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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
On the day that I write this, 195 years ago, in Bach's home-town of Leipzig, Germany, Richard Wagner was born. It is still uncertain whether or not his biological father was police actuary Carl Friedrich Wagner or family friend artist-actor-painter Ludwig Geyer. (It doesn't take that great a leap of imagination to recognize that the "protagonist-of-uncertain-origin" would be forward-balanced in his Music Dramas... Tristan, Siegfried, Parsifal...)

To speak of Wagner, of course, is to broach superlatives: In Western Civilization, only two other men have been the topic of so much literature- Jesus Christ, and (possibly) Napoleon Bonaparte. One could, of course, argue about whether or not he was the most influential composer in music history- but the issue that no one since his time has equalled him in influence is very much less subject to dispute.

Wagner's Magnum Opus, the Ring Cycle, defies any comparison to any other work in the world of Art music. Its scope is such that it can be mentioned in the same breath as Michaelangelo's painting of the Sistene Chapel and Marcel Proust's multi-volume "Remembrance of Things Past." [Furthermore, the Wagner influence is never far away in the pages of that work.]

There's an obligation to make note of the fact that Wagner is indisputably the most polarizing individual in musical, yea, perhaps all of artistic history. His trail of affairs, broken promises, debts of national dimensions, predjudices, and manipulations of others make it easier for those who "love to hate" him to find a ready target in his conduct. It's an interesting study to recognize that a man whose comportment is so comprehensively reprehensible on so many levels created such profound, eternal, cathartic and life-affirming music. (As Father Lee's book has it: "The Terrible Man and his Truthful Art.")

However, on this his birthday, let us give thought to some of the mutually respectful relationships he cultivated- Berlioz (for a time), Liszt, Bruckner. His treatment of musicians whom he appreciated is something that probably no-one else could so naturally pull off without engendering misunderstanding- exclamations, tears of joy, spontaneous embraces-- virtually all who performed under his direction were, by any standards, fiduciarally undercompensated- and yet there were those who were never happier performing for any other.

So- on this, half-a-decade shy of his BiCentennial, let me pass on my appreciation for the Art of Richard Wagner. As Professor Hans Vaget said, the only obstacle to more frequent performance of his Music Dramas is the enlisting of singers equal to the roles. They have fluorished for close to (or more than) a century-a-half, and will doubtless flourish in the centuries beyond, as long as there are Opera Houses and Orchestral Halls.
 

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Well said!!!!
It's about time that Wagner's alleged failings as a person were put to one side. What should we be remembering about one of the 19th Century's most prominent composers? His promiscuity, his debts, his anti-Semitism. Should any of these detract in any way from the sheer beauty, power and scale of his music; they should not.
I'm afraid that these days more is written about Wagner the man than in appreciation of his work, a trend that has become more fashionable since we have had political correctness thrust upon us. Is any note of Act I of Gotterdammerung less than perfect because Wagner never paid his debts; is the ethereal opening of Rheingold marred by his anti-Semitism? Is Beethoven castigated for his supposed bad temper; do we shun the music of Brahms because he played the piano in a Hamburg brothel? What does it matter?
The current weight of opinion would appear to be that in order to produce something beautiful the artist must be of unblemished character!
I readily accept that the music of Wagner is not to everyone's taste and has, and always will be wide open to criticism, more so in the last 50 years or so with the increasing number of words written on the subject of his descendants apparent sympathies with Nazi Germany. His music is often criticised for representing German nationalism, but remember it was written at a time when Nationalism was not a dirty word, it was something to be proud of.
The day that I finally consider myself to be perfect, I shall stop listening to Wagner. I say that in the full confidence that I shall never see that day!!!
 

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Well, I think that any other posts in this thread will be quite redundant... but I'll stick my small comment in...

I totally agree that the music should be appreciated far, far more than many people seem to because of the man. Remember, though, that practically all of the German and Austrian music world worshiped him completely (the most notable being Mahler's circle of friends of that time: Gustav, Hugo Wolf, that lot).

That said, though, I must also confess that I have heard very little Wagner... I'd like to find some good recordings of Wagner, but they're so polarized. I thought of saving up to buy Solti's Ring, then I heard that Solti's was alright but that Levine's is better... etc. What is a good INTRODUCTION to the Ring?
 

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Hi World Violist
Just after my 50th birthday, I decided that the time had come to seriously investigate Wagner. I have never been an Opera fan, at least as far as "Italian" opera goes, but over the years I have been exposed to Wagner in small doses, sufficient to whet my appetite for a more serious commitment.
My starting points, which I can wholeheartedly recommend:
George Szell's recordings of orchestral music from The Ring with the Cleveland Orchestra. These recordings go back as far as the 60's but still receive wide critical acclaim. This is as good a sampler as any and should still be available in Sony's Essential Classics Series.
Deryck Cooke's 2 disc introduction to The Ring, available on Decca, using excerpts from the Solti Ring, is invaluable as an aid to understanding the Leitmotive and "most" of the plots.
Having investigated others, for me there is only one version of The Ring and that is Solti's. I am very much a traditionalist and therefore appreciate Solti's musical pedigree. He learned his craft the hard way from humble repetiteur to become one of the most respected musicians of any day. By contrast I am no fan of Levine, in part I think due to the Bernstein influence and patronage. I find that Levine is good at what he thinks he ought to be good at!!!!
Personal preferences and prejudices to one side, believe me, Wagner is not as inaccesible as some would have you believe, and I have certainly benefitted from the time taken to aquaint myself with his work.
Go on, try some
David
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
I thought of saving up to buy Solti's Ring, then I heard that Solti's was alright but that Levine's is better... etc. What is a good INTRODUCTION to the Ring?
I've previously advocated Solti's Ring here. However, you don't simply have to take my word (or Mayerl's) on this issue:

"[Solti's] Götterdämmerung was for a long time regarded by many as the best recording ever made of anything-" Bryan Magee, in "Aspects of Wagner."

"... for me, the Solti is The Ring." J.K. Holman, in "Wagner's Ring- a Listener's Companion & Concordance."

"...still the most clearly recommendable." Gramophone Guide 2005

"...in performance or in vividness of sound, still the most electrifying account of the tetrology on disc." Penguin Guide 2008

Of course, the recently released Keilberth 1955 also has its advocates. Additionally, no-one could be blamed for springing for the irresistible bargain that I mentioned here. However, one must keep in mind that if a buyer of this set has no text for these Music Dramas, then some funds should be reserved for libretti (or for a replacement cartridge for your printer, after copying out libretti from on-line sources).:D
 

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This entire month I have kept my eye out on getting the Ring, but unsure of who performed well, avoided it. This is definately a future purchase though and I am familiar with Solti, so look forward to adding this to the collection one day.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 · (Edited)
The Wagner Pentateuch- a personal view

On a personal note, I'm usually a spirited participant in "favorite" and "countdown" and "list" threads. Heck, I've even started a few of them myself.:D I also notice that there's a significant number of contributors, often very knowledgeable, who don't narrow their preferences in such a manner.

Having said that, there is a stratum of Wagner Operas that I put on a higher level than the others. They are (in chronological order): Die Walküre, Tristan und Isolde, Die Meistersinger, Götterdämmerung, and Parsifal.
I couldn't imagine separating these works into any kind of ordinal ranking.

Just barely missing this grouping, in my subjective consideration, is Tannhäuser, Das Rheingold, and Siegfried. Separating these three from one another is, to my mind, about equally challenging.

That, of course, leaves Lohengrin and Flying Dutchman a little off the pace. The latter is his earliest "canonical" opera, and the former is the last of his "number operas."

If nothing else, reflecting on this has given me some insight into the feelings of those who can frequently (and honestly) say "I can't pick a favorite!"
 

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You may need to prepare for an initiation ceremony soon. ;) Someone has started like what he's heard of overtures, preludes, etc., and wouldn't mind sampling some more from the music dramas.
 

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You may need to prepare for an initiation ceremony soon. ;) Someone has started like what he's heard of overtures, preludes, etc., and wouldn't mind sampling some more from the music dramas.
Nav, are you talking about me, or you? Or both? :p

I'm listening to Die Walkure, Act III right now. Solti/Wiener Philharmoniker (London Records).
 

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For those of us who have been enjoying classical for rather longer than than just a few years, it's very nice to see the thrill that others experience when they discover a new composer, in this case Wagner. Just when one was beginning to think that Beethoven or Mozart or Brahms (or whoever) are unbeatable and that you'll never tire of their music or change allegiance, strange things can happen that change all that and one's attention begins to move off altogether in a different direction. This has happened to me several times in my 20-odd year history of listening to classical music. Initially I certainly found Wagner a difficult composer but then the "penny dropped" and I became quite an ardent fan. The trigger in my case resulted partly from involvement in another classical music forum (several years ago) which happened to contain a lot of Wagnerians, and their enthusiasm was catching. I didn't suddenly develop a taste for any of the full works, but was introduced slowly by listening to the more famous extracts, and built up from there. I soon came to appreciate that Wagner's orchestration is superb.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
The Chi_town/Philly Wagner books recommendations

As I pointed out earlier in the thread, there are forests worth of paper devoted to Wagner discussion. Of those, I want to single out a few for topmost consideration:

Bryan Magee's Aspects of Wagner. A slender volume, highly accessible, and worthy of unqualified recommendation for Wagnerians and non-Wagnerians alike.

The New Grove Wagner. Buttressed by very recent scholarship. This book also packs a lot of information in a small package. Again, Wagnerians and non-Wagnerians alike can profit from its perusal.

Now... IF YOU'RE FAN ENOUGH...

J. K. Holman's Ring Concordance. We're lucky that Holman writes for us at this time. (Even if he shows a little too much deference to Donington for my taste.:eek:) If you're serious enough to get "Ring" recordings, you're probably serious enough to consider this tome.:)

Deryck Cooke's I Saw the World End. Cooke brings a formidable array of talents to Wagner analysis- composition ability, musicology, German fluency, erudition in literature. Cooke's only partially completed study of Wagner's "Ring," combined with his 2-disc 'listening guide' to motives of the "Ring," makes him a contender for foremost Wagner commentator of all-time.

Ernest Newman's The Wagner Operas. Painstakingly comprehensive, and worth discovering (if you're fan enough!), your credentials as a Wagnerian are assured upon absorption of the material here!
 

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Something that's been bugging me: Why are non-vocal parts of Wagner's operas more famous than the arias (if I can call them that)? This is of course from the point of view of someone who is alien to the works as a whole.
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
Something that's been bugging me: Why are non-vocal parts of Wagner's operas more famous than the arias (if I can call them that)? This is of course from the point of view of someone who is alien to the works as a whole.
What a great "essay question." I do not, however, want to give an "essay answer" (at this time), as I'd find it interesting to see how others view opus67's query.

So... let me make a brief, glib response to this Wagner question (for once). It is the nature of all composers to reserve their finest music for their most important characters- and in the best Wagner operas, the most important character is... the orchestra!
 
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Thanks for the input, CTP. :)

So... let me make a brief, glib response to this Wagner question (for once). It is the nature of all composers to reserve their finest music for their most important characters- and in the best Wagner operas, the most important character is... the orchestra!
Here's a follow-up: Then why did he not create fully orchestral works that stand on par with his operas? (An opera with a single "character," perhaps? ;) ) If I'm not mistaken, he has a symphony to his credit, but that work is not mentioned as often as his music dramas.
 

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Thanks for the input, CTP. :)

Here's a follow-up: Then why did he not create fully orchestral works that stand on par with his operas? (An opera with a single "character," perhaps? ;) ) If I'm not mistaken, he has a symphony to his credit, but that work is not mentioned as often as his music dramas.
After completing Parsifal in 1882, he planned to write some purely orchestral work (including a second symphony) but he never got round to it because he died in early 1883. Unlike Mozart and Schubert who wrote a great deal of music in their last year of life, Wagner wasn't as fast.

His first symphony was written at the age of 19 (in 1832) and is not well known. It wasn't until 1837 that he began to turn out the first of his higher quality work with Rienzi. Flying Dutchman came next in 1843.

In my opinion Wagner's best material doesn't just include the orchestral passages of his music dramas. There are many choral sections which are extremely good too. As I remarked elsewhere, it normally takes more time to appreciate the vocal side of Wagner's music, whereas the orchestral side is almost immediately attractive.
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
Two-part post, here-
Here's a follow-up: Then why did he not create fully orchestral works that stand on par with his operas?
To determine why an artist didn't pursue a particular direction is a topic which, by necessity, involves some speculation. We can, however, rely on Wagner's personal testimony for why he did pursue the the Opera/Music Drama genre. Among the great composers, no one was more voluble than Wagner with regard to explaining why he worked as he did.
This reality makes me chafe a little bit at the title of a well-circulated book (Decoding Wagner), as there is nothing "coded" about his intentions.
It was his goal to pursue the Gesamkunstwerk "fusion-of-the-arts." He spent a life believing that his "Music Drama" formulation was a more comprehensive accomplishment than activity in any single art-form.
Although, picking up on what the goddess said, Wagner did say towards the end of his life "I've composed nothing for the concert-hall." (Well, not entirely nothing- there is the excellent Faust Overture, the even better-known Wesendonck Lieder...)
In my opinion Wagner's best material doesn't just include the orchestral passages of the music dramas. There are many choral sections whch are extremely good too.
I understand your point. Maybe we can pick up the top-most examples a little later. However, if we break conventional opera into its more common multi-voice "set-pieces:" 1) Duet, 2) Trio, 3) "x-" tet... we'll notice that one thing that separates much of Wagner from other opera (music-drama) is that he thought very highly of his word-play, and wanted all of his words to be heard. For a time, he even believed (mistakenly) that his verse was the equal of his music. Consequently, the idea of music-play with overlapping words was alien to the theories of Wagner (even if theory didn't always interface precisely with reality).
 

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After the composition of Parsifal, he wanted to turn his attention to instrumental music, but his death got in the way..
 

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Have you ever heard about the curse that follows the name of Christ?The actors that have played Jesus in the movies had a terrible fate waiting them...from economic failure to death (their's or their families')!!!

Do you know the Greek writer Kazantzakis?Having written works connected with Christ "led" him to die from leukemia away from his homeland, and due to these works the Church ruled out his being buried in a cemetery (although the last can be probably taken as an attempt from the Church to protect Herself...)...

Something similar happened and in many occasions connected with music.As I've heard, Mozart's last music production was the vocals and the Cello parts of his Requiem's "Domine Jesu"...Yet still i don't know if it is totally true.Anyway...Mendelssohn died while composing his third oratorio "Christus" from which he had completed only a few parts in the beginning...AND, Wagner, the guy that interests us here, died while intending to write a new opera for the life of Christ, and probably name it "Christ"!!!That all cannot be just coincidence...:eek:
 

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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
Wagner, the guy that interests us here, died while intending to write a new opera for the life of Christ, and probably name it "Christ"!!!That all cannot be just coincidence...:eek:
Well... there's a pinch of truth here--

One of the more interesting (or, put differently, less repulsive) aspects of the Wagner biography involve the "cul-de-sac" projects that he contemplated, but did not pursue further. To me, the most interesting are the projected opera on Frederick Barbarossa, the plan for the music-drama "Jesus of Nazareth," and the Schopenhauer-Buddhist amalgam "Die Sieger."

A review of the RWW catalog indicates that "Jesus of Nazareth" was a topic of interest to him in 1849. There doesn't appear to be concrete evidence (taking the form of work) of interest in that project after that time. [There may have been 'verbal hints,' but we should be very skeptical of verbal hints with regard to Wagner's intentions. After all, he also 'verbally hinted' that he might be willing to become "Royal Composer" to the Brazilian Emperor, and also 'verbally hinted' that a Festival Theatre might be suitably located on the banks of the Mississippi River.]

The following is pure speculation... but it doesn't take too great a flight of imagination to conclude that some of Wagner's "trailing pennants" of imagination from both "Jesus of Nazareth" and "Die Sieger" were incorporated into Parsifal. Parsifal does contain the grail of the Last Supper, a Communion Chorus, and Casca's Spear. So (to distill the essence of MENDELSSOHN's point), Jesus does appear to be very much on Wagner's mind as he was penning his "work of farewell to the world."

The idea that there's some curse-hazard to approaching the topic of Jesus, I think, can more readily be explained be another way of looking at it, chicken-and-egg style. When one approaches the end of one's life, one could well be more receptive to religious topics, with their outlook on afterlife, than one might be at an earlier (and healthier) time.
 
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