Transfigured Night: Arnold Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht

Photo by Ryan Hutton

This week, the Seattle Symphony is performing Arnold Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht (“Transfigured Night”) with Principal Guest Conductor Thomas Dausgaard on March 10, 12 and 13.

As the title suggests, Verklärte Nacht is the story of a miraculous transformation. The piece is based on a poem by the German poet Richard Dehmel that tells an emotional story about a couple walking in the woods on a cold winter night.

In Dehmel’s poem, the woman is pregnant with the child of a man she never loved. She loves the man she walks with tonight, but, overwhelmed by guilt, she despairs that she will never know happiness with him now.

“Look at this brilliant, moonlit world,” responds her companion. “It is like a cold ocean, but there is a flame within each of us that warms the other and which will transfigure the child and make it mine also.”

They kiss and then walk on through the radiant night around them.

"I first heard Schoenberg's Verklärte Nacht performed on a warm summer evening in a romantic castle near Salzburg, Austria,” said Principal Guest Conductor Thomas Dausgaard. “I had been travelling by train from Denmark all day ... the music became like a hallucination half in my dreams and half in reality ... it adds up to a deeply transcendental whole."

You can watch the full interview with Dausgaard below:

Arnold Schoenberg is remembered for some of the most radical and controversial developments in 20th century music. As Paul Schiavo writes in our program notes for this weekend, however, Schoenberg’s “musical ethos was firmly rooted in the Romantic tradition of Wagner, Strauss and Mahler.” Although this piece remains strongly rooted in the harmonies and searching melodies of his predecessors, you can already hear moments that foreshadow future developments in his harmonic writing.

You can listen to Verklärte Nacht below:

Reserve your tickets to hear Principle Guest Conductor Thomas Dausgaard lead the Seattle Symphony in a performance of Haydn, Mozart and Schoenberg on March 10, 12 and 13.

Posted on March 8, 2016