March 05, 2013

Verkehrte Nacht?




“What means this, verkehrte nacht?” The little urban hipster wanted to know.

“Where did this come from?” I asked.

“We listened to this piece of music I think it’s called something like verkehrte nacht what does it mean?”

Well, if you live long enough you will, once again, have the opportunity to transfigure someones night...


Way back in the dark ages, the grammar school I attended included a music curriculum. The class marshaled all the worst features of classroom instruction to make its case:  an auditorium with lousy acoustics as a classroom, an otherworldly teacher who was unable to communicate her love of music to the class, and semesters of uninspired lectures.

How it came about I don’t recall but the teacher decided on a student lecture and the student she chose for this assignment was me.  My topic was the twelve-tone system, about which I knew not a whit   and I knew wasn’t going to increase my popularity quotient very much.

I took my assignment seriously.  I found out the names of the twelve-tone big three-Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern—and got LP records (yes, it was that long ago!) containing music composed by each.  I read up, as best I could in those pre-Internet days, on what “twelve-tone” meant.  The basic rule seemed to be that you had to use all twelve notes in the chromatic scale before you repeated any one of them.

I don’t recall what pieces I listened to, but I do remember that, despite repeated attempts, it was tough going.  I liked the idea of having a system for writing music, though.  Sort of like the rules for a sonnet, I thought, a framework to guide you on your way.  I decided, since I didn’t understand the stuff I was hearing, maybe I’d just write one that made sense to me. 
(Ah, the hubris of youth . . .)

While the class dozed and doodled, I did my best to explain what I’d learned, including some examples from LPs.  I saved the piece I’d written until the end.  To my surprise, some of my classmates awakened long enough to proclaim it genius.  My piece, they said, was so much better than those other ones.

The piece I wrote is lost to time, but I guarantee you that genius it was not.  What I’d done, as I recall, was to package those twelve tones into something like an ordinary melody.  Not entirely hummable, but more like music familiar to us all.  And on that victory I rested.  



*Verklärte Nacht (or Transfigured Night), Op. 4, is a string sextet in one movement composed by Arnold Schoenberg.


13 comments:

Mona said...

O yes, I remember it well!

Little Urban Hipsters said...

Hi Ms. Edna. I would love to know more about music - it's a mystery to me. Though maths and music are meant to go together. It was an interesting opportunity to learn about music theory.
Thanks for the learning curve.
You transfigured our day.

asterix said...

The only person who can help poor Schoenberg now is a psychiatrist.
-Richard Strauss

love the post

Anja said...

After listening to total serialism, the twelve-tone system seems warm and cuddly by comparison (well, almost).

frenchtoast said...

Schoenberg is dead. -Pierre Boulez

Dr. Bunsen said...

Boulez is alive. –Dr. Bunsen

Charles said...

"You're a slouch not to like it," he said to me one day.
"Studying ordered relationships is ultimately the best there is.
Order is everything."
-Thomas Mann, Doctor Faustus

Ms. Capshaw said...

Composing a piece of music based on the twelve-tone system about which you knew "not a whit" I marvel at that long-ago teenager. Little wonder then that your adult self is so good at shining lights for those of us, like me, who most definitely knows “not a whit” about many things.

Syl v O said...

Zwei Menschen gehn durch kahlen, kalten Hain;
der Mond läuft mit, sie schaun hinein...
Neither the poem, nor the music ever transfigured my night.
But, I like the post, thank you.

'lil Bro said...

Verkehrte Nacht

Dunkel war's der Mond schien helle,
Schnee bedeckt die grüne Flur
als ein Auto blitzeschnelle,
langsam um die Ecke fuhr.
(…)
Holder Engel, süßer Bengel,
furchtbar liebes Trampeltier.
Du hast Augen wie Sardellen,
alle Ochsen gleichen Dir.
(…)
Und das alles dichtet Dehmel
laufend, munter
durch das blaue Kornfeld hin.
Endlich ging die Sonne unter
und der graue Tag erschien.

Much love...

Baldur said...

Verkehrte Nacht =
Tratschereien einer Portiersfrau? ;-)

frenchtoast said...

Gretchen am Spinnrad? ;-)

Anja said...

Verkehrte Nacht?
Try the Ring – Hojotoho ;-)