Sprechgesang

From Academic Kids

Sprechgesang (German for "speech song") or Sprechstimme ("speech voice") is a technique of vocal production halfway between singing and speaking. Since the end of the 19th century, it has sometimes been called for by composers of classical music.

In the foreword to Pierrot Lunaire (1912), Schoenberg explains how a good Sprechgesang should be achieved, saying that the indicated rhythms should be adhered to, but that whereas in ordinary singing a constant pitch is maintained through a note, in Sprechgesang the indicated pitch should be given, but then immediately left, either by rising or falling. The result should be unlike both normal singing and normal speech.

The earliest known use of the technique is in Engelbert Humperdinck's opera Königskinder (1897), but it is more closely associated with the composers of the Second Viennese School. Arnold Schoenberg asks for the technique in a number of pieces: the part of the Speaker in Gurrelieder (1911) is in Sprechgesang, almost all of Pierrot Lunaire (1912) uses the technique, and it is also employed in his opera Moses und Aron (1932). Alban Berg uses a variation on the technique, asking for parts of his operas Wozzeck and Lulu to be between Sprechgesang and normal singing.

Kurt Weill adopted Sprechstimme to accommodate Lotte Lenya's distinctive, though non-lyric, voice for her part as Jenny in Die Dreigroschenoper. Macheath's part also employs the technique.

In musical notation, Sprechgesang is usually indicated by small crosses through the stems of the notes, or with the note head itself being a small cross. The beginning of the vocal part in Pierrot Lunaire looks like this:

The beginning of the vocal part in "Mondestrunken"

Berg's part-Sprechgesang, part-singing is notated with a single stroke through the stems of the notes.

In Germany today, since the early 1990s, the term Sprechgesang has been given a new, more popular meaning of "German-language rap music."

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