“Transfigured night”! Arrrggggg … after 20 years I could finally listen to it completely. One of the few Schoenberg’s enjoyable pieces. Brutal. You have to listen to this at least once in life. Composed for string sextet, it’s categorized as “program music”, since it has very a narrative and romantic character, following also the structure of the poem in which it’s inspired––by Richard Fedor Leopold Dehmel––that you can read down here. Wikipedia states:
[The poem describes a man and woman walking through a dark forest on a moonlit night. The woman shares a dark secret with her new lover: she bears the child of another man. The stages of Dehmel’s poem are reflected throughout the composition, beginning with the sadness of the woman’s confession, a neutral interlude wherein the man reflects upon the confession, and a finale reflecting the man’s bright acceptance (and forgiveness) of the woman: “O sieh, wie klar das Weltall schimmert! Es ist ein Glanz um alles her” (See how brightly the universe gleams! There is a radiance on everything).]
Two people are walking through a bare, cold wood;
the moon keeps pace with them and draws their gaze.
The moon moves along above tall oak trees,
there is no wisp of cloud to obscure the radiance
to which the black, jagged tips reach up.
A woman’s voice speaks:
“I am carrying a child, and not by you.
I am walking here with you in a state of sin.
I have offended grievously against myself.
I despaired of happiness,
and yet I still felt a grievous longing
for life’s fullness, for a mother’s joys
and duties; and so I sinned,
and so I yielded, shuddering, my sex
to the embrace of a stranger,
and even thought myself blessed.
Now life has taken its revenge,
and I have met you, met you.”
She walks on, stumbling.
She looks up; the moon keeps pace.
Her dark gaze drowns in light.
A man’s voice speaks:
“Do not let the child you have conceived
be a burden on your soul.
Look, how brightly the universe shines!
Splendour falls on everything around,
you are voyaging with me on a cold sea,
but there is the glow of an inner warmth
from you in me, from me in you.
That warmth will transfigure the stranger’s child,
and you bear it me, begot by me.
You have transfused me with splendour,
you have made a child of me.”
He puts an arm about her strong hips.
Their breath embraces in the air.
Two people walk on through the high, bright night.
(English translation by Mary Whittall)