Richard Wagner and His World

Richard Wagner and His World

by Thomas S. Grey (Editor)

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Overview

Richard Wagner (1813-1883) aimed to be more than just a composer. He set out to redefine opera as a "total work of art" combining the highest aspirations of drama, poetry, the symphony, the visual arts, even religion and philosophy. Equally celebrated and vilified in his own time, Wagner continues to provoke debate today regarding his political legacy as well as his music and aesthetic theories. Wagner and His World examines his works in their intellectual and cultural contexts.

Seven original essays investigate such topics as music drama in light of rituals of naming in the composer's works and the politics of genre; the role of leitmotif in Wagner's reception; the urge for extinction in Tristan und Isolde as psychology and symbol; Wagner as his own stage director; his conflicted relationship with pianist-composer Franz Liszt; the anti-French satire Eine Kapitulation in the context of the Franco-Prussian War; and responses of Jewish writers and musicians to Wagner's anti-Semitism. In addition to the editor, the contributors are Karol Berger, Leon Botstein, Lydia Goehr, Kenneth Hamilton, Katherine Syer, and Christian Thorau.

This book also includes translations of essays, reviews, and memoirs by champions and detractors of Wagner; glimpses into his domestic sphere in Tribschen and Bayreuth; and all of Wagner's program notes to his own works. Introductions and annotations are provided by the editor and David Breckbill, Mary A. Cicora, James Deaville, Annegret Fauser, Steven Huebner, David Trippett, and Nicholas Vazsonyi.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780691143668
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication date: 08/16/2009
Series: The Bard Music Festival , #21
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 560
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.25(h) x (d)

About the Author

Thomas S. Grey is professor of music at Stanford University. His books include Wagner's Musical Prose: Texts and Contexts and The Cambridge Companion to Wagner.

Read an Excerpt

RICHARD WAGNER AND HIS WORLD


PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS

Copyright © 2009 Princeton University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-691-14366-8


Chapter One

From Page to Stage: Wagner as Regisseur

KATHERINE SYER

Nowadays we tend to think of Richard Wagner as an opera composer whose ambitions and versatility extended beyond those of most musicians. From the beginning of his career he assumed the role of his own librettist, and he gradually expanded his sphere of involvement to include virtually all aspects of bringing an opera to the stage. If we focus our attention on the detailed dramatic scenarios he created as the bases for his stage works, we might well consider Wagner as a librettist whose ambitions extended rather unusually to the area of composition. In this light, Wagner could be considered alongside other theater poets who paid close attention to production matters, and often musical issues as well. The work of one such figure, Eugène Scribe, formed the foundation of grand opera as it flourished in Paris in the second quarter of the nineteenth century. Wagner arrived in this operatic epicenter in the fall of 1839 with work on his grand opera Rienzi already under way, but his prospects at the Opéra soon waned. The following spring, Wagner sent Scribe a dramatic scenario for a shorter work hoping that the efforts of this famous librettist would help pave his way to success. Scribe did not oblige. Wagner eventually sold the scenario to the Opéra, but not before transforming it into a markedly imaginative libretto for his own use. Wagner's experience of operatic stage production in Paris is reflected in many aspects of the libretto of Der fliegende Holländer, the beginning of an artistic vision that would draw him increasingly deeper into the world of stage direction and production.

Opera and Theater in Paris and Wagner's New Path

The two and a half years that Wagner spent in Paris from September 1839 to April 1842 were full of eye- and ear-opening opportunities, despite the many challenges he encountered. From his post as musical director in Riga and work as conductor in a handful of provincial German houses, he had gained in-depth experience with a cross-section of repertoire, including Auber's influential early grand opera La muette de Portici. What he could have only gleaned up until this stage, however, was the extraordinary level of resources that supported opera production in the French capital, together with the intricate production system that was inherent to grand opera. An 1836 performance of Gaspare Spontini's Fernand Cortez in Berlin had made a strong impression on him on account of its overall integrity and level of professionalism-Spontini oversaw the production. In Paris, the growing complexities of grand opera and opéra comique, with their large moving choruses and elaborate production-specific designs and technical effects, went hand in hand with a process that supported and coordinated the efforts of many specialists. The results were carefully documented so that productions in Paris could serve as models for other performances, the concept of the work now also extending to its realization onstage. The seeds of Wagner's far-reaching and idealistic view of what could be achieved technically in opera took firm root in these years. Cutting-edge technology and high-level illusions were featured above all in popular forms of theater, offering a spectrum of possibilities that fueled Wagner's imagination, especially as he developed the two works that he would produce toward the end of his life in his own theater in Bayreuth: Der Ring des Nibelungen and Parsifal.

Although Wagner left Paris deeply ambivalent about the operas that thrived there, he soon lamented the means and method of opera production in Paris compared with what he returned to find in Germany, not least the lack of a healthy-size violin section in Dresden as he began rehearsing Rienzi: "I sensed a certain poverty in German theatrical efforts, most evident when operas from the Parisian repertory were given.... Although I had already felt profound dissatisfaction with this kind of opera during my Paris days, the feelings that had formerly driven me from the German theaters to Paris now came back to me." The ultimately successful premiere of Rienzi on October 20, 1842, enabled the premiere of the riskier Der fliegende Holländer the following January. Although on a more modest scale, Der fliegende Holländer is nevertheless ambitious scenically, involving as it does a regular and a ghostly ship in the framing acts and a closing scene in which the Dutchman and Senta are to be seen rising out of the waves. This final tableau did not feature in Wagner's prose sketches for the opera but emerged as a stage direction in the first version of the full libretto, completed on May 28, 1841. The evolution of this ending takes us to a core of issues that engrossed Wagner as he began to develop the innovative ideas that would lead to the "music drama," including new ideas about acting and stagecraft.

As initially envisioned in prose, Senta leapt into the waves at the end of the opera and disappeared along with the Dutchman and his ship. It is a tragic close, ringing with irony as the Dutchman sets off without recognizing that Senta is the extraordinarily faithful woman he has been seeking to redeem him from his cursed existence. She proves true to her oath of fidelity until death in an extreme fashion. In developing his prose material into a libretto Wagner placed additional value on Senta's angelic nature and on her role as redeemer, both ultimately manifested in the final image of her ascent with the Dutchman. In the weeks prior to July 11, 1841, when he began working on the continuous composition sketch, Wagner further developed Senta's character through the addition of stage directions connected to new compositional options. In this phase, his handling of Senta's Act 2 Ballad unlocked the potential of the opera's final tableau, moving beyond tragedy to a celebration of the extraordinary psychological nature of Senta, which first enabled her to commit to being his redemptress.

"Senta's Ballad" is one of several stage songs performed within the opera, none of which unfolds as a discrete musical-dramatic unit; each is broken off, interrupted, and resumed in accordance with varying dramatic contexts. In Act 1, for example, the Steersman's song, anticipating reunion with his sweetheart, breaks off as he is overcome by weariness. When he reawakens many minutes later he resumes singing his song after a substantial contrasting musical-dramatic unit has unfolded-the Dutchman's arrival and monologue. Such strategies are typical of the more realistically shaped and extended musical-dramatic units of grand opera and other repertoire that Wagner knew. Related here, too, is Wagner's practice of composing gesturally or mimetically significant music, whereby stage action and musical gestures are interconnected. More remarkable still is Wagner's recourse to psychological nuances of the dramatic scenario to shape and correlate text, music, gesture, and stagecraft. Each of the opera's acts features a stage song that is sung by characters who are at work (the Steersman sings while on watch) and/or who are doing something physical that dovetails with material in which the legendary and supernatural emerge with substantial expressive power. But the eerie and the uncanny is ultimately only a way station. Each time, mundane realism opens out toward a formal and psychological complexity that outstrips the ways the supernatural functions in the Schauerromantik style of Marschner's Der Vampyr, for example. The juxtaposition and intermingling of a conventional but finely wrought kind of musical-dramatic realism with a more psychologically driven form is a characteristic of all of Wagner's mature stage works. He unstintingly demanded that things incredible to our rational minds should be acted, designed, and carried out onstage persuasively, expanding the aesthetic horizon.

Against the melodically winsome but mechanical "Spinning Song" of the women's chorus, Senta offers her rendering of the Ballad in a song contest of sorts. Within the Ballad's basic strophic framework of three verses, the description of the legendary Dutchman's terrible plight is contrasted with a refrain questioning the possibility of his redemption. As an advance promotional excerpt written before he had fleshed out the libretto, Wagner's first version of this text ended after the third refrain but did not include Senta's subsequent bold claim to be the Dutchman's redemptress. Weaving the song into the libretto Wagner added stage directions that yielded not merely a solo performance but a more dynamic and interactive one, with the onstage audience of women sympathetically participating in the close of the second refrain. Senta becomes increasingly involved with her performance until, after the third and final refrain and "suddenly carried away in exaltation" ("von plötzlicher Begeisterung hingerissen"), she claims to be the redeeming woman the Dutchman seeks. It is not clear whether at this stage Wagner foresaw this text having any musical relationship to the setting of the Ballad proper. However, shortly before he began composing, he added another stage direction before the third refrain: "Senta pauses, exhausted, while the girls continue to sing quietly." While Senta is outwardly disengaged from the performance, the chorus takes over and quietly sings the final refrain's crucial questions: "Ah, where is she, who can point you to the angel of God? / Where might you find her, she who will remain true to you even unto death?" Senta is reenergized at this point, as per the earlier stage direction, but her offer to save the Dutchman represents both an answer to the questions of the other women as well as her displaced offering of the final refrain in a radically reinterpreted form. In Wagner's musical realization of the Ballad, it is as if Senta is able to command the orchestra to assist in the dramatic rendering of her part; the orchestra collapses into silence with her while the song continues, realistically, with the other women singing a capella. Senta's reengagement and vocal reentry brings the orchestra back into play with a transformation of the refrain's originally gentle woodwind melody and sympathetic questioning tone, extending the framework of the Ballad just as she claims the role of the redeeming woman in an assertive coda. In this process, Wagner found a way to develop material within the Ballad that could come into play in later parts of the drama to underscore not simply Senta's uncommon sympathy for the Dutchman but also her uncommon willingness to be his redemptress or, in more general terms, her exceptional transformational powers. At the same time, Senta became a more psychologically unusual character, demanding more of a singing actress than if Wagner had pursued a simpler teleological path in her performance of the Ballad.

Wagner did not suddenly change Senta's nature. Instead, he sharpened its profile as he aligned it with other parts of the libretto in which she behaves extraordinarily. Later in Act 2, Erik shares with Senta his dream in which he has seen the arrival of the Dutchman. The dialogue with Senta in which he describes this dream triggers her to repeat her assertion to be the Dutchman's redemptress. In his last round of revisions to the libretto before he began composing, Wagner inserted the performance direction "in a muffled voice" ("mit gedämpfter Stimme") so that again Senta's striking response is to material delivered in an understated, hushed manner. As composed, Erik's dream narration is arguably one of the most innovative passages in the score, its more nebulous shape emulating both the narrative's origins in a dream state as well as the process whereby Senta gradually becomes confirmed in her resolution, and hence motivated to reclaim the confident coda with which she had concluded the Ballad. For the published piano reduction, Wagner expanded the stage direction at the onset of Erik's narration to read: "Senta falls exhausted into the chair; at the onset of Erik's narration she sinks as if into a magnetic sleep, so that it seems as if she dreams the dream that is told to her." In clarifying the state Senta is in as she hears Erik's dream and his questions, Wagner drew further attention to the connection with her performance of the Ballad. The reference here to "magnetic sleep" points to the concept of animal magnetism, also known as mesmerism or artificial somnambulism, a stepping-stone in the development of hypnosis and the source of much fascination as well as skepticism. In both cases, Senta passes into a state in which she does not seem to be outwardly conscious, while significant material concerning the Dutchman unfolds and serves as a link to her audacious proclamations.

What is pertinent here is that Wagner explicitly identifies a psychological model that served as a primary creative stimulus in his shaping of Senta's character, her manner of performance, and the experimental musical processes that prepare and illuminate her role as the Dutchman's redemptress. Somnambulism was a popular theme on Parisian stages in the late 1820s, spilling over into French literature through the 1840s. Scribe's own work in this vein includes the libretto for Ferdinand Hérold's 1827 ballet-pantomime La somnambule, the precursor to Bellini's 1831 opera La sonnambula, which Wagner had conducted. The plot hinges on a private somnambulistic episode of the female protagonist that places her in a potentially compromising situation that is misunderstood; her innocence is only established by a second somnambulistic episode that is observed by the entire community. The somnambulistic experience itself is not explored. It is characteristic of Wagner's radical approach that what Senta psychologically experiences in a profound way is shown as becoming so vital as to challenge our perception of reality. This idea echoes throughout the rest of Wagner's oeuvre, for example, in Tannhäuser's response to the Pilgrims after his miraculous relocation to the Wartburg as well as in his "Rome Narration," in Elsa's vision of Lohengrin, in Mime's "Verfluchtes Licht" soliloquy after the Wanderer's visit in Act 1 of Siegfried, in Hagen's twilit dream scene with Alberich and Siegfried's death scene in Götterdämmerung, as well as in Amfortas's first lament and Parsifal's response to Kundry's kiss in Parsifal. It is a guiding idea for the lovers throughout much of Tristan und Isolde. Wagner became acutely aware that such psychologically distinctive characters and their altered states of consciousness were not readily transparent or comprehensible to others, including the singers he required to bring these characters to life onstage. Wagner's many plans for operatic reform in Germany included better dramatic training opportunities for opera singers, and his expectations for his own works were on an altogether different plane from anything he encountered in contemporary theatrical practice.

Dresden and the Staging of the "Romantic Operas"

Dresden afforded Wagner his first opportunities to bring his own operas to the stage in a fully professional context, with substantial resources available for production. Rarely did he know in advance which singers would create his characters onstage. For the role of Senta (as well as Adriano in Rienzi and later Venus in Tannhäuser), Wagner was able to work with the very singer who created the first strong impact on his notion of the ideal opera performer. Wilhelmine Schröder-Devrient's persuasively acted performances that so impressed Wagner in his youth remained uppermost in his mind when he began creating such atypical operatic characters as Senta. Past her prime by the mid-1840s, Schröder-Devrient was no longer as compelling onstage, especially in the voluptuous role of Venus, yet her critical understanding of Wagner's goals remained acute. She recognized, as Wagner painfully did, too, that Josef Tichatschek was fully capable of singing the role of Tannhäuser but completely unable to understand the character's complexity and the gravity of key moments in the drama. Wagner worked painstakingly with Tichatschek, whom he thought a better Lohengrin than Tannhäuser, but came much closer to his ideal performer only twenty years later with the tenor Ludwig Schnorr von Carolsfeld, who created the role of Tristan (1865). Wagner knew from these early experiences that the roles he was creating would be difficult to cast well, especially dramatically, yet he continued moving ever further in the same direction.

(Continues...)



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Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgments ix
Permissions xv

PART I: ESSAYS
From Page to Stage: Wagner as Regisseur 3
KATHERINE SYER
Wagner and Liszt: Elective Affinities 27
KENNETH HAMILTON
From Opera to Music Drama: Nominal Loss, Titular Gain 65
LYDIA GOEHR
Eine Kapitulation: Aristophanic Operetta as Cultural Warfare 87
in 1870
THOMAS S. GREY
A Note on Tristan's Death Wish 123
KAROL BERGER
Guides for Wagnerites: Leitmotifs and Wagnerian Listening 133
CHRISTIAN THORAU
German Jews and Wagner 151
LEON BOTSTEIN

PART II: BIOGRAPHICAL CONTEXTS
Wilhelmine Schröder-Devrient and Wagner's Dresden 201
CLAIRE VON GLÜMER, HENRY CHORLEY
TRANSLATED, INTRODUCED, AND ANNOTATED BY THOMAS S. GREY
Catulle Mendès Visits Tribschen 230
CATULLE MENDÈS
TRANSLATED, INTRODUCED, AND ANNOTATED BY THOMAS S. GREY
Recollections of Villa Wahnfried from Wagner's American Dentist 237
NEWELL SILL JENKINS
INTRODUCED AND ANNOTATED BY THOMAS S. GREY

PART III: TOWARD A MUSIC OF THE FUTURE, 1840-1860
The Overture to Tannhäuser 251
FRANZ LISZT
INTRODUCED, EDITED, AND ANNOTATED BY DAVID TRIPPETT
TRANSLATED BY JOHN SULLIVAN DWIGHT
Letters to a Young Composer About Wagner 269
JOHANN CHRISTIAN LOBE
INTRODUCED, EDITED, AND TRANSLATED BY DAVID TRIPPETT
Franz Brendel's Reconciliation Address 311
FRANZ BRENDEL
INTRODUCED AND ANNOTATED BY JAMES DEAVILLE
TRANSLATED BY JAMES DEAVILLE AND MARY A. CICORA

PART IV: WAGNER AND PARIS
Wagner Admires Meyerbeer (Les Huguenots) 335
RICHARD WAGNER
TRANSLATED, INTRODUCED, AND ANNOTATED BY THOMAS S. GREY
Debacle at the Paris Opéra: 347
Tannhäuser and the French Critics, 1861
OSCAR COMETTANT, PAUL SCUDO
TRANSLATED BY THOMAS S. GREY
INTRODUCED BY ANNEGRET FAUSER
ANNOTATED BY ANNEGRET FAUSER AND THOMAS S. GREY
The Revue wagnérienne: Symbolism, Aestheticism, 372
and Germanophilia
J. K. HUYSMANS, TEODOR DE WYZEWA, EDOUARD DUJARDIN
INTRODUCED BY STEVEN HUEBNER
SELECTIONS TRANSLATED BY BRENDAN KING AND CHARLOTTE MANDELL

PART V: THE BAYREUTH ERA
Press Releases from the Bayreuth Festival, 1876: 391
An Early Attempt at Spin Control
J. ZIMMERMANN
INTRODUCED, TRANSLATED, AND ANNOTATED BY NICHOLAS VAZSONYI
Hanslick contra Wagner: 409
"The Ring Cycle Comes to Vienna" and
"Parsifal Literature"
EDUARD HANSLICK
TRANSLATED, INTRODUCED, AND ANNOTATED BY THOMAS S. GREY
Hans von Wolzogen's Parsifal (1887) 426
HANS VON WOLZOGEN
TRANSLATED, INTRODUCED, AND EDITED BY MARY A. CICORA
Cosima Wagner's Bayreuth 435
RICHARD POHL, ARTHUR SEIDL, EUGEN GURA, ARNOLD SCHERING, HEINRICH CHEVALLEY
TRANSLATED BY MARY A. CICORA
INTRODUCED AND ANNOTATED BY DAVID BRECKBILL

PART VI: THE COMPLETE PROGRAM NOTES OF RICHARD WAGNER
Wagner Introduces Wagner (and Beethoven): 479
Program Notes Written for Concert Performances by and of Richard Wagner, 1846-1880
RICHARD WAGNER
TRANSLATED, ANNOTATED, AND INTRODUCED BY THOMAS S. GREY
Beethoven's Ninth Symphony
Beethoven's Eroica Symphony
Beethoven's Coriolan Overture
Overture to Tannhäuser
Overture to Der fliegende Holländer
Prelude to Lohengrin
Tannhäuser
Lohengrin
L. van Beethoven, String Quartet in C-sharp Minor, op. 131
Tristan und Isolde: Prelude to Act 1
Tristan und Isolde: Prelude to Act 1 and Conclusion ("Transfiguration")
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg: Preludes to Acts 1 and 3
Götterdämmerung
Die Walküre
Parsifal: Prelude to Act 1
Index 523
Notes on the Contributors 539

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