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Object #5 / Arnold Schönberg: Transfigured Night, op. 4

String sextet based on a poem by Richard Dehmel

The Library of Congress, Washington D.C.

The string sextet is based on the poem Transfigured Night by Richard Dehmel. The five verses depict a woodland scene with two people; a woman speaks of her love for a man, although she is expecting another man’s child; the man comforts her and intends to accept the child as his own.

“I was born in Vienna on September 13, 1874. Since originally I was supposed to become an engineer, it was only rather late that I came to pursue my inclination for music and embraced it as a profession. At age 21 I still had no theoretical training, but I was successful enough as an autodidact that after a year of composing under Alexander von Zemlinsky’s tutelage I was able to get a public performance of a string quartet.
In composing Verklärte Nacht, based on the poem by Richard Dehmel, my aim was to attempt in chamber music those new forms that had emerged when orchestral music took poetic ideas as its basis. If the orchestra can reveal the epic-dramatic structures of compositional creative work, then chamber music can represent the lyric or lyric-epic. Now even if the means of the latter when it comes to expressive ability lag well behind those of an orchestra – a lack that is only noticeable when the two are compared, and which also however, presuming it really exists, would, when it comes to instrumental color, tend to favor the symphony rather than the string quartet – the structuring principle is still the common denominator. This is an ancient principle and derives its origin from those old masters, who, in text repetitions that today seem endless, continued to fantasize musically about a poetic idea until they had gained all possible moods and meanings from it – I would almost say: until they had analyzed it.”

Arnold Schönberg, Deutsche Tonkünstler-Zeitung (October 21, 1902)
English Translation: Schoenberg’s Program Notes and Musical Analyses. Edited by J. Daniel Jenkins. New York: Oxford University Press 216, p. 112–113 (Schoenberg in Words 5)

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