This week’s music is Arnold Schoenberg’s Verklarte Nacht, performed by two of the world’s best string quartets.
Schoenberg is one of the most pivotal and polarizing characters in the story of music. His early career include works like Verklarte Nacht, which reveal his unbelievable talent and his complete mastery of tonal harmony. However, later in his career, he came under the influence of the Marxist philosopher Theodore Adorno, a member of the Frankfurt School. Soon afterward, Schoenberg began advocating for the “liberation of dissonance,” and his music devolved into unplayable 12-tone serialism. Today, the only Schoenberg compositions that are performed are those from his early years; audiences have made it clear to musicians that the unintelligibility of Schoenberg’s later works do not interest them.
Schoenberg’s early works are in a league of their own, and Verklarte Nacht may be at the top of that league. It bridges the gap between Romantic and 20th-century music like nothing else. You will hear lush, almost Mendelssohn-esque passages, but you will also hear forecasts to the modernism of Prokofiev and Ives. A critic from the Los Angeles Philharmonic said it best: “Lush, dense, highly chromatic yet still just within the bounds of tonality, [Verklarte Nacht] can be regarded as a very late example of 19th century German Romanticism, a natural product of the trajectory from Beethoven and Schubert to Brahms, Wagner, and Strauss.”