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Thread: Was Wagner a musical virtuoso?

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    Senior Member annaw's Avatar
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    Default Was Wagner a musical virtuoso?

    Wagner got his first piano lessons when he was 12 because he had become so obsessed with Weber's Der Freischütz that he wanted to learn to play the overture: "As soon as I had acquired a very imperfect knowledge of fingering I begged to be allowed to play overtures in the form of duets, always keeping Weber as the goal of my ambition. When at length I had got so far as to be able to play the overture to Freischutz myself, though in a very faulty manner, I felt the object of my study had been attained, and I had no inclination to devote any further attention to perfecting my technique." He was never a very good piano player and he seemed to know that himself as well.

    His symphony, early piano sonatas and even early operas aren't anything too exceptional either and I think he would be an obscure and rather unknown composer if that had been all he wrote. He didn't seem to show any evident signs of ever being able to compose something like Tristan und Isolde or Parsifal. But suddenly he started producing one great opera after another...

    Any theories about what made Wagner musically so masterful as it seemed to be something different than the mere musical virtuosity that Beethoven, Mozart and Mendelssohn exhibited from an early age? Wagner wrote plays before he wrote music, but where did that amazing orchestration suddenly come from?

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    Senior Member amfortas's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by annaw View Post
    Any theories about what made Wagner musically so masterful as it seemed to be something different than the mere musical virtuosity that Beethoven, Mozart and Mendelssohn exhibited from an early age? Wagner wrote plays before he wrote music, but where did that amazing orchestration suddenly come from?
    While I don't have an answer, one possible factor strikes me. People don't always remember that Wagner was also an important, ground-breaking conductor who brought a new freedom to the interpretation of scores (sometimes to the point of rewriting them). It's likely his intensive study and highly individualized performances of other composers' works contributed to his own developing orchestral technique.
    Last edited by amfortas; Jun-10-2020 at 22:28.
    Alan

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    Senior Member annaw's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by amfortas View Post
    While I don't have an answer, one possible factor strikes me. People don't always remember that Wagner was also an important, ground-breaking conductor who brought a new freedom to the interpretation of scores (sometimes to the point of rewriting them). It's likely his intensive study and highly individualized performances of other composers' works contributed to his own developing orchestral technique.
    Yeah, I am also just trying to speculate as I guess we'll never know the answer. I just find it fascinating how suddenly his musical style transformed and developed. I think you bring out a very fair point though - he went to great lengths to get different scores of other works and study them.

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    I read years ago that he attributed his exceptional orchestration skills mainly to a severe, gnawing frustration with his first works and a consequent relentless study of Beethoven, especially his ninth symphony. This is likely just one of many examples throughout history of individuals who initially showed little promise going on to perform truly outstanding feats through some combination of latent aptitude and incessant drive. Let me ask, are there other composers who fit into this category?

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by amfortas View Post
    While I don't have an answer, one possible factor strikes me. People don't always remember that Wagner was also an important, ground-breaking conductor who brought a new freedom to the interpretation of scores (sometimes to the point of rewriting them). It's likely his intensive study and highly individualized performances of other composers' works contributed to his own developing orchestral technique.
    As conductor of the Dresden opera in his twenties, he studied and performed a broad repertoire. Of particular importance to his own work, he had the operas of Weber and Meyerbeer, both highly inventive orchestrators, from which to learn. And then there was the powerful influence of Berlioz, probably the most innovative orchestrator of all time.

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    Senior Member annaw's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    As conductor of the Dresden opera in his twenties, he studied and performed a broad repertoire. Of particular importance to his own work, he had the operas of Weber and Meyerbeer, both highly inventive orchestrators, from which to learn. And then there was the powerful influence of Berlioz, probably the most innovative orchestrator of all time.
    Oh yes, Berlioz! That could explain quite a few things about Wagner’s orchestration.
    Last edited by annaw; Jun-12-2020 at 00:03.

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