“Death and Transfiguration” is a 25-minute tone poem by Richard Strauss. The piece is broken into four parts that roughly correspond to a series of steps toward death:
- A man understands he is dying: In a dark, shabby room, a man lies dying. The silence is disturbed only by the ticking of a clock – or is it the beating of the man’s heart? A melancholy smile appears on the invalid’s face. Is he dreaming of his happy childhood?
- He physically experiences the battle between life and death: A furious struggle between life and death, at whose climax we hear, briefly, the theme of Transfiguration that will dominate the final portion of the work. The struggle is unresolved, and silence returns.
- He sees his life pass before him: He sees his life again, the happy times, the ideals striven for as a young man. But the hammer-blow of death rings out. His eyes are covered with eternal night.
- At the moment of death, achieves transfiguration: The heavens open to show him what the world denied him, Redemption, Transfiguration – the Transfiguration theme first played pianissimo by the full orchestra, its flowering enriched by the celestial arpeggios of two harps. The theme climbs ever higher, dazzlingly, into the empyrean.
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