Death and Transfiguration | Dan Peterson – Patheos

We were out to dinner with friends again last night, (at their request) at the La Jolla Groves. Excellent food, once again.

Tonight, we went out for a quick bite with another couple of friends. (Hey! How am I supposed to maintain my slim, youthful physique while eating out so often?) She is a very serious violinist (masters degree level) and so, after dinner, we attended a performance at BYU by the BYU Philharmonic Orchestra.

Under the baton of Kory Katseanes, who was my assistant zone leader while I was serving as a missionary in Interlaken, Switzerland, they played the Carnival Overture (Op. 92), byAntonn Dvok, andTill Eulenspiegels Merry Pranks(Op. 28,Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche), by Richard Strauss.

Introducing the second work, Kory spoke briefly of Strausss great tone poemTod und Verklrung (Death and Transfiguration). He mentioned an apparently commonly told story that I had never heard, according to which, when Richard Strauss lay dying in 1949 (exactly 60 years after writing Tod und Verklrung), he said to his daughter-in-law: Funny thing, Alice, dying is just the way I composed it inDeath and Transfiguration. Some say that he actually set to music the white light commonly mentioned in near-death experiences.

Strauss explained the underlying idea of Tod und Verklrung in an 1894 letter:

It was six years ago that it occurred to me to present in the form of a tone poem the dying hours of a man who had striven towards the highest idealistic aims, maybe indeed those of an artist. The sick man lies in bed, asleep, with heavy irregular breathing; friendly dreams conjure a smile on the features of the deeply suffering man; he wakes up; he is once more racked with horrible agonies; his limbs shake with fever as the attack passes and the pains leave off, his thoughts wander through his past life; his childhood passes before him, the time of his youth with its strivings and passions and then, as the pains already begin to return, there appears to him the fruit of his lifes path, the conception, the ideal which he has sought to realize, to present artistically, but which he has not been able to complete, since it is not for man to be able to accomplish such things. The hour of death approaches, the soul leaves the body in order to find gloriously achieved in everlasting space those things which could not be fulfilled here below.

In a note written to accompany a performance of Tod und Verklrung at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC, musicologist Peter Laki comments on the piece and on the 1894 letter as follows:

The stages of the heros last hours, as Strauss described them in his letter, are somewhat analogous to the phases of anger, denial, and acceptance found in Elisabeth Kbler-Rosss famous (and, of course, much later) book on dying.

Following the intermission, the BYU Philharmonic Orchestra came out again. This time, they performed Ludwig van Beethovens Violin Concerto in D Major for Violin and Orchestra (Op. 61), accompanyingan apparently well-known fiddler hes appeared several times on Sesame Street by the name ofItzhak Perlman. Mr. Perlman was, I have to say in all fairness, pretty good. Seeing how easily he played the Beethoven piece, though, Ive concluded that fiddling cant really be all that hard. I would be able to master it in a week or two, Im sure. If I cared to try.


Death and Transfiguration | Dan Peterson - Patheos

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