op. 4 by Arnold Schönberg

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For string sextet, inspired by Richard Dehmel’s poem of the same name 

At a glance – Synopsis

Schönberg’s Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night, op. 4, 1899) is perhaps his most popular, if not his most representative work. Written in what is widely known as Schönberg’s “post-Romantic” period and before the invention of the twelve-tone system, Verklärte Nacht is one of the most important pieces of the 20th century programme music. It is based on Richard Dehmel’s poem without however using the text as part of the composition. Although Schönberg wrote the sextet following the six stanzas of the poem, he allowed for no pauses between them, giving the listener the impression of a continuous composition.

Dehmel’s poem, with familiar proto-expressionistic characteristics, describes a man and a woman crossing a forest in the midst of an unnaturally bright night. The woman reveals to her partner that she is pregnant by another man. Despite her guilts and shame, the man calms her down and accepts the unborn child, leading the poem to an ecstatic climax.

Schönberg’s composition, apart from being an ingenious combination of the compositional tradition of Brahms’ motivistic transformations and Wagner’s constant compositional line (Schönberg’s references to Wagner’s opera Tristan und Isolde are numerous), it is also in part an autobiographical account of his relationship with his music teacher’s –the famous composer Alexander von Zemlinsky– sister, whom he finally married.

The director Themelis Glynatsis, in an attempt that oscillates between a performance and animation, converts the expressionist narrative of Dehmel’s poem and Schönberg’s composition into material for a dramaturgy of a nightmare, which gradually gives its place to an extraordinary psychic transfiguration and to a final concomitance, whereby the intimate bodies stop being monstrous and are overwhelmed by tenderness. In other words, a family drama, and a love story, both demanding a brave affirmation of its characters in order to disengage themselves from repetition and guilt. A basic dramaturgical motif is nature, which initially appears vengeful and uncanny, but little by little is transformed into a landscape of atonement.

Creative team – Cast

Conductor Stathis Soulis
Dramaturge – Director Themelis Glynatsis
Sets – Costumes Alexia Theodoraki
Lighting Stella Kaltsou
Visual effects – Animation Marios Gampierakis, Chrysoula Korovesi
Filming Apostolos Koutsianikoulis, George Panagopoulos, Katerina Haralambous (blæc cinematography)

Woman Maria Parasyri
Man Thanassis Dovris
Unknown man Themelis Glynatsis
Child Michalis Dovris

Musicians Argyro Seira, Stella Karytinou (violin), Ilias Sdoukos, Patrick Evans (viola), Marina Kolovou, Alexandros Botinis (cello)