RICHARD WAGNER 1813 -
(G3c, G4, W4, Va, Vb, Vc)
Wagner: engraving by the German artist Robert Reyher (1838-
xxxxxAs we have seen, it was in 1845 (Va) that the German composer Richard Wagner produced his opera Tannhauser. This, together with his earlier work The Flying Dutchman (1843) and his later work Lohengrin (1850), had little success. His novel idea that opera should be a total blend of all its components -
xxxxxBut in 1864 fate took a hand and made possible the fulfilment of his destiny. In that year the young Ludwig II came to the throne of Bavaria. A fanatical devotee of Wagner, he invited him to Munich, paid off his debts, provided him with a villa and a generous allowance, and put the city’s opera house at his disposal. At last, living in the comfort for which he yearned, he was able to let the world hear and enjoy his revolutionary works. Tristan and Isolde was given its premier the next year, a passionate story of forbidden love, inspired at the time of its composition (the late 1850s) by his own unfulfilled dreams of love for Mathilde Wesendonck, the wife of one of his patrons. In this work he was influenced by the writings of the German philosopher Arthur Schopenauer. In accordance with his contention that music was more important than the word, he gave the orchestra the predominant role in the drama, filling the stage with a rich outpouring of sound and passion, rapture and gloom. In fact it took some time for the opera to be widely performed, mainly because of its length, unfamiliar style, and the difficulty of finding singers capable of coping with the two major roles.
xxxxxIn December 1865 he was forced to leave Munich -
xxxxxBut still to come was his masterpiece The Ring of the Nibelung, a sequence of four operas based on Teutonic myth and legend, and having as its theme -
xxxxxThexRing of the Nibelung -
xxxxxThe following year, after conducting in London, he began work on his final opera Parsifal, a religious music-
xxxxxWagner’s new art form -
xxxxxWagner, who wrote the librettos as well as the music for his operas, was a ruthless musical genius who possessed an overpowering belief in his own talent and a tenacious determination to achieve what he saw as his destiny: the creation of the “New Art Work of the Future”. Like the mythical Aryan heroes and demigods who crowded his operas, he was a larger-
xxxxxWagner’s arrogance and conceit were compounded by his belief in the superiority of the German race and his utter disdain for the Jews. In a number of tracts written in the early 1850s -
xxxxxBut if Wagner’s influence was deferred in the field of politics, it was felt almost immediately in music and the arts in general. He had a profound influence on the compositions of Bruckner, Dvorak Mahler, Franck and Richard Strauss; Debussy and Schoenberg adopted aspects of his unique treatment; and his contemporaries Berlioz, Verdi and Brahms were admirers of his works even though they never quite understood them. On a wider front, the artists Degas, Whistler and Cézanne drew inspiration from his compositions, and many literary figures, notably Baudelaire and Mallarmé, made reference to Wagner in their writings.
xxxxxIncidentally, after Wagner’s death, the management of the Bayreuth Festival was taken over by his second wife Cosima (whom he married in 1870), and then by later descendants. Dedicated exclusively to the performance of Wagner’s operas, it is held each summer in northern Bavaria. ……
xxxxx……xxAs noted earlier, the 16th century Nuremberg meistersinger, poet and composer Hans Sachs, a cobbler by trade, is a major character in Wagner’s The Mastersingers of Nuremberg. ……
xxxxx……xxIn 1883 Franz Liszt (Wagner’s father-
xxxxx……xxIronically, given Wagner’s anti-
xxxxx…… For a number of years Wagner was a very close friend of the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. They met at Leipzig in 1868, and Nietzsche visited him and Cosima when they were living at Tribschen. As we shall see, however, their friendship ended in the early 1880s, mainly due to Wagner’s anti-
xxxxx…… ThexGerman Hans von Bulow (1830-
Anton Bruckner and
xxxxxAs we have seen, it was in 1845 (Va) that the German composer Richard Wagner produced his opera Tannhauser. This, like his earlier work The Flying Dutchman and his Lohengrin of 1850, had little success. His ideas about opera went against the traditional form. In 1864, however, he received the support of the young king of Bavaria, Ludwig II, and was able to stage his dramatic love story Tristan and Isolde and his comic opera The Mastersingers of Nuremberg. Then in 1876 he performed his masterpiece The Ring of the Nibelung, in a purpose built opera house at Bayreuth in Bavaria. A monumental work made up of four operas, it was based, like much of his earlier work, on Germanic legend and myth. His final work was the opera Parsifal, a religious music-
xxxxxThe Austrian composer and organist Anton Bruckner (1824-
xxxxxThe Austrian composer and organist Anton Bruckner (1824-
xxxxxIn 1865, however, after meeting Wagner at the first night of Tristan and Isolde, his career took a new and stormy direction. He became a great admirer and friend of the German composer, and, whilst influenced by the richly romantic harmony associated with Beethoven, he took to writing in his monumental style, producing symphonies noted for their epic proportions and heavy orchestration. He is best remembered today for his Seventh Symphony of 1883, a work in which the deeply mournful slow movement was written to commemorate the death of Wagner.
xxxxxHe became professor and court organist at the Vienna Conservatoire in 1868, a post he held until 1892, and it was during that time that he composed eight symphonies as well as producing many choral pieces and works for the organ and piano. During his career he contributed to the development of the sonata, and often composed passages of unorthodox structure. Success was slow in coming, due in the main to what some regarded as his wild and nonsensical Wagnerian style. However, in the last years of his life he was honoured throughout his homeland, granted a government pension, and awarded the Order of Franz Joseph and an honorary doctorate from the University of Vienna. Among his many other works two deserve special mention, his Te Deum in C for soloists, chorus and orchestra, completed in 1884, and his beautiful String Quintet of 1889.
xxxxxAs a virtuoso organist he was well received in Paris in 1869, and, during a visit to London in 1871, he gave six recitals at the Royal Albert Hall and five more at the Crystal Palace. And towards the end of his career he toured various German towns to hear performances of his works. He was a modest man of humble birth, but by his innovative forms -
xxxxxIncidentally, the constant criticism levelled at his symphonies unnerved Bruckner and, as a result, he tended to revise his works a number of times. However, he bequeathed his original manuscripts to the Vienna National Library, and it is upon these that his symphonies are now based.
xxxxx…… A deeply religious man, the monastery of St. Florian, where he studied and taught as a young man, remained a place of spiritual refuge for him throughout his life. In accordance with his wishes, when he died in 1896 he was buried in the monastery’s crypt, directly under the organ . ……
xxxxx…… As with Wagner, the Nazis approved of Bruckner’s music, and in 1937 the Nazi leader, Adolf Hitler, unveiled a bust of the composer. And in May 1945, when Hitler’s death was broadcast to the German people, the announcement was accompanied by the Adagio from his 7th Symphony.
xxxxxThe German composer Engelbert Humperdinck (1854-
xxxxxAnd another musician who became a disciple of Richard Wagner was Engelbert Humperdinck, (1854-
xxxxxAfter working at the Festival Theatre in the early 1880s, where he studied under Wagner, he resumed his travels, and over the next ten years taught at the Barcelona Conservatory and the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt. It was in 1891, while in Frankfurt, that he began writing Hansel and Gretel, a folk story told by the Grimm Brothers. It started out as a play with songs and piano accompaniment, -
xxxxxFollowing this triumph Humperdinck wrote a number of works for the stage -
xxxxxIncidentally, Wagner thought so highly of Humperdinck’s ability that he appointed him music tutor to his son Siegfried. ……
xxxxx…… In the production of his opera The King’s Children, produced in 1910, Humperdinck was the first composer to introduce Sprechgesang, a vocal technique which was half way between singing and speaking. ……
xxxxx…… In 1923 Hansel and Gretel became the first complete opera ever to be broadcast on the radio, transmitted from Covent Garden in London.