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Opus 3: Episode 3 – Transfigured Night

In this episode of The Counterpoint Club, we’ll be talking about one of the trickiest aspects of music: Transitions! First, Sarah and Willie team up to discuss the role that transitions play in the complex emotional development of Arnold Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht for string sextet. Then, Justin will offer up some tips on how to practice tricky transitions in rehearsal. We’ve included the second installment of our roundtable discussion with the Lafayette Quartet. In addition to boasting an impressive international performance resume, they serve as resident quartet at The University of Victoria, and are “the only all-female ensemble in the world to comprise the four original members – a distinct rarity, regardless of gender and regardless of profession.”
History Segment
This episode of The Counterpoint Club takes its name from the string sextet that Sarah and Willie discuss in the history lesson: Arnold Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht. The title translates as Transfigured Night. It is an incredible piece, full of late-romantic chromaticism, dense textures, soaring melodies and expression. We highly recommend taking the half hour it takes to listen to a complete performance. Here is a fantastic performance by the Quatuor Ebène with Arnaud Thorette, viola and Felix Drake, cello.

There are also two other versions of this piece you might be interested in: a string orchestra arrangement by Schoenberg himself, and a piano trio arranged by Eduard Steuermann.

As discussed in the episode, Schoenberg based Verklärte Nacht on a poem by Richard Dehmel. Here is the original text of the work in German. The translation that Sarah reads in the episode is by Scott Horton.

Zwei Menschen gehn durch kahlen, kalten Hain;
der Mond läuft mit, sie schaun hinein.
Der Mond läuft über hohe Eichen;
kein Wölkchen trübt das Himmelslicht,
in das die schwarzen Zacken reichen.
Die Stimme eines Weibes spricht:

Ich trag ein Kind, und nit von Dir,
ich geh in Sünde neben Dir.
Ich hab mich schwer an mir vergangen.
Ich glaubte nicht mehr an ein Glück

und hatte doch ein schwer Verlangen
nach Lebensinhalt, nach Mutterglück

und Pflicht; da hab ich mich erfrecht,
da ließ ich schaudernd mein Geschlecht
von einem fremden Mann umfangen,
und hab mich noch dafür gesegnet.
Nun hat das Leben sich gerächt:
nun bin ich Dir, o Dir, begegnet.

Sie geht mit ungelenkem Schritt.
Sie schaut empor; der Mond läuft mit.
Ihr dunkler Blick ertrinkt in Licht.
Die Stimme eines Mannes spricht:

Das Kind, das Du empfangen hast,
sei Deiner Seele keine Last,
o sieh, wie klar das Weltall schimmert!
Es ist ein Glanz um alles her;
Du treibst mit mir auf kaltem Meer,
doch eine eigne Wärme flimmert
von Dir in mich, von mir in Dich.
Die wird das fremde Kind verklären,
Du wirst es mir, von mir gebären;
Du hast den Glanz in mich gebracht,
Du hast mich selbst zum Kind gemacht.

Er faßt sie um die starken Hüften.
Ihr Atem küßt sich in den Lüften.
Zwei Menschen gehn durch hohe, helle Nacht.


Blaues SelbstportraitAs Willie and Sarah discuss in the episode, Schoenberg was also a fantastic painter. This image is one of his many self-portraits. It’s a beautiful, expressive work, just like Verklaerte Nacht. Schoenberg made this painting in 1910, just 11 years after Verklaerte Nacht was composed.

Arnold Schoenberg, Blaues Selbstportrait, 1910. Photograph by the Arnold Schönberg Center, Wien, 29 January 2008, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.Technique Lesson
TCC WorksheetIn the technique lesson, Justin takes us through the steps of counting out loud to rehearse transitions sections of a piece of music, and how to agree on the execution of these tricky passages. Download the worksheet to use at your next ensemble rehearsal!

–Expressive counting
Count, using your voice, and include all the musical phrasing that you would do with your instruments, including dynamics, pulse and tempo, color, etc.

–Counting together in silence
All members of the ensemble do the same expressive counting exercise silently, starting and ending together, communicating only with body language.

Guest Interview
We have the second segment of the round table talk between the Skyros Quartet and the Lafayette String Quartet. Episode 3 features questions from Brandon and Sarah.

See the Episode 2 blog post for more information about the Lafayette String Quartet.

Lafayette Quartet

Has your ensemble tried expressive counting together? How did it work? We’d love to hear about it! Tell us about your experience in the comments!

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