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Thread: Schoenberg's Verklarte Nacht

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    Default Schoenberg's Verklarte Nacht

    Allegro con Brio wrote: "The work reminds me of Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht (oh, how I wish that one was a quartet instead of a sextet so it could be nominated for this thread!)"

    Well, how about a whole thread?! It's the least we can do, considering how well you perform your duties as unofficial moderator and record-keeper of the Weekly String Quartet thread; you have your hands full keeping us geezers in line.

    Although it's been orchestrated, I prefer the original string sextet version. I first heard it when I bought a cassette tape of an augmented LaSalle Quartet playing it, as well as Berg's Lyric Suite. The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra made a pretty good recording of it, as well as Schoenberg's Chamber Symphonies, and Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic's recording has always been highly praised, but it just waters it down for me. I like to hear each instrumentalist in this intimate work. String Sextet or bust.

    P.S. I don't know how we could possibly pay Merl back for what he does. Umm...thank you.
    Last edited by SearsPoncho; Jun-08-2021 at 23:34.
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    Senior Member starthrower's Avatar
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    I'm a big Arnie fan. I pretty much enjoy the bulk of his music including Verklarte Nacht. I agree that the Karajan orchestral version is less desirable. Too much of the Herbie gloss. I have a couple of sextet versions. They are included in the Boulez, and Rattle sets I have. If I had to listen to an orchestral version I can go with Michael Gielen. I have his excellent Second Viennese box. I also really like his large ensemble recording of the vocal movement from string quartet no.2. It features a great vocalist who is known for this kind of music but I can't recall her name.
    "In the beginning there was noise. And the noise begat rhythm. And the rhythm begat everything else." - Mickey Hart

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    Senior Member Allegro Con Brio's Avatar
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    lol: SP, you made my day with that OP. I’m not worthy of the honors, but I appreciate it anyway

    But yeah, as you might have been able to tell from my encomium, this is a great favorite of mine. I’m woefully ignorant of much of Schoenberg’s music (looking to do a deep dive soon) but for someone who loves Wagner’s musical language but not so much his titanic operas, this is the perfect piece. It’s unabashed, indulgent, late-Romantic chromatic soup - delicious. I much prefer the original sextet for its intimate atmosphere. The debut recording from the Hollywood is so beautiful, natural, and passionate that I haven’t really looked elsewhere:



    Oh, and a great article from maybe my favorite classical music site on the web (besides this one, of course!)http://www.classicalnotes.net/classics/verklarte.html. He recommends a 1958 string orchestra recording by Mitropoulos as “the most powerful of them all.” And here’s a great survey from MusicWeb, as well.
    Last edited by Allegro Con Brio; Jun-09-2021 at 00:24.
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    I've been listening to the LaSalle Quartet recording for a long time, but the Hollywood String Quartet recording you posted is in another league. I've heard other versions, but none can touch that one. I believe it's a bit slower than the LaSalle, and it just breathes better, with some excellent attention to detail and a very broad and effective dynamic range, without sounding as schmaltzy as some other recordings. I've attended performances of V.N. where it seems as if the musicians were just trying to get to the end. With the Hollywood, I feel comfortable enjoying the moment.
    Last edited by SearsPoncho; Jun-09-2021 at 02:54.
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    Senior Member Becca's Avatar
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    An orchestral version...


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    Verklärte Nacht is an incredible work, certainly, and I find much to admire in both the original sextet version and in Schönberg's version for string orchestra. Between the two versions, I've heard numerous more recordings of the string orchestra version, for whatever reason. My favorites are Boulez, Karajan, Gielen, roughly in that order, although all three are terrific and very well deserve the praise they've received. I seem to remember liking Chailly's as well, also Mehta. Truth be told, I don't think there are any dud recordings of this, but I might be wrong.

    (Making a mental note to hear Hannigan's performance that Becca linked above!)

    As for the sextet version, I dunno that I have a favorite. There's the legendary Hollywood Quartet and friends recording, and a great one with Boulez conducting the Ensemble InterContemporain, but there's also Isabelle Faust's recentish recording, which might be the most probing yet. It's coupled with her fantastic performance of the Violin Concerto, Op. 36. Recommended!

    Last edited by Knorf; Jun-09-2021 at 06:36.

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    It is a work I love. Usually I prefer original chamber versions to orchestrations but Verklärte Nacht works well for the larger ensemble. I have quite a few recordings. Karajan did actually record a very effective account (coupled with an excellent Brahms 1):


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    Along with those praising the Faust, LaSalle and Hollywood recordings, this one bears mentioning, IMO:

    Juilliard String Quartet, Yo-Yo Ma & Walter Trampler

    verklärte nacht julliard ma trampler.jpg

    I only ever listen to the sextet original, but the version for piano trio by Eduard Steuermann is also an interesting alternative.
    Last edited by SanAntone; Jun-09-2021 at 10:36.

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    Senior Member wkasimer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Allegro Con Brio View Post
    The debut recording from the Hollywood is so beautiful, natural, and passionate that I haven’t really looked elsewhere:
    And the Testament coupling, a superb recording of the Schubert Quintet D956, makes this one even more essential.

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    Senior Member wkasimer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Allegro Con Brio View Post
    The debut recording from the Hollywood is so beautiful, natural, and passionate that I haven’t really looked elsewhere:
    And the Testament coupling, a superb recording of the Schubert Quintet D956, makes this one even more essential.

    While I prefer the sextet version - that's how I first heard the work - Stokowski's orchestral version is hard to resist:

    stokowski (2).jpg

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    Well, "Verklarte Nacht" is pleasant enough -- but I'm not a big fan of the piece. If interested, I wrote about it once on a blog I maintain, and I've copied that post below:

    “Verklärte Nacht” translates to “Transfigured Night,” and it was inspired by a poem of the same name by German poet Richard Dehmel which describes a man and woman walking through a forest on a moonlit night. The woman shares a dark secret with her new lover -- that she bears the child of another man -- and the man reacts to her confession:

    Do not let the child you have conceived
    be a burden on your soul.
    Look, how brightly the universe shines!

    Schoenberg’s work is written for a string sextet, and to be honest, it reminds me very much of a musical soundtrack one might hear to accompany a classic old movie, certainly a romance or perhaps some vintage film noir. In this case, it underscores a poem.

    Picture a scene where the leading man is clutching the ingenue or femme fatale as he is gazing into her tear-filled eyes -- like Bogart and Bergman at the end of “Casablanca.” Or maybe something like Detective Mark McPherson in “Laura” as he stares at and falls in love with the painted image of the murdered woman. Or perhaps a scene like Jimmy Stewart in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” as John “Scottie” Ferguson, pleading with Judy Barton, played by Kim Novack, to change her style, her clothes and her hair so that she can resemble the mysterious – and murdered – Madeleine Elster.

    Of course, the conclusion of “Casablanca” has a very impassioned and dramatic version of “As Time Goes By,” “Laura” has David Raksin’s unforgettable and haunting eponymous theme, and “Vertigo” has Bernard Herrmann’s poignant and evocative “Scene d’Amour”; therefore, when it comes to underscoring melodrama, Schoenberg has been surpassed to be sure (by the way, when Hedy Lamar was asked why she had turned down the title role in the film “Laura,” she said, “They sent me the script, not the score”).

    Schoenberg’s work isn’t flawed or deficient. It is a gentle and pleasant work, and perhaps at times a bit gripping. It includes no real pyrotechnics – not that any are needed. However, it tends to border on the melodramatic, and there just isn’t anything particularly memorable about the melody lines.

    Schoenberg’s work does do an admirable job conveying the quiet, moonlight night as “Two people walk through a bare, cold wood,” the poems opening line, and I can imagine that listeners in 1899 felt as though Schoenberg might be pushing the world of classical music to a threshold of "a new kind of sound and a new way of listening" as described by Michael Clive in some program notes for the Utah Symphony. I’m sure it was harmonically innovative in its day, though today it doesn’t quite have a modernistic push strong enough to test the boundaries of composition. Also, although the emotional story-telling is adequate, it doesn’t seem to reach the intensity of passion of the movie themes I described above.

    I could listen to the lush strings and intense emotion of Bernard Herrmann’s “Scene d’Amour” every day. Schoenberg’s “Verklärte Nacht”? I’ve heard it once, and -- as time goes by -- I think that may just be enough.

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    Senior Member gregorx's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dizzy J View Post
    Well, "Verklarte Nacht" is pleasant enough -- but I'm not a big fan of the piece. If interested, I wrote about it once on a blog I maintain, and I've copied that post below:
    I like all those movies and every time I hear Laura's Theme, I see McPherson staring at, falling in love with the portrait of a murdered woman. That visual connection, complete with very attractive stars and great photography are hard to separate from the music - at least for me it is. As for Bernard Herrmann's violin workout in Psycho, without the intense visuals of that scene, it loses a lot. If not everything.

    I'm not sure how many then or now were/are familiar with Richard Dehmel's poem and what impact that had on them. Reading the poem, then listening to the piece could add something to Verklarte Nacht, but nothing like that. Pretty good review and an interesting take on the piece.

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    Senior Member Merl's Avatar
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    I like the piece in both its original form and orchestrated. If you haven't heard it you should try the Artemis Quartet with Kakusha and Erben from the Alban Berg Quartet. This was (if I'm not mistaken) Kakusha's last recording before his death. Its a lovely account and the recorded sound is, as expected, sublime. I also rate the cooler and more detached Faust / Queyras / Tamestit et al recording and the LaSalles. Perhaps I should do a round up on these some time. Incidentally I was weaned on Karajan's quite lovely mid-70s recording, which I still thoroughly enjoy for the pure sumptousness of those BPO strings in music that is supposed to be an opulent, unctuous stringFest.

    artemis.jpg
    faust.jpg
    Last edited by Merl; Jun-19-2021 at 10:54.

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    The first recording I heard was Boulez' sextet version on Columbia/Sony, and it is still a special recording for me. I've heard a few others and found Karajan's BPO recording on DG to be a worthy alternative, with particularly sensuous string playing. I'm a big admirer of the La Salle quartet and recently acquired their recording of the sextet version and am looking forward to finding time to listen to it.
    There are two kinds of music, good music and the other kind. - Duke Ellington.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Allegro Con Brio View Post
    for someone who loves Wagner’s musical language but not so much his titanic operas, this is the perfect piece.
    Howabout


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