7 years ago

Volume 18 Issue 8 - May 2013

  • Text
  • Choir
  • Toronto
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Includes the 2013 Canary Pages choral directory.

WAGNER AT 200: A Tribute

WAGNER AT 200: A Tribute continued from page 9Fischer-Dieskau, Christa Ludwig, Gottlob Frick, Vienna Philharmonic;Rudolf Kempe; EMI 7 49017 8, 3 CDsUnexpected events now interfered. When therevolutions breaking out all over Europe reachedDresden, Wagner, very much a revolutionaryhimself, took an active part on the losing side.In 1849 cruel repression by the Saxon state forcedhim to escape in the night in disguise and seekasylum in Switzerland. Totally deprived of themeans of existence, despondent, living onborrowed money from Franz Liszt who became his friendand supporter, he fell under the spell of Schopenhauer’sphilosophy, Buddhism and later Nietzsche, and buriedhimself in the study of ancient German history,namely the Niebelungen Lied, an anonymous epicdating back to the time of Attila the Hun, and itshero Siegfried. Spurred into action again he wrotethe text Siegfrieds Tod (Siegfried’s Death) andworking backwards in time, more and more intomythology, he wrote the texts for the threepreceding dramas. Much encouraged by Liszthe began composing his magnum opus, DerRing des Nibelungen, now in proper sequence,and by 1856 he finished the score of Das Rheingold,Die Walküre and first two acts of Siegfried.At this instant however the score was laid to rest,the result of new life changing events. >>Der Ringdes Nibelungen: Birgit Nilsson, Wolfgang Windgassen,Hans Hotter, Gustav Neidlinger, George London et al;Vienna Philharmonic; Sir Georg Solti, Decca 455-555, 14 CDsRichard Wagner,Vienna, 1862.In 1857 Wagner and Minna were guests of awealthy Zurich industrialist Otto Wesendonk whosewife Mathilde was a beautiful, talented and musicalwoman with whom Wagner fell in love. Thispassionate and ultimately doomed love affairinspired Tristan und Isolde, a music drama thattranscended everything he’d done before. Its newchromatic world broke through conventionaltonality and changed the course of Western music with far reachingeffects on Liszt, Berlioz and even Debussy and Scriabin. No atonal musiccould possibly have happened without Tristan. Unresolved, unconsummatedpassion is the underlying essence and torment of Tristan andonly death (“Liebestod”) can finally resolve the misery into the harmonyof long-awaited tonality. All these events took their toll on his alreadyteetering marriage. By the time he was pardoned and able to return toGermany in 1862 Minna left him, but Wagner never abandoned theresponsibility of her welfare until her death. >>Tristan und Isolde:Nina Stemme; Placido Domingo; Mihoko Fujimora; René Pape; RoyalOpera House, Covent Garden; Antonio Pappano EMI 5 58006-2, 3 CDsUpon his return to Germany, and almost as acatharsis from Tristan, his mind turned again tothe Middle Ages, but this time to a much happiersubject, a comedy based on the archaic guildsystem and a new kind of artist, a poet/composertrying to establish himself by entering a singingcontest. Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg iscentred on a romantic love story and the music isin a major key, a glorious C major, the complete opposite to Tristan. Interestinglyenough the real hero is Hans Sachs, an elderly master of greattalent, intellect, wisdom and a widower also attracted to the heroine, butbeing too old for her, has to give her up. It is obvious that Wagner himselfis Hans Sachs at this point longing for a kindredspirit, a younger woman who will shortly appearon the scene. >>Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg;Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau; Caterina Ligendza;Christa Ludwig; Placido Domingo; Berlin StateOpera; Eugen Jochum; DG 415 278-2 4 CDsSuccess and financial remuneration were slowin coming. Tannhäuser in Paris in 1861 was adismal failure, riots disrupted the performance and the show had to beshut down almost at once. >>Tannhäuser, Paris version: René Kollo,Helga Dernesch, Hans Sotin, Christa Ludwig, Vienna State OperaChorus and Orchestra; Sir Georg Solti; LONDON 414 581-2 3CDsBut all of a sudden in 1864, as if by divineintervention, an emissary appeared at Wagner’sdoorstep from Ludwig II, King of Bavaria, whobecame so enamoured of his work that he offeredto give him unlimited financial support and bringhim to his Court in Munich. This “miracle”enabled Wagner to complete the Ring(the final act of Siegfried and theentire Götterdämmerung) andbring his longtime dream ofbuilding a festival theatreperforming his works only,under his creative control and by his specifications,to fruition. Court intrigues, however,interfered mainly because of the king’s extravagancein nearly bankrupting the state andWagner’s new liaison with Cosima von Bülow,25 years his junior and Liszt’s daughter, marriedto Hans von Bülow, a noted conductor. Wagnerhad to retreat again to Switzerland, to Lucerne in arented villa called Triebschen where he continuedto work, live with and marry Cosima (1870) who borehim a number of children, until he was able to moveto Bayreuth where his Festspielhaus was built. In 1876it opened with the complete Ring to an invited audience ofnotables from all over Europe, including royalty and even theKaiser of the newly united Germany.The real message of the Ring goes far beyond mythology. It encompassesthe whole of society at the rise of capitalism. The ruthlessacquisition of wealth creates plutocracy that renounces love (Alberich)and enslaves the working class (Nibelungs). The decadent aristocracy(Gods) eventually self-destructs and mankind can only be redeemed bya new kind of human who is free (Siegfried), embraces and even diesfor love (Brunnhilde’s self-immolation). To illustrate this real meaning,French director Patrice Chereau created a revolutionary new vision in1976 for the first time in 100 years, the Centennial Bayreuth Ring. >>DerRing des Nibelungen: Gwyneth Jones, Donald McIntyre, Peter Hoffmann,Jeannine Altmeyer, Manfred Jung et al; BayreutherFestspiele 1976; Pierre Boulez; Philips 475 7960 12 CDs, also on DVDWagner’s remaining years were bathed in glorywith his family, Liszt, and friends such as HerrmannLevy who conducted Parsifal, Wagner’s lastutterance in music drama. Here Wagner returned tohis favourite theme of the Holy Grail, a monumentto Christianity that no one has equalled before orsince. The main ideas behind Parsifal are temptationby evil, original sin and its punishment,redemption by an innocent, fearless youth, a “holy fool” (Parsifal) whocan conquer the evil (Klingsor) and redeem the sinners (King Amfortasand Kundry) upon whom he purifies the Order and becomes the newking of the Knights of the Holy Grail. Wagner’s Parsifal was indeed acrowning achievement, a “revelation in music drama,” to quote Liszt,his father-in-law who survived him by three years. Wagner died onFebruary 13, 1883, in Venice where he and his family moved for healthreasons, not quite 70. Cosima wouldn’t leave his side, refusing to eat fortwo days; however she survived her husband by many years, took overthe Bayreuth festival and died in 1931, at age 93. >>Parsifal: PlacidoDomingo, Falk Struckmann, Waltraud Meier, Franz-Josef Selig et al;Vienna State Opera; Christian Thielemann, DG 477 6006 4 CDsIn spite of the many controversies surrounding Wagner during hislifetime and ever since, his immeasurable achievement in music andtheatre and his enormous influence on the future of his art ensure hima place in Parnassus.Janos Gardonyi is a frequent contributor to DISCoveries.66 | May 1 – June 7, 2013

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