Transfigured Night
Commissioned by Opera North

Music by Schoenberg
Based on a poem by Richard Dehmel

Filmmaker: Pippa Nissen
Venues: Opera North tour including
National Film Theatre and Lux Open RCA
First Performed: January 2003

As ‘Verklärte Nacht’ is often spoken about as the birth of modern music, so new forms of representation characterised the modernist art movement: exploding perspective and looking at detail and infinity simultaneously. Speaking about film in relation to his music, Schoenberg said, ‘I want the utmost unreality! The whole thing should have the effect not of a dream but of chords.’ I took this as a starting point: how the film elements could have a freedom from their meaning. The edits of the film seem to respond to the music at times, but they also resemble a percussive instrument or an element of counterpoint.

The dialogue between the couple is a miscommunication or a failed encounter. For Freud, conscious activity and the unconscious are totally interdependent, but mutually exclusive. Communication is always disrupted by this relationship. In the film the images of the forest are sometimes in synch or chasing each other, at other moments they seem to relate directly to each other but are filmed in different mediums and can therefore never meet. The characters in the narrative are trapped in a loop of activity; they cannot fully communicate or understand one another.

There are five elements in the poem which broadly correspond to five sections in the music, three are descriptive (the first, third and fifth) for which I have taken the device of a circle, partly a moon or a microscope, or window… For longer descriptions, where the cello and the violin in turn denote the two characters, I use a spilt screen to illustrate the tension between them. The film starts as a succession of stills, building up to a film gradually, as each element is introduced; the forest, the abstract or universal world, the real world, and the actors or characters in the narrative.