Wagner Week: The Composer's Innovations

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

For the second day of Wagner Week, we turn our focus to Richard Wagner's musical innovations.

Wagner's advancements in opera are numerous and include the expansion of the genre's forms to unprecedented degrees; the development of a complex system of leitmotifs (melodic phrases associated with ideas, people or situations); the use of increasingly complex, chromatic harmonies; and the deployment of immense performing forces. Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, for instance, called for choruses in each act, a group of 17 principals and hundreds of extras.

Tristan und Isolde merits special attention. This work helped precipitate classical music's move away from conventional harmony, laying the groundwork for atonality and serialism in the 20th century. The Liebestod (Love-death) from Tristan is arguably the most erotically charged moment in all of opera: it has twice been named the second most sensual piece of classical music by WQXR listeners in our annual Valentine's Day surveys. Tune in with your loved one tonight at 9 pm and tell us whether that really holds true.

Programming Highlights

7am  Die Walkure: Wotan's Farewell and Magic Fire Music  (Klaus Tennstedt)

9am  The Flying Dutchman: Overture  (Giuseppe Sinopoli)

11am Die Meistersinger von Nuremburg: Morgenlich leuchtend (Jonas Kaufmann)

1pm  Parsifal: Hochsten Heiles Wunder (Pierre Boulez/Bayreuth Chorus/Orch)

3pm Tannhauser: Overture and Venusberg Music  (Riccardo Chailly)

5pm Die Walkure: Wintersturme wichen dem Wonnemond  (Ben Heppner)

7pm Das Rheingold: End of Scene 4  (James Levine/Metropolitan Opera)

9pm Tristan and Isolde: Prelude and Liebestod  (Herbert von Karajan)

 

Operavore Stream Highlights

All Wagner, all week… opera start times are approximate. (Launch the Operavore stream)

8 am Lohengrin (Boston Symphony Orchestra/Erich Leinsdorf)

11:30 am Die Feen (BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra/Sir Edward Downes)

3 pm Tannhauser (Staatskapelle Berlin/Barenboim)

6 pm The Flying Dutchman (ROH Orchestra/Antal Dorati)

8:30 pm Rienzi (Staatskapelle Dresden/Heinrich Hollreiser)


Tristan Trivia: Did you know?

  • Claude Debussy's popular piano piece Golliwog's Cakewalk quotes the "Tristan Chord."
  • The music publishing firm Breitkopf & Härtel insisted that Wagner write each act of Tristan to completion before beginning the next, so they could release it more quickly to the public.
  • Giacomo Puccini made a strange personal note in his sketches for the final duet in Turandot: "then Tristan." Nobody knows what he had in mind (he died before finishing it).
  • Bernard Herrmann's score for Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo is directly inspired by Isolde's famous "Liebestod," which ends Wagner's opera.
  • T. S. Eliot uses direct quotes from Tristan und Isolde in his epic poem The Waste Land.

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    Comments [5]

    Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha,\ NJ from Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, Boonton, NJ

    The incandescent beauty and intoxicating spirituality are so transformational in Wagner's oeuvre that any religious belief may be accommodated and synthesized to replicate the sense of selfless empathy for the welfare of others that the sacrificed UNICO represents to us all. That may explain why so many famous JEWISH singers GEORGE LONDON, RICHARD TAUBER, HERMANN JADLOWKER, MELANIE KURT, FRIEDRICH SCHORR, ALEXANDER KIPNIS, EMANUEL LIST, JONAS KAUFMANN, OTTILIE METZGER, LILLI LEHMANN, HERMANN WEIL, DESZO ERNSTER, HERTA GLAZ, MARGARETE MATZENAUER, SOPHIE BRASLAU, WALTER OLITZKY, GERHARD PECHNER, ESTELLE LIEBLING, MONA PAULEE, GUNTHER TREPTOW, PAULA LENCHNER, ALMA GLUCK, ADOLF ROBINSON, IRENE JESSNER, MAX BLOCH, ERNESTINE SCHUMANN-HEINK, HERMANN SCHRAMM, SIEGFRIED JERUSALEM, PAUL KALISCH, ETC], conductors LEONARD BERNSTEIN, JAMES LEVINE, BRUNO WALTER, ALFRED HERTZ, DANIEL BARENBOIM, GEORG SOLTI, WALTER AND LEOPOLD DAMROSCH, ARTUR RODZINSKY RICHARD FRANK GOLDMAN AND HIS FATHER THE FOUNDER OF THE GOLDMAN BAND THAT PERFORMED BRASS INSTRUMENT VERSIONS OF THE WAGNER "REP," FRITZ REINER, SERGE KOUSSEVITZKY, FABIEN SEVITSKY, ERICH LEINSDORF, HERMANN LEVI, ETC. and stage directors HERBERT GRAF AND LEOPOLD SACHSE dedicated the fullest portion of their careers to performing Wagner's music dramas.

    Jul. 23 2013 05:43 PM
    Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, Boonton, NJ

    Toscaninni's DIE MEISTERSINGER performance at the Slazburg Festival of 1937 on the Andante CD label, George Szell's Met Opera TANNHAUSER of December 19, 1942 with Melchior, Traubel and Kipnis on THE RADIO YEARS CD label, Artur Bodansky's Met Opera TRISTAN of January 2, 1937 with Melchior, Flagstad and Huehn on THE FORTIES CD label, Fritz Busch's Met Opera LOHENGRIN of January 25th, 1947 with Melchior and Melchior and Traubel on the Walhall CD label, Melchior's final Met Opera broadcast LOHENGRIN, conducted by Fritz Stiedry with Traubel and Varnay on January 7th, 1950 on the Danacord CD label and Etich Leinsdorf Met Opera TRISTAN of 1941 with Melchior, Flagstad and Kipnis on the Melodram CD label are some of the best commercially obtainable examples of Wagnerian singing at its best.

    Jul. 23 2013 05:26 PM
    George Jochnowitz from New York

    In 2009, there was a concert of lost works by Mendelssohn. There was an interview about them with Elliot Forrest.
    http://www.themendelssohnproject.org/media.htm
    Since Wagner played a role in the loss of popularity of Mendelssohn's work, It would be appropriate to have a Mendelssohn Week on WQXR. But the major reason for a Mendelssohn Week would simply be to give us an opportunity to enjoy his music--both simple and inspiring at the same time.

    Jul. 23 2013 01:25 PM
    Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, Boonton, NJ

    RICHARD WAGNER's innovations go beyond the use of his introductionj into the opera orchestra of brass and woodwind instruments invented for the their immediate use in his galactic projects. Wagner's chromatisim in TRISTAN to enhance the sensual, his use of swiftly changing meters, tempi, and extended or shortened phrase lengths to comport with the ever changing landscape and his mentally conceived synonymous sketching of leit motives, short leading melodies to indicate emotions, persons, things or concepts was extensively utilized throughout his oeuvre. Gottfried Semper was the top architect in Germany during Wagner's lifetime. he was the architect of the Prinzregaten Opera House in Stuttgart, Germany with its sunken orchestra pit the same orchestral pit as he designed later on for the Festspielhaus at Bayreuth, Germany. The first Tristan Ludwig Schnorr von Carolsfeld had a Lauritz Melchior physique, but neither the size of voice, nor the stamina of a Melchior, he dying shortly after his appearances in the Tristan premiere. The orchestra members of the original production of Tristan pretty unanimously, after 100 rehearsals declared "this will never be played as written, the composer overestimated the instrumentalists' capabilities." Just like before Roger Bannister no one broke the four minute time for running a mile, now there are many who have surpassed even his record time., so as now there are a FEW Wagnerian heldentenors capable of performing as "echt,"the real thing TRISTANS.

    Jul. 23 2013 03:09 AM
    presbar from New York

    The opera that calls for 17 principals and choruses in each act is Die Meistersinger, not Tristan und Isolde. Tristan has only a small group of principals and limited use of the chorus. Wagner could handle both the huge and the intimate with equal skill.

    Jul. 23 2013 12:32 AM

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