Monday, May 31, 2010

Transfigured Night

Two people walk through a bare, cold grove;
The moon races along with them, they look into it.
The moon races over tall oaks,
No cloud obscures the light from the sky,
Into which the black points of the boughs reach.
A woman’s voice speaks:

I’m carrying a child, and not yours,
I walk in sin beside you. I have committed a great offense against myself.
I no longer believed I could be happy
And yet I had a strong yearning
For something to fill my life, for the joys of
And for duty; so I committed an effrontery,
So, shuddering, I allowed my sex
To be embraced by a strange man,
And, on top of that, I blessed myself for it.
Now life has taken its revenge:
Now I have met you, oh, you.

She walks with a clumsy gait,
She looks up; the moon is racing along.
Her dark gaze is drowned in light.
A man’s voice speaks:

May the child you conceived
Be no burden to your soul;
Just see how brightly the universe is gleaming!
There’s a glow around everything;

You are floating with me on a cold ocean,
But a special warmth flickers
From you into me, from me into you.
It will transfigure the strange man’s child.

You will bear the child for me, as if it were mine;
You have brought the glow into me,
You have made me like a child myself.

He grasps her around her ample hips.
Their breath kisses in the breeze.
Two people walk through the lofty, bright night.

This poem was written in 1896 by Richard Dehmel, and served as inspiration for a musical piece for string orchestra by Arnold Schoenberg. Written in chromatic style, complete with "forbidden" 9th chords, it's actually far more listenable and melodic than Schoenberg's notorious trademark 12-tone style. Schoenberg gave it the title Transfigured Night, for the poem had been untitled.

The passions in Dehmel's poem are translated magnificently by the music. Opening in a dark, forboding D-minor, the piece churns moodily through a number of abrupt key changes before making the welcome transition into "transfiguration" - made obvious to the listener by a shift into a soothing key of D-major. Listen to samples before (as the woman confides her sad burden) and after the man triggers the transfiguration through his healing words.

The spiritual content in Transfigured Night shines through quite clearly. I find it makes a great background for meditation, as it speaks to something within on the soul level. It speaks of love, forgiveness, acceptance, and something more - something that evokes a powerful energy from the soul: the Power of Transfiguration.

The complete musical performance can be found here



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