Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Music of the Great Composers – Richard Wagner (1813-1883)

Basic biographical detail is here.
Wagner's own literary works are to be found here.

There is no doubt that there have been other composers who were no less anti-Semitic [… which term applies to those who hold prejudices against Jewish people. The term is not used with reference to peoples of Arab or Ethiopian descent, who are also considered Semitic peoples.]. While it cannot be maintained that Wagner was directly responsible for German national socialism [ah, but maybe it can!], there is no doubt that he was a powerful symbol in the Nazi era, and his music held a singular importance in the Nazi psyche. Thus, for Jewish survivors of the Nazi horrors, Wagner's music represents a vivid reminder of that regime. The argument that music must be separated from politics is not cogent in general, and certainly not in this case. If anybody introduced politics into music, it was Richard Wagner himself.” Lili Eylon – American-Israeli Co-operative Enterprise

Wagner's music should not be played publicly. The function of music, after all, is to soothe, to make the listener feel good, to stimulate or pacify his or her soul [oh? … or is it?]. Whoever wants to hear Wagner's music can listen to it in private." Nechama Rosler, a violinist with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra.

If you perhaps think so too, well at least this blog gives you the opportunity to decide for yourself (better use headphones just in case), or you can ignore this post entirely and all that is Wagnerian as it is actually censored material in some places and among some people. That is of course up to you.

Look into this man as I did, more than anyone so far in this series, as neither his music or personality have ever been much to my liking or of much interest to me.  He wrote little for the piano.. Who Wagner was, where he came from, what he accomplished, at what great cost to everyone who was lured into helping him, I assure you that anti-Semitism was the least of his problems. But ignore his musical contributions to your great loss.

We do not know how such things happen, how such people acquire what talents they may, that they aspire to what others would deem them not entitled to, for Wagner may not have been the first, but he was certainly the most foremost among artists who demanded not just a living, but to live well and richly at the expense of others. Be careful how you point your fingers at ones such as Richard Wagner, because perhaps as he knew things to be himself in his day (make no mistake, his was a deep and clear though disturbed intelligence), he demanded a living from others as not just an artist, but as a national leader, indeed an actual political revolutionary.  If such a demand was so repulsive, then how is it that now in this 21st century we allow such as produce and create NOTHING to demand from the rest of us that they live well at our expense? Be very careful how you judge Richard Wagner, for there are these days among us those with similar demands and these persons are every bit as odious and disgusting as Wagner ever was!

Richard Burton as Richard Wagner 

There was a famous dramatisation about Wagner starring Richard Burton. It dates from 1983. It's significant for its casting, cinematography and relative faithfulness to facts. If you imagine that Richard Wagner was any less odious and repulsive than Burton's representation, think again. He came from the streets, had nothing but his passion for something that was actually quite dark combined with towering ambition. Music was not Richard Wagner's first love but used as merely an adjunct to his literary work, for he was a writer as well as a composer; he was a true romantic!

Part 3 

Could Wagner write a Sonata?

This is a piano sonata he refers to as one he arranged for two people to play, he says he doesn't know when he found time to write, let alone finish, many early compositions. It would seem that he could and did. His preferred model was Beethoven, but you'll hear Schubert in places too. He's really too young to have found his voice, but he's well on his way, except that he would soon realize that his musical direction had nothing in common with the “classical music” he knew of at the time, nor its forms. He was always merely a functional pianist, never taking up or becoming particularly proficient on any instrument. but couldn't have been much older than 17 when he wrote this. Let's hear Nina Kavtaradze play it for us:

Piano Sonata in B flat, Op. 1, WWV21

Did Wagner write Beethoven's Tenth?

We may have this really quite excellent performance to make the point that much as this is a youthful composition, and it is, it is certainly without question built solidly out of symphonic elements that would otherwise be unmistakably Beethoven's; Wagner is able to achieve at 19 all the proof one needs to establish oneself as not just a composer, but one who comprehended to a degree unattained by others at the time, the architectural possibilities suggested by Beethoven's 7th,, which Wagner heard for the first time at the most three years before writing this. Say what you like, because after all Wagner is unpardonable; say the work is stolen Beethoven, say that it's derivative, anything you like, the fact remains that within 3 years of hearing Beethoven's 7th, Wagner changes course enough to figure out how to write down a fully scored symphony, the manuscript for which he lugs around with him during his early 20's as he tries, and succeeds, in getting work, as a conductor! How's that for taking action and achieving something?

Symphony in C Major (1832)
I.Movement "Sostenuto e maestoso, Allegro con brio
II.Andante ma non troppo, un poco maestoso
IV.Allegro molto evivace.

Rundfunk-Sinfonie-Orchester Berlin
Heinz Rögner, conductor

What Wagner wrote besides operas, er music-dramas.

Among many weird and neglected (perhaps for good reason) compositions of Wagner's are overtures. An overture is frequently though not always thought of as that orchestral piece which precedes an opera. Here's one he composed after his marriage to Minna in 1836, it's theme, Rule Britannia! Here we have this work played by the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, Varujan Kojian, conductor

Wagner's Music-dramas.

Wagner's contributions, particularly to orchestration, are well known. In fact it is a fair statement to suggest that, like it or not, he was the most influential composer of the entire 19th century. One can listen to hours of Wagner and hear what others who followed him will be writing years later. If you bother with him at all, you could do no better than with Tristan und Isolde. Here it is (some of it) performed by the Bayerisches Staatsorchester under the direction of Zubin Mehta.

Tristan und Isolde Act I Prelude (Vorspiel)

What Wagner left behind.

Richard and Cosima had a son they named Siegfried after the hero of one of his operas. This Saigfried Wagner later became a compose and conductor like his father and grandfather, Franz Liszt. There were always rumours that Richard Wagner had had some homosexual experiences. There were more than rumours that Siegfried had. One wonders for it seems purely family reasons, Siegfried was finally compelled to marry an English girl 28 years younger than he, who bore him (and his family) four children! Here is Siegfried's symphony played in its original version by the Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz, Werner Andreas Albert, conductor.

Symphony in C Major (1925-1927)

I.Movement "Mässig"
II.Movement "Sehr langsam"
III.Movement "Lebhaft (Allegro)"
IV.Movement "Bewegt (Mosso)" 


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