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A Taste of Wagner- A Music Journey

Posted by on May 22, 2012 at 4:20 PM

Richard Wagner- Born May 22, 1813 By many accounts, Richard Wagner(pronounced "Vagner") was not a well liked man. He is considered one of the most controversial of all musicians in a world filled with controversial men and women. In his own day, he was considered amoral, anti-Semitic, appalling and unfaithful. And yet when he died February 13, 1883 over 10,000 articles and stories were written about him. He was German to the core and through no fault of Wagner's

(as he was long since dead), he was held by Adolf Hitler as the “ideal man”. So with such an introduction, why celebrate Richard Wagner on this May 22nd the 199th anniversary of his birth? Well first, for the genius. Richard Wagner was composer and librettist (words and music) to some of the most incredible music ever written. No discussion of classical music can be had without the mention of Richard Wagner. His pieces continue to influence movies and art 150 years after their writing. The opera house he designed late in life, Bayreuth, continues to be a premier location for enjoying opera and an annual festival is run by his descendants. I, myself, am an opera rookie, having only enjoyed Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite in person. And yet, as I read the stories behind Wagner’s operas, I find myself inspired to grow culturally, to add another chapter to my maturing as a man. Here in no particular order are 4 operas by Richard Wagner that you should give a listen to, and maybe the inspiration of the passionate voices and the powerful music will change your mind about opera. 1. Tannhauser- This opera written between 1843 and 1845 is about Tannhauser, a minstrel knight, who although loved by the goddess Venus, longs for the love of Elizabeth, daughter of the Landgrave of Thuringa. It is the battle of love vs fate and is marked with passion and genius. It is considered by many to be the best of Wagner’ operas.

2. Lohengrin- This opera is complete with wrongly accused maidens, a mysterious knight who saves her, a brother transformed into a swan by an evil sorcerer and revenge, betrayal and essentially anything that you would find in todays dramatic romance movie. Written between 1845 and 1847, this opera was so inspirational to King Ludwig II of Bavaria that he built a castle based on the swan. The most familiar music from this opera is a section that today we use as “Here Comes The Bride” in marriage ceremonies.

3. Die Walkurie- Loosely translated as “ The Chooser of the Slain” this opera contains the mature elements of revenge, lost love, incest, and intervention from the gods. Written between 1851 and 1857, but not performed until 1870, this is one of the operas put together with three others as The Ring Cycle, which incidently is the one set of operas that I encourage you not to tackle (see below). If you can see Die Walkurie on its own, it stands as a solo piece relatively well. Most recognizable is the Ride of the Valkries , a piece that as soon as you hear it you will say “Oh, so that is Wagner” This piece of music is probably best captured in the bombing scene from the movie “Apocalypse Now”. 4. Tristan and Isolde- Written between 1857 and 1859, Tristan and Isolde has elements similar to the Romeo and Juliet stories of Shakespeare, but even more so. The tragic sequence of events builds to love potions, suicide attempts, repeated separations and joyous reunions. Wagner loved the romance between the two characters and concentrated more on that than the original story by Gottfried Von Strassburg (originally written in the early 1200‘s) . In 2006, a modern interpretation of Tristan and Isolde was directed by Ridley Scott. In the movie version, the pain of the separated couple is shown, but in reality the Wagner version is truly more passionate. Two quotes that stand out are one from Isolde who says “Why long for things that weren’t meant to be ours”. and later Isolde asks Tristan, “ If things were different, if we lived in a place without duty, would you be with me?” Tristan laments, “That place does not exist.” On Wagner’s 59th birthday, May 22,1872, the cornerstone was laid for a grand opera house in Bayreuth a sizable town in Bavaria, Germany. It was completed in time for the first performance of Wagner’s massive 15 hour opera The Ring of the Nibelung in 1876. Every year since then, the Wagner descendants have put on a festival with works of Wagner exclusively. This year the festival runs from July 25 to August 28th. Five of Wagner's 13 operas will be highlighted this year. The refurbished Richard Wagner museum is also open in Bayreuth with the motto “ Preserving, Creating, Experiencing” which fits in so much with the inspiration that I enjoy sharing with you. You do not need to be an opera fan to be inspired by Richard Wagner. You do not need to agree with his philosophies or politics. You do not need a history degree to understand the stories behind the operas Wagner composed. Music is a universal language that you hear through your heart as much as you hear it through your ears. Take a taste of Richard Wagner’s world. I think something will touch you. I hope that it will.

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