility is required. The timbrical choices are of great importance, because Berg is using an association of some instruments with some roles and situations: strings with Schön and romantic interludes, cellos and double basses with Schigolch, saxophone with Alwa and the show business world, piano with the Athlete,...

    The musical language

    In Lulu, Berg is accepting the challenge of writing an opera based on the 12-tone system:


    He wrote a fundamental row, representing Lulu, and then he proceeded to extract other derived rows for the rest of characters, and also some situations in the libretto. He combined this procedure with some very defined musical forms (canon, sonata, vals,...) to build a very complex, but also effective structure.

    This is the fundamental row (Lulu's row) devised by Berg:

    C - E - F - D - G - A - F# - G# - B - A# - D# - C#

    There were up to 30 other rows in the score. For instance, Alwa's row was created using a downward transposition of seven semitones, followed by a retrograde.

    Those 30 rows are:

    • Alwa
      Animal Tamer
      Lulu (fundamental row)
      Destiny's Rythm
      Every man for himself
      Love's theme I
      Love's theme II

    Berg is using those rows many times as leitmotifs, in the score.

    We need also to remember than the orchestration of the third act is by Friedrich Cerha. He used Berg's piano reduction for the third act, the libretto, some hand-written papers by Berg, and Lulu's suite. With this material, and Berg's intention of using symmetry as the driving force for the opera, Cerha completed a great job. It's clear we will never know how Berg's third act would have developed, but personally I'm persuaded it would be very similar to Cerha's.


    Curtain up. The first bars are using the row "Erdgeist", then we hear a stroke in the timpani, that corresponds to the pistol shot in Wedekind's drama. Tha Animal Tamer starts in sprechgesang, 'Hereinspaziert in die Menagerie..', while we hear its own row and "Doom" row, and then he switch to "Alwa"'s row, that is revealed as the true presenter of the opera. Finally, the Animal Tamer drops the sprechgesang, and sings the "Painter"'s row in 'Das wahre Tier..'.

    We can watch the animals being presented: the Tiger ("Schön"'s row), in the cellos. The Bear ("Athlete"'s row) in the double basses. The Camel (with "Lulu"'s row, completely transposed) and then the Cocrodile ("Geschwitz"'s row).

    When the orchestra switch to the "Charm"'s row, the Animal Tamer invokes the Serpent: 'Bring mir unsre Schlange her !..'. Here we should see Lulu, stage director permitting, and hear the "Destiny's Rythm"'s row, in the piano. Then a beautiful chord almost in B major, with the violins, the double basses, percussion and a sensual saxophone, 'Urgestalt des Weibes'. Berg's meaning is clear: Lulu is at the same time light and shadow, harmony and dissonance. Then we can hear "Lulu"'s row, and, in the first of many simmetries, all other rows in the Prologue in revert order, the a return to the sprechgesang, and the circle is complete: 'Verehrtes Publikum..'.

    Sprechgesang is a vocal technique just about in the middle of singing and speaking.

    We can watch this scene in youtube, with Christiane Boesiger's as Lulu (warning: contains nudity):

    First Act

    First Scene

    Berg was always very worried about the formal structure of his operas. He was perfectly aware that he was getting very far from a standard Post-Romantic piece, with the twelve-row system, coming back to numbers opera, new vocal techniques,... so he tried to anchor all this, in Wozzeck as in Lulu, using traditional musical forms. In his view, this provided the right canvas for his style of painting.

    So, for Lulu's first scene we got:

    Recitative (Alwa, Schön, Lulu)
    Canon (Lulu, Painte )
    Melodrama (Lulu, Painter, Doctor)
    Spoken dialogue, Canzonetta (Lulu, Painter)
    Arioso (Painter)

    Briefly, a Canon is a musical form in which the first voice is singing (or playing, if instrumental) a melody, and then the second voice mirrors (i.e., it exactly repeats, or performs some variations) the initial melody, after a given duration. There could be more than two voices, of course.

    Melodrama is a 18th century technique, using spoken words, with no singing, but following a musical rhythm.

    The recitative stars with the "Stage" row. Lulu is talking about Schön's fiancée, accompanied by the vibraphone. Schön talks to the Painter, while we hear "Schön" row in the cello. Then, the piano is introducing "Erdgeist" while Lulu and the Painter are now alone. The Painter is in love with Lulu, 'Gnädige Frau...' while the young woman flirts with him, again with the "Stage" row.

    The Canon begins with Lulu's sentence: 'Sie bekommen mich noch lange nicht..' and is developing while the Painter pursues Lulu across all the stage. We can hear first the piano, then the harp and the vibraphone, until Lulu is caught. The Canon ends with a coda in the trombones, while the Painter and Lulu talk.

    Then we have the Melodrama, with singing transforming into sprechgesang and the arrival of the Doctor, Lulu's husband, while we hear the row "Destiny's Rythm". After the death of the Doctor, Lulu sings a Canzonetta with a melody in the saxophone: 'Auf einmal springt er auf…'. Then a recitative symmetrical to Melodrama, with the answers of Lulu sung in a lyrical, very beautiful, arioso: 'Jetzt bin ich reich…'.

    She is answered by the Painter, with his own arioso: 'Ich möchte tauschen mit dir…', and towards the end we can hear the row "Charm" in the trombone. Is this 12-tone or tonal music?.

    In the interlude, the saxophone is playing again the Canzonetta, while the rest of the orchestra come back to the Canon.


    Recently in Berlin, some performances of Lulu were given, not using either the two-act version with the usual addendums or the three-act completed by Cerha, by another, new, version completed by David Robert Coleman, musical assistant of the Berlin Staatsoper.

    Sounds strange?. Not really, the thing is that stage director Andrea Breth did not like one of the two scenes completed by Cerha (in purity, she did not like Berg's scene, as she was claiming dramatic reasons for this), so they decided just to strip it completely of the score, with the acquiescence of Daniel Barenboim.

    This article was originally published in forum thread: Opera in-Depth: Lulu started by Schigolch View original post

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