A programme designed as a captivating play of light and shadow, in which Schönberg’s night journey—exploring the bounds of passion—is a prelude to Mahler’s ardent fresco, bathed in chiaroscuro, on the ideal life.
Originally written as a string sextet, Transfigured Night is the work of 25-year-old Schönberg, his post-romanticism still struggling with the great shadows of Brahms and Wagner. Echoes of Tristan run through this opus based on a poem by Richard Dehmel, the tale of a nocturnal odyssey in which a woman confesses to her lover that she is expecting another man’s child.
After this volatile and fitful night, Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 seems at first more luminous, with its pastoral ambiance and its meditation on childhood as a state of bliss and Paradise Lost, culminating in the sumptuous Lied of the fourth movement, Das himmlische Leben, ‘heavenly life’. But even when enlivened by dance or elevated by mysticism, Mahler’s light is always tinged with anguish, irony and the grotesque. With a violin tuned a step too high in the second movement, here is death, with its sarcastic gait, waltzing into the ball of insouciance.