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ClassicsOnline Home » MAHLER, G.: Symphony No. 10: I. Adagio / SCHOENBERG, A.: Transfigured Night (Tintner Edition 8)
Arnold Schoenberg (1874–1951)
Verklärte Nacht, Op. 4
Arnold Schoenberg was but a 25-year-old student of Alexander Zemlinsky when he completed Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night) in 1899, a work that he arranged without alteration for orchestra in 1917, revising it slightly in 1943. Inspired by a poem by Richard Dehmel—and Schoenberg’s love for Zemlinsky’s sister Mathilde, who later became his wife—it describes a man and woman walking together in a moonlit grove. The woman confesses that she is with child but he is not the father. She had lost her belief in happiness for herself, but longing for motherhood she had surrendered herself to another man. She stumbles onward, overcome by her sin, that has been avenged by finding the love of the man she now walks with. The man speaks: Do not burden yourself with guilt. See how the moon sheds its sheen over the world as we traverse chill waters but each of us has contains flame that warms the other. It will transfigure this child, and you will bear it for me, it will be mine—you have made me into a child too. They cling together, their breaths kiss in the air. Two mortals walk in the bright, shining night.
Written for string sextet, the work had its première in Vienna in 1902 with the augmented Rosé Quartet (the extra cellist was the composer Franz Schmidt). The première was controversial, perhaps because of the explicit programme and, as Georg Tintner put it, “its hothouse atmosphere; the intensity of the eroticism that is even more fiery than in Wagner—which means a lot”. The audience must have been shocked by the work’s extreme chromaticism, though it remains rooted in its key of D minor. Once the century had turned, however, Schoenberg found that “it was not given to me to continue writing in the style of Verklärte Nacht…Fate led me along a harder path”—the path to atonalism and serialism.
“Sonata form is one of the most brilliant ideas people had about musical structure,” said Georg Tintner, “but you can already see that the relationship of the keys, like dominant, parallel, major and so on, forms an integral and very important part of the classical sonata form. However, almost before the sonata form came into its own, there were always cases where there was an exception. The relationship between tonic and dominant (which is a fifth upwards), and tonic and subdominant (which is a fifth downwards or a fourth upwards), these are the absolute centrepieces of the harmony of Mozart, Haydn and most Beethoven. But in the Romantic period, where the mediant relationship gets more and more important—that means, the relationship between thirds—there is already so much modulation that the sonata form loses one of its purposes: that one really has to have absolute pitch to know where one is at any particular given time.
“When music started to constantly move from one key to another and, what is even worse, when you sometimes needed to be very clever to know in which key you started anyway, then this very subtle and very important key relationship between the first tune and the second tune in the sonata form became more and more fragile, and almost meaningless.
“When music went on—I wouldn’t say ‘developed’ in a qualitative sense—in the beginning of our century, abrogating not only the relationships of the fifths but the tonal centre itself, we were truly in trouble. Without the tonal centre, all that is great in the sonata form doesn’t exist. Schoenberg started to compose—and this is one of his very earliest pieces—Transfigured Night in [the wake] mainly of Tristan, of the music by Bruckner, and Mahler to a lesser extent, and therefore there is this overgrowth of Romantic feeling and Romantic chords. And Schoenberg came to a point where he felt that the direction in which he, and I want to emphasise he, was moving could not be pursued any further. You will agree with me that it is unlikely that one could write something much more emotionally giving than Transfigured Night. So he gradually, and almost imperceptibly at first, started to experiment with other chords far less luscious than most of those in Transfigured Night…”
Gustav Mahler (1860–1911)
Adagio from Symphony No. 10
Gustav Mahler feared what Arnold Schoenberg called “the curse of the Ninth”—a superstition that composers will not live beyond writing their ninth symphony. In order to cheat Fate, Mahler followed his Eighth Symphony with Das Lied von der Erde (for mezzo-soprano, tenor and orchestra, in six movements) in 1908, after which he wrote his so-called Ninth Symphony that was really his tenth. Thinking he had beaten the curse, he began his so-called Tenth Symphony in 1910—but he did not complete it before his death in 1911.
He began the symphony in July of 1910, but within weeks he discovered that his wife Alma was having an affair with the architect Walter Gropius. Shattered, he consulted Sigmund Freud on 26th August in Holland, and after learning of his mother fixation he returned to Alma professing both ardent love and fear of losing her. Alma told Gropius that Mahler was composing a symphony “mit allen Schrecken dieser Zeit drin”—with all the horrors of this time in it. Nowhere more can this horror be heard than near the end of the first movement, the Adagio, where the orchestra plays an agonised chord made up of nine of the twelve notes of the chromatic scale.
At Mahler’s death this 275-bar Adagio was the most complete, existing in full orchestral and short-score drafts; the remaining four movements existed mostly in short score only. Several major composers declined to attempt a completion, including Schoenberg, Berg, Webern, Shostakovich and Krenek, although the last published a somewhat doctored edition of the first and third (“Purgatorio”) movements. In more recent times several realisations have been made, although at the time this National Youth Orchestra performance took place (1977) the only widely available one was that by Deryck Cooke—an attempt Georg Tintner called “a disastrous result” and an “outrageous concoction”. The International Gustav Mahler Society in Vienna has published only the Adagio, the Urtext edited by Erwin Ratz, which eliminates earlier accretions (by conductors such as Franz Schalk and Zemlinsky), and it is this edition that is performed here. As such, Georg Tintner considers the movement to be not only one of Mahler’s finest compositions, but among the greatest works ever written.
© 2010 Tanya Tintner
Special thanks to Aaron Z. Snyder for the sound restoration.
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MAHLER, G.: Symphony No. 10: I. Adagio / SCHOENBER...