Wednesday, 22 May 2013

WAGNER'S 200th

“Never look at the trombones, it only encourages them.” - Richard Wagner

It is the Richard Wagner bicentennial this year. Germany today celebrated the 200th birthday anniversary of this 19th-century composer whose music has been hailed as sublime art at the height of Western culture, although he remains tainted by his visceral anti-Semitic views, which later found favour with the Nazis. Wagner’s birthplace of Leipzig, the nearby city of Dresden (where he was appointed chief conductor at the Saxon royal court) and Bayreuth, which hosts an annual festival of the composer’s work, are all staging events this week in honour of his bicentennial.

Richard Wagner (1813–1883), is primarily recognised as an operatic composer. His operas represent the fullest musical and theatrical expression of German romanticism, exerting a significant influence on later composers. He discarded the up-till-then operatic convention of differentiated recitative and aria, opting for a continuous flow of melody, calling his operas “music-dramas”. Wagner achieved dramatic unity in his works, due in part to his development of the leitmotif, a brief passage of music used to characterise an episode, person, or idea.

His librettos, which he wrote himself, are drawn chiefly from German mythology. His operas include Rienzi (1838–40), The Flying Dutchman (1841), Tannhäuser (1843–44), and Lohengrin (1846–48). Wagner participated in the revolution of 1848 and then fled Dresden, where he had held a conducting post. Helped by Liszt, he escaped to Switzerland, staying there 10 years and writing essays, notably Oper und Drama (1851), the manifesto that outlines his aesthetics.

Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen (1853–74), is a monumental operatic tetralogy that embodies most completely his aesthetic principles. It comprises Das Rheingold (1853–54), Die Walküre (1854–56), Siegfried (1856–69), and Götterdämmerung (1874). Wagner wrote both libretto and music for this series of works, which are based on a number of Teutonic myths. The so-called Ring Cycle is considered to be Wagner’s peak operatic achievement.

In 1872 Wagner moved to Bayreuth, Bavaria, where he completed the Ring cycle and built a theater, the Festspielhaus, adequate for the performance of his works; the complete Ring was presented there in 1876. Wagner’s other later compositions are Tristan und Isolde (1857–59); Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (1862–67), his only comic opera; and his last work, Parsifal (1877–82), a sacred festival drama. His second wife, Cosima Wagner, 1837–1930, the daughter of Liszt, was closely involved with his work. After his death, she was largely responsible for the continuing fame of the Bayreuth festivals.

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