Word for Wednesday: Transfigure

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Just yesterday, I was introduced to a piece of music so beautiful and mysterious that I couldn’t stop listening. It was set to a poem written by Richard Dehmel, whose work has been a fruitful source of inspiration for many composers in the last century.

The piece is Schoenberg’s ‘VerklärteNacht’ or ‘Transfigured Night’. Composed in only three weeks in 1899.

I don’t often listen to Schoenberg, and he has a name for his radical, serialism and atonality but certainly do take the time to listen to this darkly ethereal exploration of Dehmel’s poem.

The piece is a single movement, but contains five sections, presumably pertaining to each of the poem’s five stanzas. In the first few seconds of hearing ‘VerklärteNacht’, you are drawn into this obscure soundscape and a journey through the world of the poem.

Transfigured Night’ subtly offers a ‘transfigured’ view of music and challenges how far music can explore the metres, sounds, sights and moods of a text or image.

Google’s dictionary offers the most emotive definition for ‘Transfigure’;‘to transform into something more beautiful or elevated’. To me, the word transfigure is softer, more intricate almost like unveiling something that was already there long before – that’s how this piece of music felt, it takes you along the emotional contour of the poem.

Which pieces of music have inspired you recently?

Hugh MacDermott

26 Mar 2014
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