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Thread: Religion in Wagner's Parsifal: Christian opera, Buddhist opera, both, or neither?

  1. #406
    Senior Member Luchesi's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DavidA View Post
    Agreed and this is where if you strip the 2000 years of accrued religion away (like Parsifal has) that Jesus' teaching becomes incredibly radical and challenging even today. I mean, 'Love your enemies'. Some of us have a problem with the guy next door!
    Skeptics say that Jesus was born at the time of Galilean uprisings. They were brutally put down, many rapes. So it's expected that Jesus would teach appeasement against the occupiers (and others in power), especially to the poor, powerless people of the settlements.

    But it doesn't matter what that context was.
    Tradition is not the worship of ashes - but the preservation of fire!
    Gustav Mahler

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    Senior Member Couchie's Avatar
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    Stravinsky was a bitter old man. I will side with Prokofiev here and say dissonance is a spice, too much and it spoils the batter. The Rite of Spring is enchanting on the first listen and tedious on the tenth. I have yet to "wear out" either Wagner or Debussy in the same manner, despite my best efforts to do so as they are probably my two heaviest in rotation. Something about Stravinsky doesn't reward repeated listening. It has no "soul".
    Last edited by Couchie; Feb-16-2020 at 20:59.
    Doch dieses Wörtlein: und, -wär' es zerstört,
    wie anders als mit Isoldes eignem Leben wär' Tristan der Tod gegeben?

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  4. #408
    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Couchie View Post
    Stravinsky was a bitter old man. I will side with Prokofiev here and say dissonance is a spice, too much and it spoils the batter. The Rite of Spring is enchanting on the first listen and tedious on the tenth. I have yet to "wear out" either Wagner or Debussy in the same manner, despite my best efforts to do so as they are probably my two heaviest in rotation. Something about Stravinsky doesn't reward repeated listening. It has no "soul".
    I'm not sure whether Stravinsky was bitter - he had little reason to be, he was successful enough - but I get little depth of feeling from most of his work, which strikes me as the product of a clever, detached intellect playing around with the materials of music. That may be the essence of "neoclassicism," but it's certainly not actual classicism, which sought merely to keep emotional expression in balance with intellectual pleasure, not to subordinate or obliterate it. This is truly at the opposite extreme from Wagner, whose intellect was obviously extraordinary but was never indulged for its own sake (except in Meistersinger, where it's caricatured as pedantry in contrast to the spontaneous art of Walther/Wagner).

    I've often noted how little discussion there is of Wagner's musical methods compared to, say, Bach's, Beethoven's or Schoenberg's, and I think that's simply because his music goes so relentlessly to the gut, and leaves you little time or inclination to figure out how he does it. The score of Parsifal (keeping to the subject, more or less) is full of fiendishly brilliant structural and stylistic ideas - contrapuntal devices, orchestral blends, motivic relationships - but the average listener isn't going to think about them or even notice them. It's an art that conceals art, as compared to music in which the perception of artfulness is more than half the point of listening. I'm not going to put down that sort of music; it affords its own pleasures. But I respect Stravinsky as a craftsman while rarely loving him as an artist. I enjoy both the emotional and the intellectual in art, but come down a bit more on the side of the former. I'd have been happy if Stravinsky had written more Russian Romantic fantasies like Firebird.
    Last edited by Woodduck; Feb-16-2020 at 21:48.

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  6. #409
    Senior Member fluteman's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    I'm not sure whether Stravinsky was bitter - he had little reason to be, he was successful enough - but I get little depth of feeling from most of his work, which strikes me as the product of a clever, detached intellect playing around with the materials of music. That may be the essence of "neoclassicism," but it's certainly not actual classicism, which sought merely to keep emotional expression in balance with intellectual pleasure, not to subordinate or obliterate it. This is truly at the opposite extreme from Wagner, whose intellect was obviously extraordinary but was never indulged for its own sake (except in Meistersinger, where it's caricatured as pedantry in contrast to the spontaneous art of Walther/Wagner).

    I've often noted how little discussion there is of Wagner's musical methods compared to, say, Bach's, Beethoven's or Schoenberg's, and I think that's simply because his music goes so relentlessly to the gut, and leaves you little time or inclination to figure out how he does it. The score of Parsifal (keeping to the subject, more or less) is full of fiendishly brilliant structural and stylistic ideas - contrapuntal devices, orchestral blends, motivic relationships - but the average listener isn't going to think about them or even notice them. It's an art that conceals art, as compared to music in which the perception of artfulness is more than half the point of listening. I'm not going to put down that sort of music; it affords its own pleasures. But I respect Stravinsky as a craftsman while rarely loving him as an artist. I enjoy both the emotional and the intellectual in art, but come down a bit more on the side of the former. I'd have been happy if Stravinsky had written more Russian Romantic fantasies like Firebird.
    As I said earlier, the great contrast between Wagner and Stravinsky, on opposite ends of the spectrum in many ways, is very much the contrast between Romantic and Modern sensibilities. I tried to suggest how Stravinsky's anti-heroic Soldier is the counterpart to Wagner's heroic Parsifal. To me it isn't really a case of clever, intellectual detachment, but rather of countering the larger-than-life themes of Wagner with everyday, ordinary life-sized themes.

    With his faults and failures, the Soldier is far more human a character than are Parsifal, Kundry, Klingsor, or indeed just about any of the characters of Wagner's operas, who, though complex, seem more like metaphors and symbols than real people (and thanks for your explanations on that count in this thread, Woodduck, which do clear some things up for me -- I'll return to Parsifal better prepared). The Soldier loses sight of what really matters most in life, as represented by the violin (home, family, friends, love), in an ultimately useless pursuit of money and power, as represented by the book, after succumbing to temptation, in the form of the devil. Yes, there are many clever little wrinkles and a number of other symbols, but that's the very simple basic idea, in one sentence.

    And just as what really matters in life can be distilled down to a few essential things, and told in a simple (but with the right treatment, powerful) folk tale, Stravinsky suggests that the same is true with music. Everything about the music in Histoire is minimalist -- instrumentation, structure, duration, even the use of silence that I mentioned earlier, that is rarely encountered in Wagner.

    Now, I concede there can be no anti-Parsifal without Parsifal. The Finns don't jump into the cold water until after sitting in the hot and steamy sauna for a good long while. But what Stravinsky is doing is very far from "playing around" with musical materials in a detached way. He is relating a hard and starkly simple lesson of the consequences of human frailty with hard and starkly simple music. His intellect comes into play in how he matches the music to the story in such a skilled and sophisticated way. But the, Wagner does that too.

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  8. #410
    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by fluteman View Post
    As I said earlier, the great contrast between Wagner and Stravinsky, on opposite ends of the spectrum in many ways, is very much the contrast between Romantic and Modern sensibilities. I tried to suggest how Stravinsky's anti-heroic Soldier is the counterpart to Wagner's heroic Parsifal. To me it isn't really a case of clever, intellectual detachment, but rather of countering the larger-than-life themes of Wagner with everyday, ordinary life-sized themes.

    With his faults and failures, the Soldier is far more human a character than are Parsifal, Kundry, Klingsor, or indeed just about any of the characters of Wagner's operas, who, though complex, seem more like metaphors and symbols than real people (and thanks for your explanations on that count in this thread, Woodduck, which do clear some things up for me -- I'll return to Parsifal better prepared). The Soldier loses sight of what really matters most in life, as represented by the violin (home, family, friends, love), in an ultimately useless pursuit of money and power, as represented by the book, after succumbing to temptation, in the form of the devil. Yes, there are many clever little wrinkles and a number of other symbols, but that's the very simple basic idea, in one sentence.

    And just as what really matters in life can be distilled down to a few essential things, and told in a simple (but with the right treatment, powerful) folk tale, Stravinsky suggests that the same is true with music. Everything about the music in Histoire is minimalist -- instrumentation, structure, duration, even the use of silence that I mentioned earlier, that is rarely encountered in Wagner.

    Now, I concede there can be no anti-Parsifal without Parsifal. The Finns don't jump into the cold water until after sitting in the hot and steamy sauna for a good long while. But what Stravinsky is doing is very far from "playing around" with musical materials in a detached way. He is relating a hard and starkly simple lesson of the consequences of human frailty with hard and starkly simple music. His intellect comes into play in how he matches the music to the story in such a skilled and sophisticated way. But the, Wagner does that too.
    You prompt me to listen to L'histoire du soldat again after many years to see how it strikes me. I'll get back to you!

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  10. #411
    Senior Member fluteman's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    You prompt me to listen to L'histoire du soldat again after many years to see how it strikes me. I'll get back to you!
    I don't see it on youtube, but there is a recording from the 1980s by Kent Nagano and the London Sinfonietta featuring the rock star Sting as the soldier, and Vanessa Redgrave and Ian McKellen in the other roles, that is a lot of fun. I don't know why there aren't more celebrity recordings, as there are with Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf.

  11. #412
    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by fluteman View Post
    I don't see it on youtube, but there is a recording from the 1980s by Kent Nagano and the London Sinfonietta featuring the rock star Sting as the soldier, and Vanessa Redgrave and Ian McKellen in the other roles, that is a lot of fun. I don't know why there aren't more celebrity recordings, as there are with Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf.
    I seem to recall Merle Streep doing Poulenc's Babar the Elephant.

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  13. #413
    Senior Member elgars ghost's Avatar
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    I can never understand why hip celebrities are roped in for narrative purposes on classical works - they usually don't raise any further awareness due to their presence and as a result they don't shift more units, yet presumably they still get paid. And in a language or accent different to the original? Would Gerard Depardieu have done wonders for Britten's The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra? How about Zsa Zsa Gabor breathing her dulcet Magyar tones over Copland's Lincoln Portrait?

    The Stravinsky work in question would work perfectly well with any French speaker who might actually have a natural affinity for the premise in the first place. But no - let's get Sting instead, because he's a rock star and he's also appeared in a few films. Spare me !!
    Last edited by elgars ghost; Today at 02:05.
    '...a violator of his word, a libertine over head and ears in debt and disgrace, a despiser of domestic ties, the companion of gamblers and demireps, a man who has just closed half a century without a single claim on the gratitude of his country or the respect of posterity...' - Leigh Hunt on the Prince Regent (later George IV).

    ὃν οἱ θεοὶ φιλοῦσιν ἀποθνῄσκει νέος [Those whom the gods love die young] - Menander

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  15. #414
    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by elgars ghost View Post
    I can never understand why hip celebrities are roped in for narrative purposes on classical works - they usually don't raise any further awareness due to their presence and as a result they don't shift more units, yet presumably they still get paid. And in a language or accent different to the original? Would Gerard Depardieu have done wonders for Britten's The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra? How about Zsa Zsa Gabor breathing her dulcet Magyar tones over Copland's Lincoln Portrait?

    The Stravinsky work in question would work perfectly well with any French speaker who might actually have a natural affinity for the premise in the first place. But no - let's get Sting instead, because he's a rock star and he's also appeared in a few films. Spare me !!
    Did Sting actually narrate L'histoire? I agree with your aversion to the cult of celebrity, but it's a long-standing tradition to have well-known actors do narrations, and I'd imagine they've often been apt choices. I recall Streep's Babar as very nice (I think it was on Naxos), and knowing her love of music she probably relished the job. Peter and the Wolf has been done by everyone; Google brings up Alice Cooper, Bill Clinton, Boris Karloff, David Attenborough, David Tennant, Mikhail Gorbachev, Sophia Loren, Sting, Patrick Stewart, Sir Peter Ustinov and Leonard Bernstein. And don't forget Dame Edna Everage, possum!

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    Senior Member KenOC's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    Did Sting actually narrate L'histoire? I agree with your aversion to the cult of celebrity...
    Sting has an album of Dowland songs. A good attempt on his part, but far from the best.



  18. #416
    Senior Member elgars ghost's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    Did Sting actually narrate L'histoire? I agree with your aversion to the cult of celebrity, but it's a long-standing tradition to have well-known actors do narrations, and I'd imagine they've often been apt choices. I recall Streep's Babar as very nice (I think it was on Naxos), and knowing her love of music she probably relished the job. Peter and the Wolf has been done by everyone; Google brings up Alice Cooper, Bill Clinton, Boris Karloff, David Attenborough, David Tennant, Mikhail Gorbachev, Sophia Loren, Sting, Patrick Stewart, Sir Peter Ustinov and Leonard Bernstein. And don't forget Dame Edna Everage, possum!
    My mistake, Woodduck - Sting played the soldier. Perhaps I overreacted because I only like that particular work in French, I suppose. As for Peter and the Wolf, the version I have is in English, but narrated by Prokofiev's son and grandson, which at least has a genuine connection with the composer! I should lighten up and accept the fact that for certain works written for younger folk getting celebrities involved isn't that bad an idea, as long as the choices in question can bring something to the party and not just because an A-list face can be added to the album cover. Stravinsky's work is one I wouldn't put into that category as it's more adult-oriented, and I honestly think it can do nicely without the celebrity treatment at all.

    Anyway, I don't wish to side-track the thread any further. Back to Wagner!
    '...a violator of his word, a libertine over head and ears in debt and disgrace, a despiser of domestic ties, the companion of gamblers and demireps, a man who has just closed half a century without a single claim on the gratitude of his country or the respect of posterity...' - Leigh Hunt on the Prince Regent (later George IV).

    ὃν οἱ θεοὶ φιλοῦσιν ἀποθνῄσκει νέος [Those whom the gods love die young] - Menander

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