Some months back, this weekend’s Seattle Symphony concert was dubbed “Love and Tragedy.” Back in September the program featured two Brahms works – the Tragic Overture and the Symphony No.1. But, Schoenberg’s Pelleas und Melisande was also on the program.
However, the program has been considerably revised. First, the Tragic Overture is out. Perhaps there was too much Brahms. Taking the place of the overture is Symphonic Fragments from Le Martyre de Saint Sebastien. Debussy’s Le Martyre de Saint Sebastien is an odd work of incidental music which includes opera, cantata and orchestral music. Debussy’s amalgam was both his last attempt at composing for the stage and a flop. Also jettisoned from the program is Schoenberg’s Pelleas und Melisande. In its place: Verklarte Nacht. The piece is one of Schoenberg’s earliest and is probably his most popular.
Verklarte Nacht is a musical setting of Richard Dehmel’s poem. The poem’s narrative is pretty simple. A couple is strolling through a forest. The woman confides in her lover that she is pregnant with the child of another man. Rather than rejecting her, the woman’s lover graciously embraces the circumstances, promising to make the child his own.
The “love and tragedy” are still there: martyrdom, the love of a woman and a child and the “tragedy” of Brahms difficulty composing his symphony.