Great Composers: Wagner

By Kriss Rusmanis

1997

 

Richard Wagner (7551 bytes)

The Wagner Library

Edition 0.91

Table of Contents

About this Title

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By Kriss Rusmanis


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© 1997 British Broadcasting Corporation / NVC Arts

Reading Information

This title contains approximately 6587 words.
Estimated reading time between 19 and 33 minutes.

Contributors

Richard Wagner

1813 - 1883

Early Life

opening tune

Stephen Hawking

It was in 1963 that I first developed an interest in Wagner, or "Wag-ner" as my speech synthesiser pronounces him. Wagner more than any other person before or since had the ability to compose music that has an emotional effect. It reaches a level no one else does.

Sir Georg Solti

He must have been an awfully difficult man. He betrayed everything and everybody for his going forward.

Parsifal - Prelude to Act 1

Noah Klinger

I'm a survivor of Auschwitz. I cannot be rational with a person who was the first to preach a separation of races, the first in fact who created the notion of a nation of masters which would rule the world. We still have survivors from the death camps—like myself, I'm a survivor of Auschwitz and other camps. Why, in Israel, should we perform Wagner?

Daniel Barenboim

Part of Wagner's fascination is that there are so many people who still feel so incredible negative and disgusted by him—as a musician and as a person, as a personage—and that keeps it alive.

Die Walküre - Ride of the Valkyries

Bruno Martini

Wagner, for me, is indispensable. It's an antidote to all this turbulence here in New York. It's sublime music, it's like therapy for me. When my nerves are on end, that's when Wagner comes in to the rescue.

Narrator

Richard Wagner was born in Leipzig on the 22nd of May, 1813, the ninth child of Johanna and Karl Friedrich Wagner, a police official. In those days Leipzig was a city occupied by French troops at the end of the Napoleonic wars. Richard spent his formative years in Leipzig, but a mystery surrounds the details of his birth. His father died soon after his baptism and his mother immediately arranged for his family to live with an actor and painter, Ludwig Geyer.

Professor John Deathridge

Now the question is whether she was already having an affair with Geyer during the period when Wagner was born, whether he was actually conceived by Geyer or not. Geyer is a Jewish name, which doesn't mean that everybody who is called Geyer is Jewish. The question is whether Wagner thought he was Jewish and he was himself called Geyer until the age of 15. Richard Geyer. He had to sign himself "Richard Geyer" in school which meant a kind of identity change when he changed the name to Wagner.

Der Freischütz - March

His first musical experience was learning to play a chorus on the piano from Weber's Der Freischütz. And, important about that, it was Geyer who taught him how to play it. He learnt to compose by getting a book about how to harmonise bass lines. The truth is, though, I think he was taught more than he lets on because the image he wants to give in his autobiography is of the great genius, like Siegfried—sort of a musical Siegfried—who can do music without necessarily being taught.

Rowland Cotterill

There was a man called Müller who he went to and found he couldn't pay. There was a man called Weinlig. It looks as though Weinlig, in particular, gave him really a pretty good basic grounding in fairly up to date techniques of writing symphonies.

Symphony in C

Roger Norrington

Clearly Beethoven was a tremendous influence on Wagner. Wagner always liked to claime Beethoven was growing out of the symphony. By writing the Ninth, voices came in and so of course heading towards the great music dramas of Wagner. He may have really felt that, or it may be that he liked to fit Beethoven into his own portrait.

Narrator

After a brief spell at Leipzig University, Wagner worked as a chorusmaster in provincial opera houses and composed his first two operas: Forbidden Love, in the style of light Italian opera, and The Fairies, influenced by Carl Maria von Weber, the most popular German composer of the day.

Die Feen - Overture

Das Liebesverbot - Overture

When Wagner was 21 he fell in love with the actress Minna Planer who soon became his wife.

Stewart Spencer

I think in the case of Wagner and Minna, it seems to have been an attraction of opposites. Wagner was highly emotional and highly articulate and certainly highly ambitious and intellectually curious. Minna was none of those things. But she was physically attractive and also domesticated and socially accomplished.

Lucy Beckett

It was when he changed and grew that she couldn't cope with him and very much resented the fact that he wouldn't use his evident talent just to earn enough money to pay the bills. He was always in debt and always borrowing money and not paying people back, and she found it a real nightmare. And she had a sort of what would nowadays be called a suburban soul, and he couldn't stand it eventually.

Narrator

It was at the German opera house in Riga, the capital of Latvia, where Wagner secured his first important post as conductor.

Professor John Deathridge

This is all that's left of the theatre in Riga where Wagner conducted. This is the ballroom, that's still extant. Beneath was the theatre no longer in existance, but there are plans that still exist for it. Wagner remembered three things about the theatre: first, that it was dark, second that the stalls were raked upwards like an amphitheatre and third, that the orchestra pit was a sunken pit. These three ideas he kept in mind for his ideal theatre later in Bayreuth. Riga was hugely important for Wagner both as composer and as a conductor. As a conductor he rehearsed nearly 40 operas and he performed some of his own compositions in the main concert hall, here in the Schwartzhäupter Saal. As a composer he composed the first two acts of Rienzi and an interesting little song called Der Tannenbaum which he later said was one of the first compositions where his own voice comes to the fore. He said he composed it in a Levonian Latvian key. It sort of sounds like this,

piano sample

with lots of flowing E minor sounds, and it reminds one very much of his later masterpiece, The Ring, which sounds like this

piano sample

which are typically Wagnerian. You can already hear it in this early song. It's the first composition that is really his.

extract from 'Der Tannenbaum'

Opera

Narrator

While he was composing Rienzi Wagner started to make sketches for The Flying Dutchman in Riga, always living beyond his means, his debts mounted and to avoid imprisonment he fled from his predators—a pattern that would recur throughout his life.

extract from 'The Flying Dutchman'

Professor John Deathridge

He managed to escape to the Baltic coast and got on a ship for a very stormy trip to Paris. This is where Wagner's career really begins, and The Flying Dutchman—his first major work.

Narrator

Wagner arrived in Paris in 1839 when he was 26 and lived there for the next three years. Paris was not only Europe's most glamorous city, it was also the centre of the opera world. Wagner's ambition was to become its brightest star.

Pierre Flinois

It's common knowledge that Wagner was very very poor in Paris when he stayed for the first time, and potatoes were, of course, his kind of menu for every day, because he had absolutely no possibility to eat meat. He was unable to earn money, he was unable to have his music with success providing money for him. So he spent time begging money from his friends in Germany and France.

Narrator

The most successful musician in Paris was the Jewish composer, Giacomo Meyerbeer, who offered Wagner help and encouragement. But despite this, Wagner failed to secure a single performance of his operas. He perceived that the musical life of Paris was dominated by a Jewish clique, and feeling himself an outsider, he used this as a convenient excuse for his own failure. In order to make ends meet, he was forced to write piano arrangements of operas by another Jewish composer, Jacques Halévy.

Mark Anderson

This was slave work from the point of view of a composer who thought of himself he was the greatest composer in the world. He was invited to breakfast with Halévy to talk about his work for the transcription. He was there with several journalists, and at a certain point in the conversation—everybody was speaking French, Halévy of course is a native French speaker— poor Wagner doesn't speak French very well, and Halévy turns to him in German and says something. The French journalists who see this are quite surprised. They didn't know Halévy could speak German. And he turns to them and says: "Didn't you know? All Jews can speak German". So Wagner is suddenly in the company of Halévy, a Jew, and if one looks at Wagner's subsequent turn to anti-Semitic writings, one can recognise the fear of contamination, of being too close to what he describes as being Jewish, or French or decadent or modern. And therefore the effort always to distance himself from that.

Stewart Spencer

Rienzi is an attempt, as Wagner admitted, to outdo Meyerbeer and Halévy, the French leading lights, and in terms of its length and bombast it certainly achieves that aim. It's quite remarkable that he could write Der Fliegende Holländer in almost the same breath as the final sketches for Rienzi, because they seem worlds apart.

extract from 'The Flying Dutchman'

Lucy Beckett

The Flying Dutchman is suddenly a masterpiece—a small masterpiece, but a masterpiece. He had found the themes that would stay with him through all the others: love, death and redemption. That's what his operas are all about.

Narrator

The Flying Dutchman is about a sailor doomed to travel the seas forever, until he is redeemed by the love of a faithful woman. Wagner was interested in mesmerism and the subconscious, and he used these ideas in The Flying Dutchman and all his subsequent music.

extract from Senta's ballad

Professor John Deathridge

There was a famous book published in Germany by Ennemoser, all about magnetism, that describes dreaming and sleepwalking and says that the consciousnes is more awake when sleeping than it is when someone is awake. In The Flying Dutchman Senta listens to a dream recounted by her fiancé, Erik, and Wagner writes: "Senta sinks into a magnetic sleep and dreams the dream that Erik is telling her about". It is a very sophisticated psychological observation about senta.

extract from Senta's ballad

Tannhauser - March on barrel organ

Narrator

In 1842, on Meyerbeer's recommendation, Rienzi premièred at the Dresden opera house. It was the biggest success of Wagner's life.

Rienzi - Overture

Nowadays, Rienzi is not regarded as one of Wagner's finest operas. It nevertheless made him famous and won him the prestigious post of Royal Kepellmeister to the King of Saxony in Dresden, at the age of 29.

Rowland Cotterill

In Dresden he was able to spend money on establishing himself as a composer who was also an intellectual and he began the fascinated and intensive reading of philosophers, particularly Hegel. As far as Hegel was concerned, music had ended with Beethoven. This gave Wagner a natural stimulus to develop a new style of music, which would both oppose and surpass anything that had gone before.

extract from 'Tannhäuser'

Narrator

In Tannhäuser and Lohengrin Wagner was to change the concept of German opera basing his stories on Teutonic myth and legend. He also pushed the limits of his sound world to new extremes.

Robin Holloway

Orchestras had been used with great mastery by many composers to do all kinds of things. Wagner inherits all that and fills out the gaps. He blocks and ranks his orchestra in choirs so the range of colour is much greater, but also the range of sonority and blend.

Prelude to Lohengrin

Narrator

Lohengrin is based on an old German tale of a knight of the Holy Grail who appears miraculously to save a condemned woman and marries her on condition she doesn't ask his name. But she succumbs to curiosity on her wedding night and Lohengrin is forced to return to his spiritual world.

Roger Norrington

An amazing sound world. He does it in Lohengrin by using almost entirely violins. He has violins divided into three sections, all internally divided. Some of them playing normally and others on harmonics, and after a while all the violins take off together. You don't hear any lower instruments at all for that opening—a striking idea.

Professor John Deathridge

I think with this work for the first time he felt that he'd reached a kind of stretching of music. There's something very seductive about this. The entire opera has been conceived in a very cohesive way to exploit this power of music, to draw you in, and to make you feel it's giving you something you lack in real life.

extract from 'Lohengrin': in fernem land...

Patrick Carnegie

He was turned on by Greek tragedy and he saw that the subject of their dramas which had music was always myth. Why? Wagner argued. It's because myth is not limited by history. Myth enshrines timeless truths. Love, hate, and all those subjects that are the stuff of drama were, for Wagner, most powerfully represented in myth.

Narrator

Wagner believed that by incorporating universal themes in his work, he could change the world—but he needed a revolution.

Revolutionary Ideas

Narrator

The Dresden revolution of 1848 was an attempt to unify Germany from a confederation of small states. An ardent nationalist, Wagner was an enthusiastic participant. He also believed the revolution would help him achieve his artistic goals.

Professor Richard Evans

What the Saxony government did was simply to send the troops in. This made the revolutionaries even more angry. It was at this point that the Russian anarchist, Bakunin—a wild man of 19th century European politics—began to organise violent barricades. He had Wagner going up church steeples to keep a look out for the Prussian army—all to no avail, of course. The Prussians came in, made mass arrests—quite a severe repression. Wagner had to flee and the old order was restored.

Narrator

To avoid imprisonment and possible execution, Wagner, now 35, fled to Zurich with the help of Franz Liszt. Fired with political fervour, he wrote a huge volume of theoretical essays which laid out his criteria for a new idealistic artwork of the future. This he named Gesamtkunstwerk, or total art form, which included music, poetry, dance and visual spectacle. Wagner believed that this new concept which he called "music drama" would raise art above mere entertainment, the level to which he believed it had sunk in a bourgeois capitalist society. He continued these themes in his controversial "Judaism in Music", in which he held the Jews responsible for everything mediocre in German art. This work hangs as a great shadow over Wagner's reputation, especially as his music later became a symbol for Nazism, when the Nazis used Wagner's theories to support their own racist ideology.

Paul Lawrence Rose

Firstly, the anti-Semitism is crucial to his whole vision of life. Secondly, it's central to his theory about the redemption of the human race—led by the Germans, obviously. Thirdly, it's connected to his socialistic and other critiques of society—bourgeois capitalism and morals. He doesn't like, for example, the Ten Commandments, because they forbid adultery and that's inconvenient for him. He actually said: "Do away with the Ten Commandments, a Jewish plot". So, it's not just something that's sort of a little side dish. It's central to his whole being. As he said to Liszt: "It's as vital to my being as gall is to the blood".

Professor Richard Evans

He really became seriously anti-Semitic after the failure of his efforts in the 1849-49 revolution. Wagner thought in his usual self-centred way that a revolution would free him up to revolutionise German music and culture, and when this proved not to be the case he had a very serious rethink that led him to write his notorious tract on Judaism in music a few months later. His real concern was to try and regenerate the spirit of what he regarded as German music. He sued the music of Meyerbeer and Medelssohn as a symbol of everything he hated.

The Ring

Narrator

In Zurich, Wagner began his greatest musical masterpiece, The Ring of the Nibelung, 15 hours in length and consisting of four operas: The Rhinegold, The Valkyrie, Siegfried and Twilight of the Gods. It took Wagner an astounding 26 years to compose.

Professor John Deathridge

He has the idea of combining an opera libretto that's as complex psychologically and dramatically as Shakespeare with a musical score that's as complex in terms of structure and form as Beethoven. So Shakespeare plus Beethoven equals Wagner. He has to rethink his musical style to make it more symphonic. He has to rethink his way of writing libretti to make them more mythical, more psychological, more universal, if you like—this is the way he sees Shakespeare. So by the time he begins The Ring he's worked out a system where this equation of "Shakespeare plus Beethoven equals Wagner" is at last going to succeed.

Siegfrieds death-march

Narrator

The Ring is a saga based on three main characters: Wotan, king of the gods; Brünnhilde, his daughter; abd Siegfried, her lover. The story revolves around the possession of a ring of gold which promises world dominance to anyone willing to renounce love. It's a tale of heroism, greed and betrayal as well as love and redemption.

Sir Georg Solti

It's a very violent piece. It's about human failure, murder, incest. Everything horrible is in there.

magic-fire music

Professor George Steiner

What defies, for ordinary people, understanding is that one man could carry in him the totality of that design, could somehow construe from the first note to the last a coherent immensity of a complexity which defies analysis.

extract from 'Twilight of the Gods'

Daniel Barenboim

The music is sometimes highly dramatic because it is declaimed. People who sing beautifully like they would sing certain Italian arias miss the expression in Wagner's music and people who cannot sing beautifully and use the famous Wagnerian bark "to make the text understandable" is also only part of the truth.

Michael White

Part of the allure and the captivation of Wagner is that his music never really addressed practicalities and in many ways it is impossible to stage so it remains an enigma. Only very recently, I think, have we begun to find Brünnhildes who are credible on stage as well as able to fulfil the vocal demands.

extract from 'Twilight of the Gods'

Deborah Polaski

Some composers, you look at a line and wonder how to make music out of it. With Wagner it's all there from the dynamics to the shaping of the words. All you do is sing what's written. But technically, they're marathon roles. You know why you're tired the nex day. It's not your voice that's tired, it's your body, your feet, your knees, it's, you know, it's your back, it's the muscles that you need to make your support system work properly. It's physically exhausting and a lot of people don't realise that.

Narrator

In The Ring, Wagner used a unique musical device called the Leitmotif. It was to become the most important structural and stylistic element in all his subsequent music.

Robin Holloway

Well, the Leitmotif begins innocently, showing something, someone, somewhere, by means of musical sound. The Rhinegold itself—the sort of title theme of the whole Ring—the first time you hear it, it's a very memorable sonorous image. You just hear the girls sing "Rheingold" to thos two chords. It's beautifully orchestrated. Once you've heard it you can't forget it. Whenever it recurs throughout the next 15 hours it will have that connotation. The whole adventure of the gold is carried by those two chords, which in turn decay and become blackened and smirched, and in Götterdämmerung is one of the blackest sounds ever made.

Tristan and Isolde

Narrator

Their exile had a devastating effect on Wagner's marriage. Minna was increasingly unsympathetic to her husband's ambitions and Wagner soon began to have liaisons with other women.

Barry Millington

His most famous affair took place here with Mathilde Wesendonck. Otto Wesendonck was a wealthy German merchant who retired to Zurich in 1851. His wife, Mathilde, was only 23 at the time. They met Wagner and were happy to assist the struggling artist. The Wesendoncks were nouveau riche and patronage of the arts was an important form of social acceptance. So Wagner was important to them as they were to him. They provided him with the means to compose. He gave them the opportunity to brush with genius.

Lucy Beckett

They were living in a house in the Wesendonck's garden in Zurich, being propped up by the charity of Otto Wesendonck, and he fell in love with Mathilde in a very idealistic and intense way. Poor Minna was reduced to the nagging wife and you have to feel sorry for her.

Narrator

When Wagner met Mathilde Wesendonck he interrupted work on Siegfried to begin Tristan and Isolde, an opera about two lovers whose passion is so intense it can only be consummated in death.

Stewart Spencer

Mathilde was about 15 years younger than Wagner and sophisticated and cultured in a way that Minna wasn't, but whether the relationship was ever consummated we shall never know. I don't think it matters really. It's slightly distasteful to be sniffing the sheets in that way, but I don't think it throws any light on Tristan by pointing out parallels between Wagner, Mathilde and Otto on the one hand and Tristan and Isolde on the other.

Narrator

The story is inextricably connected with the writings of Arthur Schopenhauer, with whose theories Wagner became obsessed. He argued that human behaviour is governed by irrational impulses including ambition, love, hate, and, importantly for Tristan and Isolde, sexual desire. One possible release from this torment of life is death.

Roger Norrington

Wagner, when he took on Tristan and Isolde wanted to write something really different. He thought of all he could to make it more striking.

Tristan and Isolde - Prelude

Rowland Cotterill

The opening phrase of Tristan and Isolde ends on a chord which leaves us all waiting for a resolution which doesn't come. Wagner gives a kind of prominence to a feeling of non-resolution unique in the history of harmonic language up till that time. In that way alone it stands out in his work as one of the two or three major musical events of the 19th century.

Narrator

Wagner fled to Venice in 1858 when Minna discovered his affair with Mathilde and it was there that he completed the second act of Tristan and Isolde. Other than a brief reconciliation with Minna, he'd never see her again.

Professor John Deathridge

Tristan is a paradox and became scandalous because it's about sex—the music recreates an orgasm. It also says we have to be redeemed from the sexual impulse. The whole point of life is that through death, you're purged of the terrible sexual longing that is a curse on your life.

Tannhäuser

Narrator

After Tristan and Isolde, Wagner was at low ebb financially and emotionally. His relationship with Mathilde ended and although her husband continued to support him, Wagner was without the means to realise his musical ambitions. Fortuitously, the Emperor of France,Napoleon III, commissioned a new production of Tannhäuser in Paris to try and improve relations with Austria and its ambassador whose wife was a keen supporter of Wagner.

Professor John Deathridge

Wagner sees the opportunity of doing something spectacular in Paris and begins to revise Tannhäuser in the spirit of Tristan and Isolde. So he rewrites the bacchanal, which is Tristan music plus. It's actually the most extreme piece, in my view, that he ever wrote.

Tannhauser - Bacchanal

Narrator

Tannhäuser is a knight whose lover buys his redemption with her death after he succumbs to the orgiastic pleasures of the Venusberg—a mythical world where love reigns free.

Rowland Cotterill

The reception of Tannhäuser was a fiasco, not because of its musical qualities for better or worse, but simply because of the political feelings, the anti-Austrian feelings of part of its audiences. Wagner was being made the scapegoat for the conservative swing in the Emperor's political alliances.

Stewart Spencer

Wagner's reaction to this seems to have been curiously muted and I think that's because he had come to loathe Paris, and it's always nice to have ones prejudices confirmed. I think that the failure of Tannhäuser simply confirmed in him the belief thet the French were frivolous, philistine and foreign, and would never appreciate German art.

Narrator

Wagner's second attempt to take Paris by storm left him desolate, suicidal, and desparate for success. He used every opportunity to plead for help in order to realise his visionary ambitions and complete The Ring.

Barry Millington

There really wasn't much of a market for 15-hour epics without tunes and dancing girls. So most of Wagner's scrounging letters were attempts to raise money to create this new artwork that would change the course of operatic history.

Patrick Carnegie

The man responsible for Wagner being able to complete The Ring was Ludwig II of Bavaria. Ludwig knew these German legends from his earliest childhood. He'd lived in that dream world of those myths long before Wagner came into his life.

Rudolph Ciri

Hohenschwangau was built in the 12th century and Ludwig grew up here with all these legends on the walls; Lohengrin, the story about the swan knight. This was part of his life. Ludwig did not live only in his dreams—he lived his dreams.

Tannhauser - Overture

Patrick Carnegie

This had to be the ultimate 19th century dream theatre—Ludwig's Venus-grotto at Schloss Linderhof. A private grotto where he could experience for himself all the delights of the Venusberg. This is her grotto, and the painting that you see behind there shows Venus surrounded by all her cupids and bacchantes. Missing from the picture is Tannhäuser himself, and, of course, Tannhäuser was King Ludwig. Suddenly, the myths from the dining-room wall as it were, were on stage, and with the magic of Wagner's music Ludwig felt that they had brought the myths right into his life. He therefore became, quite early on, a Wagnerian, if you like, and in the preface to the publication of The Ring poem in 1863, this preface ends up with a great cri de cœur from Wagner: "I've half composed this thing. I'm in terrible trouble. It needs somebody to rescue me, to come to my aid, so that I can complete The Ring, build the theatre to perform it. Somewhere there must be a prince who could do that". When Ludwig read this he thought, That's me!

Siegfried's Horn Call

Professor John Deathridge

Wagner was living a bohemian life in a hotel drinking champagne to forget his troubles. In Munich, Ludwig said, "I'll give you money for champagne. I'll give you anything—all the luxury you want". And Wagner always wanted the sort of luxury you see behind me, in this famous hall of mirrors in Herrenschloss Chiemsee. This is what Wagner wanted, he saw himself as a prince of art as well as a revolutionary of art. So ludwig made him live out this other part of his personality. He built a house for him and had it elaborately decorated with silks, satins and furniture. He also gave him the opportunity to elaborate his public life.

Opera House

Die Meistersinger - Overture

Narrator

Finally, at the age of 51, Wagner would enjoy premiàres of Tristan and Isolde and The Mastersingers of Nurnberg —his only comic opera—a nationalistic tribute to German art. He also planned an opera house solely for his own music dramas.

Professor John Deathridge

This is Munich's Maximilianstrasse, named after Ludwig II's grandfather. The importance of the road is that it has the "Versaille effect" leading up to this huge building, the Maximileum, and Wagner wanted the same kind of street leading up to his own opera house. It would have been then, and now, the biggest opera house ever built. Wagner wanted a roud from his house right across the middle of Munich—he wanted to flatten half the old town—leading right up to his new opera house. Ludwig said: "I can imagine the crowd streaming into this road, right up to your opera house next to the Maximileum, and it's going to be art and politics architecturally side by side."

Cosima

Narrator

Wagner's theatre was never built because of its exorbitant cost and its poor reception with the city authorities. But once again, Wagner's personal life took a new path.

Lucy Beckett

A conductor, very sympathetic to Wagner's music, was the talented but rather stuffy Prussian figure, Hans von Bülow, who was married to this beautiful daughter of Liszt. Cosima was, I suppose, beautiful—certainly Wagner thought so. She looks a bit like a horse but was beautiful enough to be going on with and she provided what, to be fair to Wagner, he'd always wanted, which was somebody serious-minded enough to talk to and listen to him endlessly as well as being efficient and reliable, although she was totally without a sense of humour.

Stewart Spencer

She worshipped him with an idolatry bordering on hagiography. She carried his eyelashes around with her like some holy relic and I think that Wagner rather warmed to this combination of servile enthusiasm and intellectual stimulation.

Narrator

The relationship produced an illegitimate daughter. The affair with Cosima soon became the scandal of Bavaria, then Europe. Wagner's relationship with Ludwig was also threatened because the king's family felt he was spending too much money. He was exiled once again, in Switzerland.

Barry Millington

Wagner came to Lucerne in 1866. He was travelling with his companion, as she then was, Cosima von Bülow.. On a boating trip they discovered the villa at Triebschen and decided to acquire it. At Triebschen, Wagner worked on Siegfried again after a long pause. He also wrote the Siegfried Idyll.

Siegfried Idyll

The Idyll was a special memento of his relationship with Cosima, celebrating the birts of their son Siegfried. It was conceived as a birthday greeting for Cosima and was first performed on her birthday in December, 1870. Wagner had a group of musicians take their places on these stairs and he stood at the head of the stairs conducting with the children by his side. So Cosima woke up to the world première of her birthday greeting.

Narrator

Shortly before the move to Triebschen, Minna died and he married Cosima. In this more settled atmosphere Wagner continued work on The Ring after an astonishing 12 year gap as well as finish The Mastersingers of Nurnberg. During this period Wagner began to integrate his racial theories into the characters of his music dramas. It seems likely he could use such ideas to draw on the increasingly anti-Semitic responses in his audience.

Marc Weiner

Beckmesser in Die Meistersinger and Mime in Siegfried are the two that are usually discussed and I'd like to draw attention to their inferior bodies. There's a motif associated explicitly with Beckmesser's ppr perambulation. And that motif is:

sings motif

It accompanies Beckmesser hobbling all over the place. There are musical examples that pertain to the fact yhat the Jew was perceived to have a high, nasal, whining voice. Beckmesser is a bass but he sings at times as high as a Heldentenor.

extract from 'Meistersinger'

Paul Lawrence Rose

Most of all you've got this incredible first act of Siegfried, which is the most violent anti-Semitic thing conceivable.

Siegfried - Act 1

If you listen to Mime and Siegfried in the forging scene, you've got heroic music and words of Siegfried forging a sword, combined wiht a wheedling, whinging, really disgusting trivial music interjections by Mime. He's cooking egg broth in tin pots while Siegfried is forging the real steel. It's the difference between heroism and human degeneration personified as the Jew in Mime.

Daniel Barenboim

Wagner's anti-Semitism—despicable, horrible, unacceptable—and yet it was part of the Zeitgeist at the time. I don't think you could be a German nationalist then without being an anti-Semite.

Bayreuth

Narrator

In 1869, Ludwig and Wagner's already stained relationship worsened when the King mounted two parts of The Ring without Wagner's consent. Nevertheless, Ludwig continued to idolise the composer.

Patrick Carnegie

In 1869, five years after Ludwig met Wagner, he decided he wanted to build a new castle. Standing on this very bridge he decided that the right place was there. It was modelled on Wagner's sets, particularly Lohengrin and Tannhäuser.

Magic Fire Music

Narrator

Wagner never saw this extraordinary tribute to his art. He had little interest in Ludwig's building projects since, at 57, he'd failed to build his theatre for the Ring cycle.

Barry Millington

His first idea was to erect a theatre by the Rhine or perhaps in Zurich. And then he stumbled on a spot by Lake Lucerne called Brunnen. He was going to place the stage on the water and the audience on the shore, looking out to a spectacular mountain backdrop, but he realised that the changeable weather made it impractical. It's an intriguing thought that had things gone differently, the faithful would be heading for Switzerland rather than Bayreuth.

Patrick Carnegie

This is the first 19th-century opera house designed so that the audience should come, not to look at each other, but at the stage and only at the stage. It is of course Wagner's Festspielhaus at Bayreuth. Finished in 1874, ready for the first performances of The Ring in 1876. It is an amphiteatre whose basic inspiration goes back to the Greeks. The orchestra and the conductor are hidden from the view of the audience. When the house lights went down, the auditorium was so dark that nobody knew when the music would begin.

Narrator

A darkened auditorium and a lightened stage forced Wagner's audience to concentrate on the dramatic images. The invisible orchestra provided a soundtrack and Wagner's concept of this total artform pre-empted the idea of cinema.

King Kong - original 1933 score

David Huckvale

Max Steiner, who wrote the score for King Kong, said that Wagner invented film music and he based his own style on Wagner. Some people say Max Steiner's scores, particularly King Kong, is a concert with pictures and that's one way of looking at Wagner. The important thing is the symphonic accompaniment and the big spectacle, and in that way Wagner really did anticipate the cinema.

Siegfried slays the dragon

Speight Jenkins

To enjoy The Ring fully, you have to enjoy the special effects. It's part of what it's all about. We have the largest fire I believe ever seen on the stage anywhere—230,000 units of heat for three or four minutes at a time.

Captain Nelson

We always have fire-fighters on scene during the special effects. Most of the time they don't like the jobs I give them. This is one of the few jobs where they come back asking for more. Apparently they're all now Wagner fans.

Ride of the Valkyries

Narrator

Having moved to Bayreuth to oversee construction, Wagner worked on his last opera, Parsifal, whose scenes were partly inspired by a garden in Ravello in Italy, where he'd spent the summer for health reasons. In Parsifal, Wagner returned once again to the Schopenhauerian themes of renunciation and redemption. The Christ-like Parsifal redeems the heretical Kundry by baptism and heals the eternal wound of the knight, Amfortas.

Prelude to Parsifal

Roger Norrington

In the "Prelude to Parsifal" he uses instead of a lot of complex harmony, just one single line. It's extraordinary because he uses an amazing mixture of instruments: clarinet, bassoon, first and second violins and cellos all playing together. He has often deconstructed harmony, but here he deconstructs the sound of the orchestra.

Robin Holloway

He's very skilful by now, he knows what he is doing. It's very slow, but the momentum within that slowness is absolutely sure, there are no longeurs at all. I think that's the story that's the most sublime and has the greatest hidden depths in it the more you know it, and the realisation of it seems the most flawless.

Kundry's baptism

Legacy

Narrator

In the last year of Wagner's life his racist views became more extreme. The only way to redeem "the lower races" as he called them was by an infusion of the pure blood of Christ whom he believed was not Jewish but Aryan. Cosima's diaries show that he was increasingly preoccupied by what he regarded as "the Jewish problem". While he was composing Parsifal, he read that 400 Jews had died in a fire in a Viennese synagogue. Wagner made the drastic joke to Cosima that perhaps all Jews should be burned.

Professor George Steiner

You can go at that in a number of ways. My own conviction is people like ourselves—ordinary people—cannot grasp what is going on in the mind of a titanically complex creator who can create Parsifal and then say absolutely barbaric inhumanities. So I say that the man who has given us what he has, musically, lies outside my range of understanding. That doesn't mean it doesn't make me bitterly disturbed, ill at ease, but that—to put it very vulgarly if I may—that's my problem and not his.

Narrator

Richard Wagner died in Venice on the 13th of February, 1883. He was nearly 70. Wagner's legacy has been immeasurable. His music stands at the threshold of modern Western classical music and his influence on such composers as Mahler, Schoenberg and Debussy was immense.

Robin Holloway

Wagner has influenced virtually every composer since, with some exceptions like Stravinsky, who were very anti-Wagner. But the violence of their hatred is a form of tribute—a form of being Wagnerian by default, by opposite.

Roger Norrington

I find it difficult to see this man writing music. I can see him running a country, or at least an airline, or probably owning a few. But I can't see him writing music.

Professor John Deathridge

I just admire the daring. I admire the boldness of the whole project. That he risked so much in his life and that he achieved so much. It takes my breath away.

Magic Fire Music

Professor George Steiner

How can you have among the highest achievements of beauty or speculative elegance and audacity of the human mind and conscience and guts and viscera on the one hand, and the awfulness on the ohter? Wagner's music, as they say it in court, is Exhibit A.

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