Zwischentöne -
Chamber Music Festival Engelberg

October 25th to 27th, 2019

"Ainsi la Nuit"


Ainsi la nuit -- the Quality of Night


Let’s be honest, we all love the “beautiful moments” in music, even if Theodor W. Adorno, frequently ill-tempered, enjoyed making disparaging remarks about this preference. One of the most beautiful of all the “beautiful moments” is at the beginning of Joseph Haydns Creation, where the choir sings in pianissimo: “And the spirit of God floats on the surface of the water” and Haydn gives God the words: “Let there be light” and the composer, with God’s help, creates light, with a tremendous, wonderful, all-encompassing and radiant C Major chord. “And there was light” - and out of the eternal darkness came the brilliant, clear day. A high point in the classical repertoire! The Apollonian triumphs! Not until the 19th century, the century in which romanticism blossoms, do we begin to find the Dionysian in music. In this era, the night becomes a central theme and the “beautiful moments” sound very different: less brilliant, more contemplative and melancholy, sometimes extremely impassioned, often poetically telling a story. Nights are not anymore just for sleeping, not just the time of stillness, rather they are invigorating, allowing new experiences and a time for passion and even ecstasy. Dreams are full of yearning like in Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder, or in Schumann and Schubert’s music: “Night and Dreams” is the title of one of Schubert’s most poignant songs. It ends longingly with the plea: “fair dreams return again”.

The 19th century was the century of the nocturne. Admittedly, the 18th century already had its share of night music - more than just the hardly insignificant “kleine Nachtmusik” of Mozart. But in the 19th century many more composers were inspired by the night. Mendelssohn wrote unequalled music for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. The Night Pieces of Schumann are a part of this festival program and there are the beautiful Trois nocturnes of Debussy. It is Chopin, however, who was undoubtably the master of the genre of the nocturne. His nocturnes are a far cry from a peaceful, dreamy, “good-night music” - just the opposite. Almost all are written in the A-B-A form and the B section often shows a more dramatic view of the night before the initial tranquility returns. Robert Schumann also had a special affinity for the night. His Träumerei is well-known, but his Traumeswirren (from Op 12) and certainly also the third piece of the Night Pieces Op 23 (“Nächtliches Gelage” – “Night Revelry”) show the restive and indeed for Schumann troubling moments of nocturnal experience.

Central to the program of this year’s Zwischentöne are two of the most important chamber music works of the 20th century: Schönberg’s Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night) and Ainsi la nuit (Thus the Night) by Henri Dutilleux. Schönberg’s work – composed shortly before the turn of the century in 1899 – was premiered in Vienna in 1902 and accompanied by the customary vociferous protests. Transfigured Night is without a doubt the high point of late romantic chamber music. This work stands at the beginning of a century which would bring immeasurable misery and ceaseless upheavals in the arts as well. Still, at this point we hear no indication of the Schönberg who will later break with tonality. Soon he would leave tonality altogether and ascend his ivory tower of 12-tone technique to find new freedom there. This eventually leads to a musical style and way of expression which opens possibilities for him and many innovators, but estranges the general public.

As a personality and as a composer a Frenchman through and through, Henri Dutilleux still by no means blithely continued the tradition of Debussy, Ravel and others. He found his own true musical language in which he had much to say, even in the autumn of his life. In his only string quartet, Ainsi la nuit, he searches for the essence of night and transforms this essence into sound.

The fascinating thing about the juxtaposition of these two works lies in their similarities. The night is their common theme. Schönberg writes program music and this in a time in which it was less and less accepted and even sometimes, as in Vienna, violently rejected. The work is based on a poem by Richard Dehmel. The subject: on a cold, moonlit night, a pair of lovers are having an intimate conversation. She confesses that she is pregnant by another man, and he, the new lover, touched by her confession and overwhelmed by the atmosphere of the night, declares his love and vows to accept the child as his own. The nocturnal experience of confession and forgiveness transforms everything, even the night itself.

Henri Dutilleux works in a similar way 75 years later in his string quartet Ainsi la nuit. He calls the technique croissance progressive (progressive growth) and throughout the work he constantly develops his thematic material. The piece begins with a Nocturne which is preceded by a chord. The listener continually discovers motivic elements or sounds which have been heard before, or which one thinks to have heard before. In the course of this extremely expressive work, the themes and sound-figures are woven together into a dense tapestry. For Dutilleux, the night seems to be something which develops from indistinct and, at first, seemingly disparate elements, gradually becoming a compelling unity. Thus is the quality of night, a combination of conscious and subconscious memory. Dutilleux’s music, as he himself said, is “never straight-lined, never evened out, never predictable, always full of surprises.” It is an aural adventure, like Transfigured Night.

The idea is intriguing: a certain Swedish folk song appears before the performance of Franz Schubert’s Trio in E-flat Major (D. 929). The text, “See, the sun is sinking”, brings us directly to the theme of this year’s festival: the essence of night. Schubert heard the song performed in a house concert by his Swedish poet-friend Franz Schober and the singer Isak Albert Berg, who visited Vienna during Schubert’s final year of life. In the Andante con moto Schubert quotes the somewhat sleepy melody. But what this inspired, ingenious composer does with this little folk song is pure, sublime Schubert.

In the Baroque, the title “Notturno” described the time at which a piece would be performed. These pieces were the court’s evening entertainments for the nobility’s invited guests. Thus the music played was often not terribly sophisticated. This changed in the 19th century. The night became a central motive of poetry and in music as well, especially in the art-songs of many composers – this trend lasts up until the present day. The list is impressive: Franz Liszt who repeatedly dreamt of love; Debussy who depicts an evening in Granada; Lili Boulanger, who wrote a sublime nocturne-trifle; and the American sound-magician George Crumb, who wanted his latest nocturnes, highly experimental night-music, performed as a gesture to the past “con sentimento di nostalgia”.


Elmar Weingarten
(English translation: MEW)

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The Artists


All concerts except for the Late Night take place in the Baroque Hall of the monastery

Special event: Musical Monastery Tour
A guided tour of the baroque monastery with musical surprises
Friday October 25th 2019 4pm Sold out
Opening concert Friday October 25th 2019 7pm Details »
Late Night
Friday October 25th 2019 10.30pm
Hotel Terrace, Belle Epoque Hall
Details »
Matinee: "Apparitions" Saturday October 26th 2019 11am
10.15ampre-concert lecture
Details »
Open Workshop-Rehearsal
A program intended especially for a young audience – but all interested listeners are welcome!
Saturday October 26th 2019 3pm Details »
Evening concert: "Rencontres nocturnes" Saturday October 26th 2019 7pm
followed by dinner with artists
Details »
Matinee Music & Literature Sunday October 27th 2019 11am
(time changes to winter time!)
Details »
Final concert: "Transfigured night" Sunday October 27th 2019 5pm
followed by apero
Details »


Packages and Hotel bookings:
Festival hotel H+ Hotel & Spa
via email
or phone +41 (0)41 639 58 58


Festival passes and single tickets:

Cat.1 Cat.2 Students
Festival Pass all 7 concerts
without special events
CHF 280.- CHF 235.- CHF 130.- Tickets »
Opening concert Fr Oct 25th 7pm CHF 53.- CHF 43.- CHF 25.- Tickets »
Late Night - Noche de Tango Fr Oct 25th 10.30pm CHF 35.- CHF 35.- CHF 20.- Tickets »
Matinee "Apparitions" Sat Oct 26th 11am CHF 48.- CHF 38.- CHF 25.- Tickets »
Open Workshop-Rehearsal
Sat Oct 26th 3pm CHF 20.- (free seating) CHF 10.- Tickets »
Evening concert
"Rencontres Nocturnes"
Sat Oct 26th 7pm CHF 53.- CHF 43.- CHF 25.- Tickets »
Matinee Music & Literature Sun Oct 27th 11am CHF 48.- CHF 38.- CHF 25.- Tickets »
Final concert
"Transfigured Night"
Sun Oct 27th 5pm
followed by Apero, one drink included in ticket price
CHF 58.- CHF 48.- CHF 25.- Tickets »
Special event: Musical Monastery Tour Fr Oct 25th 4pm CHF 20.- Sold out
Diner at H+ Hotel Sat Oct 26th ca. 9pm CHF 35.- choose this option when booking the Saturday evening concert or the festival pass
H+Hotel and tickets
Fr/Sa (1 night/5 concerts): CHF 265.-
Sa/So (1 night/5 concerts): CHF 280.-
Fr-So (2 nighs/7 concerts): CHF 440.-
via email
or phone
+41 (0)41 639 58 58



The festival hotel H+ Hotel&Spa offers special conditions for visitors of the Festival. Book your room together with the concert tickets, and live in the same hotel as the musicians.

Packages and Hotel bookings:
Festival hotel H+ Hotel & Spa
via email
or phone +41 (0)41 639 58 58


Following the evening concert of Saturday October 26th there will be a dinner together with the musicians at the H+ Hotel.

Here you can find the menu.

Choose this option when booking the Saturday evening concert or the festival pass.


Pedro Zimmermann, Business Director




Getting there

Train: 43 Min. from Lucerne. Last connections from Engelberg 9.02pm/10.02pm/10.30pm/11.30pm. 

The monastery is an 8-minute walk from Engelberg station. 


Car: Drive via Stans. Parking next to the monastery. 




Cover foto Monastery: Christian Perret
Merel Quartet and E.Mätzener: Hannes Heinzer
ME. Woodside and R. Rosenfeld: Marco Borggreve at KKL Luzern
J. Banse: Susie Knoll
R. Rabinovich: Balazs Borocz
J. Dähler: Rainer Suck
I. Ungureanu: A. Zihler
U. Stanic: Stefan Preradović
M. Nisinman: Laura Tenenbaum




We are very grateful to our partners:

Alice Rosner Foundation - Elsener-Gut Stiftung - Geert und Lore Blanken-Schlemper Stiftung - Sarna Jubiläumsstiftung - Schüller-Stiftung - Stiftung Dr. Robert und Lina Thyll-Dürr - Schyn Holding AG - Verein Freunde Zwischentöne Engelberg