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Verklarte Nacht (Transfigured Night)
Schoenberg was born into a period when romanticism appeared to have come almost to the end of its possibilities and was leading ever deeper into a cul-de-sac of fin de siecle decadence. His achievement was to find a way through to a more disciplined technique of composition, based on serialism. This did not happen, however, until after he had himself travelled the path of romanticism. Despite the strictness of his theories, he insisted, "I do not compose principles, but music". In another rueful comment, hardly relevant here, he observed, "My music is not modern, it is merely badly played."
His early years in Vienna were marked by a constant struggle for recognition. Verklarte Nacht, which belongs to this period, was rejected by the Tonkunstleverein becuase it contained a chord which did not appear in the harmony textbooks. One of the judges commented that "it sounds as if someone had meared the score of Tristan while it was still wet". Having been helped by Zemlinsky and Mahler, Schoenberg in turn helped others by founding a society to give private performances of new music for those interested in hearing it. The press were not welcome! In its three-year life, the society promoted 117 concerts. In 1925Schoenberg took up a teaching appointment in Berlin, from where he eventually emigrated to America at the onset of Nazi persecution of the Jews.
Verklarte Nacht was originally a chamber work for string sextet. It was completed in just three weeks in December 1899 (he must have been determined that it should fall within the 19th century). Schoenberg subsequently made two orchestral versions, one in 1917 and the other in 1943; this recording is based on the latter. The music develops by a Wagnerian process once described by Schoenberg as "the possibility of transforming the expressive qualities of themes". Asked later why he no longer composed in teh style of Verklarte Nacht, Schoenberg is said to have replied, "I still do, but nobody notices". The music is based on a poem by Richard Dehmel, whose work also provided Schoenberg with the inspiration for several songs at this time. In the poem, a man and a woman are walking together in the moonlight. She confesses that she is to bear a child which is not his. He decrlares that it will be transfigured by their love, a love which has made him, too, a child again; whereupon their embrace and walk on through the night. The music movingly portrays their complex feelings of happiness and guilt, set against a background of shimmering moonlight.
Schoenberg's belief that 19th century romanticism had run out its course was not shared by Strauss, who, as late as the 1940s, was... CONTINUED
(Daniel Brandenburg, translated by David Lawrence)
London Festival Orchestra
Ross Pople, conductor
Distributed by BMG A Bertelsmann Music Group Company
Producer: Wulf Weinmann
Recorded at Watford Town Hall, July 1990
"There are no more evocative works within the 20th century string repertoire than Schoenberg's Verklarte Nacht and Strauss's Metamorphosen. Each represents such profound emotions, the young idealistic spirit of Schoenberg contrasted with the noble pathos of an old man nearing the end of his hugely productive life. The coupling of these works is the realisation of a long-nurtured ambition. The LFO players, rising to the challenge, found recording this music a deeply moving experience and emerged from the sessions in a rare state of elation. We hope that this joy will be felt by the listener. Ross Pople