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Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night) Op.4

Arnold Schönberg (b. 1874 - d. 1951)

Carolin Widmann (photo credit: Kass Kara)

Carolin Widmann (photo credit: Kass Kara)

Composer
Arnold Schönberg (b. 1874 - d. 1951)
Composition Year
1899
Work Movements
1. Sehr langsam
2. Breiter
3. Schwer betont
4. Sehr breit und langsam
5. Sehr ruhig
Artists
Andreas Brantelid [cello], Alban Gerhardt [cello], Lise Berthaud [viola], Lawrence Power [viola], Alina Ibragimova [violin], Carolin Widmann [violin]

Programme Note Writer:
© Francis Humphrys

This moonlit late Romantic work was composed in 1899, when Schoenberg was on holiday with Zemlinsky in the countryside outside Vienna. At the same time he was passionately courting Zemlinsky’s sister Mathilde, who, along with the p[oetry of Richard Dehmel, inspired this voluptuous music. It shows also Schoenberg’s debts to the towering figures that preceded him: from Brahms came the tradition of the string sextet and the clear motivic development; from Liszt the ideal of the one movement symphonic poem; and from Wagner the use of chromaticism and colour. Richard Strauss, his elder by ten years, had also written several of his tone poems at this stage, so the idea of programmatic music was part of the Zeitgeist, along with the exuberant romantic excess of both composers and poets.

Richard Dehmel’s poem, Verklärte Nacht, with its idea of a love that transcends all conventions, provided the inspiration. It is written in five stanzas of unequal length. The first describes two lovers walking on a moonlit winter night through a grove of leafless oaks. In the second stanza the woman makes the anguished confession that she is pregnant by another man, conceived before she met her present lover. She had been desperate to have a child and the other man was only a stranger to her. And now life is taking revenge with her discovery of her true love. The third stanza is another moonlit interlude during which her lover waits his turn to speak. The fourth stanza is his absolution of her guilt and insistence that their love for each other will transfigure the child and make it belong to both of them. The final stanza sees them walk on through the high, bright night, arms around each other.

This idealistic tale is followed in the music. The opening bars create the atmosphere for a magical transformation and the evocation of the full moon riding high on a crystal clear winter’s night is of a beauty not normally associated with this composer. However this is savagely interrupted by the woman's human, all-too-human tale, told with a passionate development of the musical material. The third section returns to the immensity of night, before the fourth section launches the rapturous concept of transfiguration through love, and in so doing, throws new light on the themes from the second part. The finale returns to the peacefulness of the moonlit night, though the sky, the moon, the bare trees and the lovers themselves are now all shimmering with the glow of transfiguration.

Although this music was inspired by Matthilde Zemlinsky, whom Schönberg married in 1901, the dreadful irony is that Schönberg failed to live up to the high ideals of Dehmel's poem and when Matthilde was unfaithful, he never forgave her. 

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Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night) Op.4

Composer: Arnold Schönberg (b. 1874 - d. 1951)
Performance date: Friday 4th July 2014
Venue: Bantry House Library, Bantry, Co. Cork, Ireland,

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Composer Arnold Schönberg (b. 1874 - d. 1951)
Work Title Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night) Op.4
Composition Year 1899
Work Movements 1. Sehr langsam
2. Breiter
3. Schwer betont
4. Sehr breit und langsam
5. Sehr ruhig
Artist(s) Andreas Brantelid [cello], Alban Gerhardt [cello], Lise Berthaud [viola], Lawrence Power [viola], Alina Ibragimova [violin], Carolin Widmann [violin]
Performance Date Friday 4th July 2014
Performance Venue Bantry House Library, Bantry, Co. Cork, Ireland,
Event Main Evening Concert
Duration 00:26:56
Recording Engineer Richard McCullough, RTE
Instrumentation Category Sextet
Instrumentation 2vn, 2va, 2vc
Programme Note Writer © Francis Humphrys

This moonlit late Romantic work was composed in 1899, when Schoenberg was on holiday with Zemlinsky in the countryside outside Vienna. At the same time he was passionately courting Zemlinsky’s sister Mathilde, who, along with the p[oetry of Richard Dehmel, inspired this voluptuous music. It shows also Schoenberg’s debts to the towering figures that preceded him: from Brahms came the tradition of the string sextet and the clear motivic development; from Liszt the ideal of the one movement symphonic poem; and from Wagner the use of chromaticism and colour. Richard Strauss, his elder by ten years, had also written several of his tone poems at this stage, so the idea of programmatic music was part of the Zeitgeist, along with the exuberant romantic excess of both composers and poets.

Richard Dehmel’s poem, Verklärte Nacht, with its idea of a love that transcends all conventions, provided the inspiration. It is written in five stanzas of unequal length. The first describes two lovers walking on a moonlit winter night through a grove of leafless oaks. In the second stanza the woman makes the anguished confession that she is pregnant by another man, conceived before she met her present lover. She had been desperate to have a child and the other man was only a stranger to her. And now life is taking revenge with her discovery of her true love. The third stanza is another moonlit interlude during which her lover waits his turn to speak. The fourth stanza is his absolution of her guilt and insistence that their love for each other will transfigure the child and make it belong to both of them. The final stanza sees them walk on through the high, bright night, arms around each other.

This idealistic tale is followed in the music. The opening bars create the atmosphere for a magical transformation and the evocation of the full moon riding high on a crystal clear winter’s night is of a beauty not normally associated with this composer. However this is savagely interrupted by the woman's human, all-too-human tale, told with a passionate development of the musical material. The third section returns to the immensity of night, before the fourth section launches the rapturous concept of transfiguration through love, and in so doing, throws new light on the themes from the second part. The finale returns to the peacefulness of the moonlit night, though the sky, the moon, the bare trees and the lovers themselves are now all shimmering with the glow of transfiguration.

Although this music was inspired by Matthilde Zemlinsky, whom Schönberg married in 1901, the dreadful irony is that Schönberg failed to live up to the high ideals of Dehmel's poem and when Matthilde was unfaithful, he never forgave her.