SANTA FE, N.M. — Mention Arnold Schöenberg and many music lovers conjure 12-tone chaos.
But the Austrian composer’s earlier works were anything but atonal, Santa Fe Pro Musica conductor/music director Thomas O’Connor said.
The Santa Fe Pro Musica Orchestra will play Schöenberg’s “Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night),” Op. 4 with Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 at the Lensic Performing Arts Center on Saturday and Sunday Nov. 8-9.
“Everybody thinks of him as strange because he led a revolution in music,” O’Connor said.
Schöenberg came to believe that the traditional harmony and melody that had ruled classical music for 300 years were used up, O’Connor explained.
Written in 1899, “Transfigured Night” evolved when the composer was still following the romantic traditions of Brahms and Wagner.
“It has a lot of melodies,” O’Connor said. “It’s really the last gasp of Romanticism.”
Schöenberg based his composition on a poem by German symbolist Richard Dehmel. The poem describes a man and a woman walking through a dark, moonlit forest. The woman confesses to her lover that she is both married and pregnant, with the finale reflecting his acceptance.
“She’s pregnant by her husband but she doesn’t love him,” O’Connor said. “It’s very evocative about the conflict within the woman.”
By the second half, the man tells the woman the child will be transfigured into his own as the music transitions from D minor to D Major. The piece would go on to set the tone of the film industry’s musical style during the 1930s.
Although not well-received at its Vienna debut, the piece “did find traction,” O’Connor continued. “It’s his first hit.”
Mahler found the inspiration for many of his songs from “The Youth’s Magic Horn,” a 19th century anthology of German folk poetry. With Symphony No. 4, the composer worked backwards, exploring the road from experience to innocence, ending with a child’s view of heaven.
The concertmaster’s violin plays the role of the devil, tuned a step higher than customary.
“The effect is to make the part more high-strung and brittle.”
Mezzo-soprano Deborah Domanski will sing the Mahler. O’Connor first saw her at the 2008 Santa Fe Opera production of Handel’s “Radamisto.”
“Deborah lives here in Santa Fe,” he said. “We’ve done a number of projects together. There’s a richness in the mezzo-soprano voice and a fullness that I find very attractive. She has a very big range. She’s very adept at finding the character she’s singing. I think that’s infectious.”