9 Death and Transfiguration Lane

(This was a recent item in “9 Chickweed Lane Classics” but I can’t tell what year the original publication would have been.)

So, what on earth is that “Tod and Verklarung’s” doing there? As Tod und Verklärung it is the title of an 1889 tone poem by Richard Strauss, always called in English Death and Transfiguration. Brooke McEldowney, the cartoonist, certainly intended the allusion — but in what way?

But what is it doing in Edda’s dialog? Is that supposed to be the fictively-actual name of a store in this universe? Or is it her parodic version of a different name, which her mother would recognize? And for the cartoonist, is it coming from “Abercrombie & Fitch”, or some other real store, or thin air? And are we meant to reflect on death and transfiguration?

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Here is a performance of that piece:

Or if you’re feeling very studious, here is a dissection of the music in detail:


  1. I’m fairly certain McEldowny intends it as a parody store name. Not sure if it’s a reference to any specific real store, as a number of them are named so (Lord & Taylor, H&M, Christopher & Banks, Abercrombie & Fitch, Marks & Spencer, etc.).

    As for the specific piece referenced, “Death and Transfiguration” sounds appropriate for a store that sells skimpy women’s swimsuits.

  2. Yes, Brooke McEldowney is very into “classical” music (or in this case, “late Romantic”) and would obviously not be inventing the store name without thinking of the composition.
    No, it isn’t adding anything terribly interesting or appropriate to the main joke of the comic.

  3. Yes, Brooke McEldowney is very into “classical” music (or in this case, “late Romantic”) and would obviously not be inventing the store name without thinking of the composition.
    No, it isn’t adding anything terribly interesting or appropriate to the main joke of the comic.

    It must be Groundhog Day — I feel like I am doomed to repeat!

  4. McEldowney just likes to show off how cultured he is, and I think that’s probably all there is to it.

  5. Dan Drazen, I thought you must be kidding, but search turns up both a line of casual clothes (with somewhat puzzling mottos), and a physical store for hip men’s clothes in Germany.

  6. Me, too, Andréa. (My grandson, a violist, would want me to point out that he’s playing a viola, but don’t tell him that it was 3/4 through before I realized it.)

  7. What I want to know is why the “Flying” theme from the 1970’s Superman movie sounds so much like the big theme from Tod und Verklarung. Did John Williams intend us to get the reference?

  8. Speaking of John Williams, when I was looking at the Anthony McGill Wikipedia page today (in connection with something else) I was reminded he was one of the performers premiering Williams’s “Air and Simple Gifts” some twelve years and a couple weeks ago in a certain public setting .

  9. Mark in Boston – John Williams “borrows” heavily from the classics. I don’t think he intends it as a reference. His gift, if you can call it that, is the ability to tip toe right up to the edge of plagiarism without falling into the abyss.

  10. To be fair, that’s partially a result of how his directors (well, Lucas and Spielberg, at least; not sure about Donner) tell him what kind of music they want. The Imperial March sounds like Holst’s “Mars”, for instance, because Lucas played “Mars” over the Vader scenes in Episode V and said “I want it to sound kinda like this, John.”

  11. The Williams piece I mentioned , Air and Simple Gifts, was commissioned for , and premiered at , a special event – Obama’s first inauguration. Which was what I clued about the date, January 20, 2009.

  12. Is it just me, or does the conductor in the first video look like Patton Oswalt?

    A little explanation as to why it has taken me so long to ask this question: when I first saw this however many days ago, I said to myself, “Hey, that’s … uh, what’s his name.” Google may be great, but it is kind of like the old joke –

    “How do you spell pneumonia?”
    “Look it up in the dictionary.”
    “If I knew how to find it in the dictionary, I wouldn’t need the dictionary.”

    I couldn’t remember his name. I couldn’t think of anything I’d seen him in. What’s left to search on? “Actor/comedian, kind of chunky, pleasant demeanor”
    Anyway, I let it go, and then this morning, surfing through the usual news feeds that show up on my phone, no less than three totally unrelated items mention Mr. Oswalt. How about them apples?

  13. Yes, now that you suggest it, I do sort of see a Patton Oswalt resemblance in this Mikko Franck.

    I have not seen him in person, but almost did. Nor do I often see him in videos, but this one happened to come up when I was searching for performances of the Strauss, and it seemed all right.

    The time I was going to see him, he was going to conduct a program with the Chicago Symphony including Hilary Hahn as soloist in the Sibelius concerto. Franck was unable to travel it turned out, but Hahn was here and they brought in Marin Alsop as substitute conductor. (I forget what else was on the program, but Alsop replaced only one piece, a newish one.) It was a wonderful concert!

    As it happens, there is a video of Franck and Hahn doing the Sibelius, with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France (that seems to be his home), just a week before the Chicago concert. Hahn was wearing the same red dress! She gave us the same interpretation of the piece! So this video is almost a record of the performance my friend and I did see.

  14. Marin Alsop was the conductor of the Colorado Symphony Orchestra when we lived in the Denver area 20 or so years ago. She brought a lot of excitement and brio to the concerts we attended, as well as re-energizing a somewhat staid symphony orchestra and its audience.

  15. Guero, thanks for adding about Marin Alsop. I have seen her in person only that once, and have not seen many videoed concerts with her, but have enjoyed audio recordings of her with London and Baltimore, where I think she was Music Director.

    But as a public presence she became a familiar voice for me by chatting on radio with Scott Simon on his Saturday morning NPR shows. She was an effective voice for “classical” music in general and for women as leaders.

    Recently she became even more well known here in Chicago as the new Music Director for the Ravinia Festival. I haven’t actually gotten up there in this century, but it is a prominent role and would have put her in the news and on the radio even more. She retains the title and I’m sure is making plans, but of course the 2020 summer season was cancelled.

  16. Ah, yes – Ravinia. Made it there a few times when I lived just north of Illinois. I wonder if the 2021 season will be entirely on the lawn, with masks and social distancing . . .

  17. Sorry for reviving an old thread, but I made the mistake of clicking on one of the auto-generated “related” links on a contemporary post, and I had two things I wanted to say, temporal inappropriateness be damned:

    1) I’m surprised none of the usual Teutonic crowd (myself included) pounced on the translation of Tod und Verklärung, Death and Transfiguration. While these are pretty much the ossified, standard words for the concepts in their respective languages, it struck me that in the German, the term for “transfiguration” more literally means “clearing up” rather than “changing”, as if it is becoming more clearly what it always was, rather than changing into something different. (German is often like this by virtue of using not Latin or Greek roots to form new complicated words, but by using simple Germanic roots, thus making the etymology clear to everyone, not just classics scholars.) What little joke there was in McEldowney choosing this name for a swimsuit shop I think gets lost when considering the word in German as opposed to English: in English, the swimsuits might transform you (after killing you), whereas in German, they just reveal you more fully as you are; or maybe indeed that is his point, and thus the German usage… (though surely he would have included the umlaut were he that astute).

    2) The discussion then veered to musical performances, and Mitch mentioned one concert where he missed seeing a particular conductor, because he was unable to travel, and then there was another reference to a violinist (or was it a violist?) who gave a very similar interpretation in a recorded performance to one seen live, though as I understood it, under a different conductor… Which leads to my question: The conductor is seen as the driving force of the orchestra, the one to single out for the particular interpretation an orchestra gives to a piece; they are always the one applauded at the end, and only as an afterthought do they motion to the orchestra and say, oh, yeah, they played it, clap them too. But the comments on this thread seem to contradict the myth of the mighty conductor! If a piece can be played for an audience with a substitute conductor put in at last minute because the intended conductor couldn’t make their flight, then surely the conductor could not have been all that important! Especially (and this might not be true, the conductor could be jet-setting all over the place) as it sounds like the conductor wasn’t even rehearsing with the orchestra, just showing up last minute to conduct one piece. And furthermore, if a soloist can maintain a certain interpretation across conductors, such that the recorded version is a virtual clone of the version seen live under a different conductor, then the piece, or at least the solo, belongs to the soloist, and not the conductor. (But maybe that’s the understanding all the time anyway?) Anyone care to comment? I played in band in school, I do know the importance of a conductor; I just find these superstar conductors are maybe just a little bit over-hyped, and I’ve always found it unjust to applaud the conductor first, and then only as an afterthought the orchestra… (Indeed, one year for District Band or whatever it was called (a band put together from the better players of multiple school districts), we had as a guest conductor the composer of a bunch of popular pieces for school bands, and it was quite something to rehearse and play the pieces under the composer himself than to just play the piece under your normal school band teacher, like we had the semester before (these pieces were fun and well liked among the students) — I get the importance of a conductor, but they are just one more piece of the whole; I also get the importance of the trombone part, but, it too, is just one more piece of the whole — only when the whole machinery is working in concert (heh, heh, heh) does the whole thing work. I remember being shocked hearing the percussion section after a performance freely admitting how they had been driving the conductor to pick up the pace in one piece because they thought he was being too cautious and conducting the piece too slowly!)

  18. larK, I hear you on the topic of superstar conductors. But in the case I was talking about, the attraction was the violin soloist, Hilary Hahn. In the clip which I am pasting below (again), the conductor was Mikko Franck, whom I knew next to nothing about, beyond this performance. (I have subsequently seen him – on video – a few more times, and he is all right.) They were going to both come to Chicago, to perform with the Chicago Symphony. (Not bringing the OPRF.) But Mikko Franck had travel problems (I don’t know anything more about that.) The replacement conductor was Marin Alsop, who had plenty of experience working with the CSO. She made one change in the program, which removed a recent composition that had been commissioned for Franck; but otherwise it was the originally planned program. My friend and I enjoyed it very much! The French concert video was from just a week ahead of the Chicago one, so we were able to watch it and say, Yes her performance was the same. (Also her dress.)

  19. A lot of conducting is ineffable. The difference between a good conductor and a great conductor is like the difference between a good teacher and a great teacher — very real but also very difficult to pin down in any identifiable way. And, a substitute conductor is a lot like a substitute teacher.

    For concertos, though, things mostly rest on the soloist. The conductor can break the concert, but can’t make it, so to speak.

  20. Lydia Tár, in her recent movie, sort of dissed Michael Tilson Thomas. But I was knocked out, totally demolished, by the performance I saw when MTT guested with the CSO for the Mahler 9th.

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