January 31, 2013
Two people walk through a bare, cold grove.
Woman: I'm carrying a child, not yours.
I walk in sin beside you.
Man: A special warmth flickers
From you into me, from me into you.
It will transfigure the strange man's child.
Two people walk through the lofty, bright night.
from Stanley Applebaum's translation of Richard Dehmel's poem
In 1899, at the dawn of a new century, composer Arnold Schoenberg created a breakthrough musical work, Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night). In creating this epic half-hour of unprecedented sounds, Schoenberg drew on his love of two opposing musical models of his time: Brahms's pure, abstract music, Wagner's musical storytelling—along with a poem that was scandalous for its time in treating an illegitimate child as a catalyst for human transformation. Paradoxically, Schoenberg's uncompromising quest for a new musical aesthetic was triggered by this consummate musical peace offering.
Writing for string sextet, Schoenberg expressed a vision of orchestral scale. In fact, he eventually created an arrangement for string orchestra (in 1917, revised in 1943), and on February 27, Donald Palma and the NEC Chamber Orchestra offer the opportunity to hear this version of the work.
Each year John Heiss recruits students interested in performing 20th- and 21st-century music to join the NEC Contemporary Ensemble. After a fall concert that included an early modernist icon that is often on the Contemporary Ensemble playlist, Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire, Heiss continues his Schoenberg survey.
Also on the program: a 1938 trio by Béla Bartók based on Hungarian and Romanian dance melodies; and Gunther Schuller's 1979 Octet, written shortly after he stepped down from the presidency of New England Conservatory.
Robyn Bollinger, violin
Nathan Raderman, clarinet
Yannick Rafalimanana, piano
Amy Galluzzo, Sarah Ryu, violin
Danielle Weibe, viola
Yina Tong, cello
Edward Kass, double bass
John Diodati, clarinet
Sean Maree, bassoon
Nick Rubenstein, horn
Schoenberg Transfigured Night
Audrey Wright, Alexi Kenney, violin
Wenting Kang, Alice Webber, viola
Emileigh Vandiver, Andrew Larson, cello
Since 1967, John Heiss has taught NEC students the roots of 20th-century modernism both in the classroom and as a conductor and coach. His courses on Ives, Schoenberg, and Stravinsky have shaped generations of musicians. Due to the accuracy of his ear in rehearsals, Stravinsky called him "the pitch doctor."