) are musical terms used to refer to an expressionist
vocal technique that falls between singing
. Though sometimes used interchangeably, sprechgesang
is a term more directly related to the operatic recitative
manner of singing (in which pitches are sung, but the articulation is rapid and loose like speech), whereas sprechstimme
is closer to speech itself (not having emphasis on particular pitches).
The term sprechgesang is more closely aligned with the long used recitative or parlando techniques than sprechstimme. Where it is used in this way, it is usually in the context of the late Romantic German opera in the 19th and early 20th century. Thus sprechgesang is often simply a German alternative to recitative.
Sprechgesang was not a term used by Arnold Schoenberg himself, but it is frequently used by others to refer to his sprechstimme. As such, the two terms have become interchangeable in this context.
The earliest known use of the technique is in Engelbert Humperdinck's 1897 melodrama Königskinder , 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 Gurre-Lieder (1911) is written in his notation for Sprechstimme, but it was Pierrot Lunaire (1912) where he used it throughout and left a note attempting to explain the technique. Alban Berg adopted the technique and asked for it in parts of his operas Wozzeck and Lulu.
In the foreword to Pierrot Lunaire (1912), Schoenberg explains how his Sprechstimme should be achieved. He explains that the indicated rhythms should be adhered to, but that whereas in ordinary singing a constant pitch is maintained through a note, here the singer "immediately abandons it by falling or rising. The goal is certainly not at all a realistic, natural speech. On the contrary, the difference between ordinary speech and speech that collaborates in a musical form must be made plain. But it should not call singing to mind, either. For the first performances of Pierrot Lunaire, Schoenberg was able to work directly with the vocalist and obtain exactly the result he desired, but later performances were problematic. Schoenberg had written many subsequent letters attempting to clarify, but he was unable to leave a definitive explanation and there has been much disagreement as to what was actually intended. Pierre Boulez would write, "the question arises whether it is actually possible to speak according to a notation devised for singing. This was the real problem at the root of all the controversies. Schoenberg's own remarks on the subject are not in fact clear. Schoenberg would later use a notation without a traditional clef in the Ode to Napoleon Bonaparte (1942), A Survivor from Warsaw (1947) and his unfinished opera Moses und Aron, which eliminated any reference to a specific pitch, but retained the relative slides and articulations.
In Schoenberg's musical notation, sprechstimme is usually indicated by small crosses through the stems of the notes, or with the note head itself being a small cross.
Schoenberg's later notation (first used in his Ode to Napoleon Bonaparte, 1942) replaced the 5-line staff with a single line having no clef. The note stems no longer bear the x, as it is now clear that no specific pitch is intended, and instead relative pitches are specified by placing the notes above or below the single line (sometimes on ledger lines).
Berg's Sprechstimme is notated with a single stroke through the stems of the notes.
In modern usage, it is most common to indicate Sprechstimme by using "x"'s in place of conventional noteheads.
- 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.
- Alberto Ginastera uses this technique in his work "Cantata para América mágica"
- The technique was used by child actor Sally Hamlin in her 1917 recordings of poetry by Eugene Field, and also to some extent by the actor Rex Harrison in the stage and film versions of the musical My Fair Lady, where he played Professor Henry Higgins, to cover up the deficiencies of his singing voice.
- Lou Reed used sprechgesang in his solo work and in his work with the Velvet Underground, which was quite different from the melodic pop of the late '60s that dominated the charts upon the Velvets' debut.
- The music of Art Brut features extensive use of sprechgesang.
- U2's Bono used it during the Achtung Baby era, most notably on "Until the End of the World" and "The Fly".
- Playwright Melvin Van Peebles wrote a number of musical plays in which the lyrics were performed with the Sprechgesang technique, in addition to his debut album, Brer Soul.
- Frank Zappa used the Sprechstimme technique on a number of songs, including "Trouble Every Day" (from the album Freak Out!), "I'm The Slime" (from Over-Nite Sensation), "Dumb All Over" (from You Are What You Is), on "Dangerous Kitchen", "The Radio Is Broken" and "The Jazz Discharge Party Hats" (from The Man from Utopia). He also uses the technique on his more recent works with the Ensemble Modern including "Food Gathering in Post-Industrial America, 1992", and "Welcome to the United States" (from Yellow Shark).
- Mark E. Smith from The Fall almost always uses the technique.
- Einar Örn from The Sugarcubes is also known to have used the technique.
- Fred Schneider of the B-52's frequently uses Sprechstimme, adding a stark contrast to the melodic, high voices of lead singers Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson.
- Frank Black (Black Francis) of the Pixies alternates between several vocal styles, one of which employs a strident spoken urgency evoking Sprechgesang.
- British guitarist Mark Knopfler's singing style in certain songs such as the Dire Straits' songs "Money for Nothing", "Sultans of Swing" and "Fade to Black" may be considered by some to be sprechstimme.
- German vocalist Christopher Schmid (ex-Lacrimas Profundere) used the technique in the bands earlier albums
- Iconic musician Bob Dylan uses the technique in almost every song.
- Craig Finn of the Brooklyn-based Rock band The Hold Steady has a vocal style that leans heavily towards Sprechgesang, especially while performing live.
- In Germany today, since the early 1990s, the term Sprechgesang has been given a new, more popular meaning of "German-language rap music."