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Did Wagner Revolutionize Modern Music?

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Even if he specified that all music after Tristan revolves around Tristan (which was not in the quote, but perhaps he meant) it would still be exaggerated.
 

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The simple fact is music that preceded Wagner cannot revolve around Wagner in any way. So Bernstein's statement is a non sequitur.
(This post is just for the sake of the argument :D.) There's another way to look at it. Don't you think that Wagner combining his own revolutionary compositional ideas with the ideas of the composers who preceded him, would indeed make his Tristan a central work of classical music?
 

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(This post is just for the sake of the argument :D.) There's another way to look at it. Don't you think that the Wagner combining his own revolutionary compositional ideas with the ideas of the composers who preceded him, would indeed make his Tristan a central work of classical music?
I don't actually have as much of an issue with this statement, because you said 'a central work', not the 'one central work'. Big difference!

But still I would just ditch the 'central' aspect of the comment all together and call it 'important' or 'monumental' or something of that nature.
 

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I still love Bernstein, I agree with CoachG's post earlier this thread, its his love of music that is infectious. As a musical educator I'll take Bernstein over someone like Boulez any day. Watching Bernstein conduct is magical, watching Boulez conduct is depressing!
 

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I interpret what Bernstein has said regarding Tristan being "the" central work in the history of music like this: tonal music culminated with Wagner's Tristan, which brought tonality to its furthest reach. After Tristan, tonality began to break down until it was abandoned altogether.

Seen in this manner, Tristan was both the highest manifestation of tonality as well as signaling the beginning of the end of tonality.
 

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Discussion Starter · #68 ·
As an aside, I am watching this. A nice production that makes sense of stage without stupid modern staging.

 
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I interpret what Bernstein has said regarding Tristan being "the" central work in the history of music like this: tonal music culminated with Wagner's Tristan, which brought tonality to its furthest reach. After Tristan, tonality began to break down until it was abandoned altogether.

Seen in this manner, Tristan was both the highest manifestation of tonality as well as signaling the beginning of the end of tonality.
This is probably close to the mark, but the pronouncement then is fairly subjective, and not really based on anything solid. It's a fair statement if viewed in a more subjective way based on the preferences of the person making the claim. Of course Tristan is a highly important, significant work, which is probably full of mysteries I don't fully yet grasp. Bernstein's theoretical knowledge of this work is certainly deeper than my own.

This said, as Charles Rosen has pointed out 'tonality' as a system was already beginning to break down and deteriorate at the dawn of Romanticism. So an equally valid and possibly more historically accurate perspective is that tonal music actually culminated and reached its zenith with Bach and Mozart and has been gradually declining ever since. Making them, if anything the "central" composers, though again, I don't like that term.

If we ignore the strict definition of tonality and look at it in a looser way in order to accommodate your theory, then my question becomes why is Wagner's Tristan seen as the farthest reaches of tonality, and not say certain works by Debussy or Bartok?
 

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If we ignore the strict definition of tonality and look at it in a looser way in order to accommodate your theory, then my question becomes why is Wagner's Tristan seen as the farthest reaches of tonality, and not say certain works by Debussy or Bartok?
I'd say that with Wagner there is the sense that his harmonic language still remains related to an underlying tonality, which his shifting harmonies strain against, delaying the arrival at their home. Whereas with Debussy, there is more of a sense that his harmonies are suspended in space, floating, with no direction home.
 

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Wagner's music is exceedingly self-indulgent to my ears, and his operas do not interest me in the least. The traits I enjoy the most are composers whose works exhibit a tight formal construction and restraint, traits which I do not find in Wagner.
I've give you Strauss, he is another composer I do not enjoy.
Massenet, Chausson, Dukas, Chabrier, Lekeu, D'Indy, and Rimsky-Korsakov do not figure in my regularly listening, and I don't consider them important composers in any event.
I think Debussy was deeply affected by Wagner, but feared that Wagnerian influence might dominate French music, so Debussy cultivated a sort of rebellious attitude toward Wagner. Anti-German sentiment in France was crazy at the time.
I don't think it matters how much influence Wagner had on avant-garde composers like Cage, Xenakis, Stockhausen, Babbitt; it's doubtful if those avant-garde composers are really "classical music composers" (we talked about this already many times). The question of how much influence Wagner had on them is only as significant as the question of how much he had on modern film music.

Blah, blah, blah - John Williams writes movie soundtracks. Period.

Every man or woman in charge of the music of moving picture theater is, consciously or unconsciously, a disciple or follower of Richard Wagner - Stephen Bush, film critic, 1911
Please write music like Wagner, only louder - Sam Goldwyn to a film composer
If my grandfather were alive today, he would undoubtedly be working in Hollywood -Wolfgang Wagner
http://wagnertripping.blogspot.com/2013/12/wagners-influence-on-movie-music.html
 

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Bernstein could be so hyperbolic! I'm wondering how Tristan could be the central work in all of music history, when the composers that are most universally agreed upon as the greatest all came before Wagner? Even if Tristan was the sole influence and gateway to all of modernism (which it clearly is not), that statement would still be highly exaggerated.
When it comes to topics like this, I often find that you're a bit too generous towards Bach, and unfair towards Wagner (and Beethoven).

[ "The paper, points out the fact that Mahler owned much of Bach's music and became more interested in counterpoint in the later stages of his life, and that he employed some of the same elements in his music as Bach, such as counterpoint, palindrome and some similar religious elements." -tdc
"A new conception of harmonic tension was later developed by Schumann, Mendelssohn, and, above all by Chopin, but they could not start from the classical style at its most highly organized, and Beethoven was of no use to them. The Romantic style did not come from Beethoven, in spite of the great admiration that was felt for him, but from his lesser contemporaries and from Bach." -tdc ]

And I've seen lots of people out there who actually believe this:


BUT (not to discredit Bach's genius) think of it this way- Berlioz was somewhat "underwhelmed" by Bach's "sense of musical drama"; https://www.bartleby.com/library/prose/692.html
"...they are listening to a solemn discourse, they are hearing the gospel sung, they are attending divine service rather than a concert. And really such music ought to be thus listened to. They adore Bach, and believe in him, without supposing for a moment that his divinity could ever be called into question. A heretic would horrify them, he is forbidden even to speak of him. God is God and Bach is Bach."

Beethoven considered Handel more important, and it's been suggested that:


What do you think? Compared to Bach's, is Wagner's influence really "overestimated"? (I don't think it is)

To what extent do you think were the Salzburg masters, J.E. Eberlin (1702~1762), L. Mozart (1719~1787), A.C. Adlgasser (1729~1777), M. Haydn (1737~1806) influenced by Sebastian?
I'm not necessarily disagreeing with you, it's just a topic I'm constantly interested in and eager to investigate more about.
Btw, I think M. Haydn's Missa sancti Hieronymi (1777) is a contrapuntal masterpiece.
I think the "Salzburgian-ness" of this work is largely overlooked by many people today


 

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I'd say that with Wagner there is the sense that his harmonic language still remains related to an underlying tonality, which his shifting harmonies strain against, delaying the arrival at their home. Whereas with Debussy, there is more of a sense that his harmonies are suspended in space, floating, with no direction home.
Yes, Wagner is a firmly grounded tonalist - in a way even a traditionalist. In his most advanced work (exemplified particularly by Tristan and Parsifal) he walks a high wire, engaging in an unprecedented degree of chromatic enrichment and freedom of modulation while firmly grounded in tonal designs with carefully plotted key centers and strong underlying direction. What arrests us in Wagner at first is the richness, subtlety and evocativeness of the chromaticism, but what impresses on deeper acquaintance is the tonal control that allows him to create long spans of music which seem free in form yet coherent and satisfying. The third act of Tristan may be the ultimate demonstration of his skill; it's both emotionally harrowing, taking chromaticism to the breaking point, and a structural tour de force.

It's probably not well-known that Wagner warned young composers wishing to be "avant-garde" that his innovations were not to be imitated and indulged in without good reason, and he asserted that genres of "absolute" music such as the symphony were essentially different from dramatic music and required a different way of thinking. He didn't elaborate (at least in the quotes we have), but it's notable that where Wagner has no need to express extreme or unusual states of mind or emotion his harmony is far more diatonic. This fact places him squarely in the centuries-long tradition of Western music, in which chromaticism was nearly always a special effect to be employed for specific purposes, usually - just as in Tristan - to express such exceptional or "abnormal" states as mystery, pain or eroticism (see the Italian madrigalists, or the songs of Purcell).

I'm saying all this not to diminish Wagner's innovativeness, but to show him as a culmination of the Western tonal tradition who pushed its potentialities so far that composers felt compelled to react to him and reassess their own procedures and goals. The reaction could take many forms, some obvious, some subtle, some positive, some negative. Rejection, too, can be a sign of influence.
 

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What do you think? Compared to Bach's, is Wagner's influence really "overestimated"? (I don't think it is)
I have not denied Wagner's influence, I've acknowledged it. I only objected to the term 'one central work' regarding Tristan and that phrase still doesn't make sense to me.

One of the quotes you attributed to me there is not even my quote it is Charles Rosen.

So Wagner had a massive influence on modernism, and then by your own words you think that classical music has essentially died in the post-modern age, am I correct in that? So after Bach we have a rich tradition lasting around a couple centuries, and after Wagner we have modernism and then, what? Film music still influenced by Wagner? Yet despite this you don't think calling Tristan the 'one central work' in the entire history of classical music history is over stating things at all?
 

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I don't think we know what Bernstein meant. Let's have a seance and ask him.
I believe that in a few days, with the assistance of one Madame Flora, we may be able to conjure up Gian Carlo Menotti, who died February 1, 2007. I'm not certain Flora could help us with Bernstein. Still, Menotti and Bernstein shared some "common interests", let us say, so perhaps they do hang around together in the afterworld.

Just beware, Madame Flora is known for her drunkenness, so I'm not fully confident in her reliability. And I'd keep all the guns locked up away from her.
 

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My argument is not connected with my fondness of Wagner's music. Influence is quite a neutral thing - not good, nor bad. It's a statistical argument without numbers.

I haven't participated in the "central work" argument at all but I was just pointing out that time shouldn't be taken into consideration when one wishes to compare composers from different eras in such a way. I personally think that it's impossible to compare the influence of different composers in the first place for the same reason you have already pointed out - the lines of influence are simply too complex.

What I am saying, basically, is that it *would* make sense to argue that the direct influence of Tristan was greater than that of very many, if not most, classical music compositions. That's in my opinion the logic behind the Tristan-is-the-central-work-of-classical-music argument. Its influence is quite undeniable.

Anyways, my comment was just a remark.
Agreed and worth underlining.
 

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Yes, Wagner is a firmly grounded tonalist - in a way even a traditionalist. In his most advanced work (exemplified particularly by Tristan and Parsifal) he walks a high wire, engaging in an unprecedented degree of chromatic enrichment and freedom of modulation while firmly grounded in tonal designs with carefully plotted key centers and strong underlying direction. What arrests us in Wagner at first is the richness, subtlety and evocativeness of the chromaticism, but what impresses on deeper acquaintance is the tonal control that allows him to create long spans of music which seem free in form yet coherent and satisfying. The third act of Tristan may be the ultimate demonstration of his skill; it's both emotionally harrowing, taking chromaticism to the breaking point, and a structural tour de force.

It's probably not well-known that Wagner warned young composers wishing to be "avant-garde" that his innovations were not to be imitated and indulged in without good reason, and he asserted that genres of "absolute" music such as the symphony were essentially different from dramatic music and required a different way of thinking. He didn't elaborate (at least in the quotes we have), but it's notable that where Wagner has no need to express extreme or unusual states of mind or emotion his harmony is far more diatonic. This fact places him squarely in the centuries-long tradition of Western music, in which chromaticism was nearly always a special effect to be employed for specific purposes, usually - just as in Tristan - to express such exceptional or "abnormal" states as mystery, pain or eroticism (see the Italian madrigalists, or the songs of Purcell).

I'm saying all this not to diminish Wagner's innovativeness, but to show him as a culmination of the Western tonal tradition who pushed its potentialities so far that composers felt compelled to react to him and reassess their own procedures and goals. The reaction could take many forms, some obvious, some subtle, some positive, some negative. Rejection, too, can be a sign of influence.
Btw, my personal dislike of Wagner's music does not inhibit my ability to acknowledge his importance, greatness and influence. But because I haven't spent much time listening to his work I can't add anything to your excellent post.

What I've said is that while I do think he was very influential, I think that after Schoenberg and Stravinsky Wagner's influence began to evaporate, and certainly by the time of the post-war generation it was non-existent. We then had Minimalism, Neo-Romaticism, Spectral Music, New Complexity, and other styles of composition, which solidified his position as a 19th century composer with little impact on the second half of the 20th century and beyond.

So I quibble with the term "revolutionary".
 

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Btw, my personal dislike of Wagner's music does not inhibit my ability to acknowledge his importance, greatness and influence. But because I haven't spent much time listening to his work I can't add anything to your excellent post.

What I've said is that while I do think he was very influential, I think that after Schoenberg and Stravinsky Wagner's influence began to evaporate, and certainly by the time of the post-war generation it was non-existent. We then had Minimalism, Neo-Romaticism, Spectral Music, New Complexity, and other styles of composition, which solidified his position as a 19th century composer with little impact on the second half of the 20th century and beyond.

So I quibble with the term "revolutionary".
Basically, I agree with this. Too many things are called "revolutionary," but then humans are prone to oversimplification and overstatement. Debussy's assessment was that Wagner was a "glorious sunset mistaken for a dawn." That's an overstatement too, understandable coming from an ex-Wagnerite who continued to struggle with exorcising the ghost of old Klingsor. I don't think it's an overstatement to call Tristan itself revolutionary; it's Wagner's most radical gesture, unlike any previous work of musical theater no matter how you look at it. But it was to some extent a one-off; Wagner learned an enormous amount in the process of composing it, but in subsequent works he allowed back in some of the operatic conventions Tristan almost totally eschewed.

My view is that Wagner's musical influence, and his influence on musical drama in particular (musical theater and film), was widespread and strong well into the 20th century, even as the Modernist and "avant-garde" movements you mention were under way, and there's no reason to think that his ideas on the use of music for dramatic purposes will not always remain potent and creatively challenging. I think there's a tendency among a subset of classical music lovers to view these modern and postmodern developments as expressing a broader and deeper change in cultural sensibility than actually occurred.
 

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My view is that Wagner's musical influence, and his influence on musical drama in particular (musical theater and film), was widespread and strong well into the 20th century, even as the Modernist and "avant-garde" movements you mention were under way, and there's no reason to think that his ideas on the use of music for dramatic purposes will not always remain potent and creatively challenging.
I've read that if Wagner were alive today he'd be working in Hollywood.
 

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Discussion Starter · #80 ·
Btw, my personal dislike of Wagner's music does not inhibit my ability to acknowledge his importance, greatness and influence. But because I haven't spent much time listening to his work I can't add anything to your excellent post.

What I've said is that while I do think he was very influential, I think that after Schoenberg and Stravinsky Wagner's influence began to evaporate, and certainly by the time of the post-war generation it was non-existent. We then had Minimalism, Neo-Romaticism, Spectral Music, New Complexity, and other styles of composition, which solidified his position as a 19th century composer with little impact on the second half of the 20th century and beyond.

So I quibble with the term "revolutionary".
I strongly disagree that by the time of the post-war generation, Wagner's influence was non-existent. Film composers for example continue to use many of Wagner's compositional techniques and numerous examples can be heard.
 
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