Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Joseph N. Straus

Committee Members

Philip Lambert

Norman Carey

Stephanie Jensen-Moulton

Subject Categories

Cognitive Neuroscience | Music Performance | Music Theory


Sprechstimme, Arnold Schoenberg, Pierrot lunaire, Music cognition, Speaking, Singing


Since its creation, the technique of Sprechstimme has fascinated the audiences, performers, and composers of twentieth century music. What is it? How is it done? How should it be notated? At the fore of investigations into these questions has been Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot lunaire, the work in which Schoenberg debuted this new technique. Much has been written in regard to Schoenberg’s creation and use of Sprechstimme, as well as his own exploration of the speech/song continuum. Composers, conductors, and performers have all tried to make sense of the notation, instructions, and performances Schoenberg left behind. Despite this, confusion, doubt, and dissatisfaction have continued to reign.

Recent research into music and language by the cognitive science fields has begun to shed light on some of the questions plaguing Sprechstimme. With this research, I set forth to clarify how to perform Sprechstimme by showing that the best interpretation of Pierrot lunaire is one that is sung on pitch with a speech-like timbre. I will establish support for this in two ways. First, a demonstration of the importance of pitch within the vocal line by calling attention to salient structural features, especially inversional symmetry, through a thorough musical analysis of Pierrot lunaire. Second, a review of recent neurological studies that suggest a cognitive dissociation of speaking and singing most likely at the level of fine-grained pitch, revealing that no speech/song continuum exists and that Sprechstimme must be performed with either speaking or singing. In addition, I will provide a practical performer's guide to Sprechstimme that considers this current research, the current trends in vocal pedagogy, as well as my own personal experience with preparing Pierrot lunaire. Abiding by the suggestions in the guide will help performers of Pierrot lunaire and other works establish a speech-like singing technique that will allow them to respect the instructions Schoenberg provided for Sprechstimme, as well as the manner in which he composed Pierrot lunaire. In the end, readers will have a better understanding of what the voice is physically and cognitively able to do and how to create an exciting and musical interpretation of Pierrot lunaire. (5469 kB)
Audio files accompanying the dissertation manuscript.