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Wagner, Richard

"The greatest genius that ever lived" proclaimed WH Auden, while Rossini said that Wagner had "beautiful moments but awful quarters of an hour." Love him or hate him, Wagner is an undeniable force who stretched tonality and orchestration to their utmost limits. This week (and next) we celebrate Wagner's 200th birthday in grand style with programs filled to the brim with his music.

Program 1

We start off with the prelude to Act III of Lohengrin, just enough to hear its dramatic horn lines, then an excerpt of the ominous overture to Faust. The latter was originally intended for a symphonic work, but was then repurposed for opera. Next is another short appetizer before our main courses: the opening to the overture to Rienzi. We hear and study all of these little snippets, then we dive head-on into some full-on, proper Wagner, starting with the overture to Der Fliegende Holländer, the Flying Dutchman. Afterwards, we investigate Wagner's love of gigantic intervals, then hear more from the Flying Dutchman, with "Jo Ho Hoe! Trafft Ihr Das Schiff". After this we listen to the overture and "Baccanale" from Tannhauser, both highly rousing and beautiful pieces. We close the segment out with...Dvorák? Yes, actually, we listen to a little passage from Dvorák's Carnival Overture and realize that there's a bit of notational progression taken straight from Tannhauser.

Richard Wagner: Lohengrin, Act III Prelude (excerpt)
Philadelphia Orchestra/Christian Thielemann
DG 4534852

Wagner: Faust Overture (excerpt)
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra/Jeffrey Tate
EMI 7491962
Wagner: Overture to Rienzi (excerpt)
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult
EMI 7631222
Wagner: Overture to Der Fliegende Holländer
Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Georg Solti
Lon 411951
11:09, :38
Wagner: “Jo-Ho-Hoe! Trafft Ihr Das Schiff” fr. Der
Fliegende Holländer
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Klaus Tennstedt; Jessye
Norman, sop.
EMI 7497592
Wagner: Overture and Baccanale from Tannhauser
Metropolitan Opera Orchcestra/James Levine
DG 435 874-2
Dvorák: Carnival Overture (excerpt)
Cleveland Orchestra/Szell
Sony 63151


Program 2

We pick up where we left off in the last segment with "Dich, Teure Halle, Gruß Ich Weider", "Entrance of the Guests", and "Wie Todesahnung Dammrung Deckt Die Lande... O Du Mein Holder Abendstern", all from Tannhauser. We then shift gears to the Act I Prelude, "Mein Lieber Schwan", and Act III Prelude, all from Lohengrin, a piece whose loveliness hid the tummult that was going on in Wagner's life while he was writing it. Next is a scratchy, 100 year old recording of the Albumblatt in C Major, a short song for violin and piano. We then finish the segment off with two more fantastic pieces: the Prelude from Tristan Und Isolde, and "Der Engel" from Wesendonck-Lieder.

Wagner: “Dich, Teure Halle, Gruß Ich Weider,” from
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Claudio Abbado;
Cheryl Studer, s.
DG 439768-2

​​Wagner: “Entrance of the Guests,” from Tannhauser, Act II (excerpts)
Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra/Halasz
:20, 2:12

Wagner: “Wie Todesahnung Dammrung Deckt Die Lande… O Du
Mein Holder Abendstern,” From Tannhauser
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Claudio Abbado
DG 439 768-2
Wagner: Act 1: Prelude, from Lohengrin
Philadelphia Orchestra/Christian Thielemann
DG 4534852
Wagner: “Mein Lieber Schwan,” from Lohengrin
Philadelphia Orchestra/Eugene Ormandy
Lauritz Melchior
RCA 7914-2
Wagner: Act 3: Prelude, from Lohengrin
Metropolitan Opera Orchestra/James Levine
DG 435 874-2
Wagner: Albumblatt in C Major
Eugene Ysaye, violin; Camille DeCreus, piano
Sony 62337
Wagner: Act 1: Prelude, from Tristan Und Isolde
Philharmonia Orchestra/Wilhelm Furtwangler
Ludwig Suthaus, Kirsten Flagstad
Royal Opera House Chorus
Wagner: “Der Engel” from Wesendonck-Lieder
Orchester der Deutschen Oper Berlin/Donald Runnicles
Jonas Kaufmann, tenor
Decca B0018028-02


Program 3

All throughout this segment are excerpts from Tristan und Isolde, an opera made massively famous by a single chord from the opening. But it would hardly be worth analyzing if an opera could be summarized in a single chord, would it? For this reason, it's a good idea to sit back and let Bill demonstrate just how much meaning and expressiveness can be squeezed out of an opera with only so much time to describe it.

Wagner: Tristan und Isolde (excerpts)
Philharmonia Orchestra & Royal Opera House Chorus/Wilhelm
Furtwangler; Ludwig Suthaus, Kirsten Flagstad, Dietrich
Fischer-Dieskau, Blanche Thebom, etc.
EMI 56254
:24, 3:14, 1:23, 7:05, 27:42, 7:22

Program 4

Don't look here if you don't want the surprise spoiled! Done listening? Good. What we heard there was Mozart's Symphony No. 41 in C, fourth movement, the "Jupiter" symphony, played right up against the overture to Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg, the only comedy opera Wagner ever wrote. The point of that was to illustrate how in Meistersinger, Wagner draws on Mozart's ideas of counterpoint in his composition. Then we listen to numerous excerpts from a production of Meistersinger that Bill wanted to show in particular, in a manner similar to the previous segment's analysis of Tristan und Isolde. It reaches a massive conclusion, the Grammy-winning Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus erupting in thunderous applause at the end. We close out with the song "Was Duftet Doch der Flieder" from Meistersinger in a rendition performed by the Berlin Philharmonic.

Mozart: Symphony #41 in C, K551, IV (excerpt)
Academy of St. Martin in the Fields/Neville Marriner
Phil 412954

Wagner: Overture from Die Meistersinger Von Nurnberg
Philadelphia Orchestra/Christian Thielemann
DG 453485
Wagner: Act 1: Prelude, from Die Meistersinger Von Nurnberg
Glenn Gould, piano
Sony 52650
Wagner: Die Meistersinger Von Nurnberg (excerpts)
CSO/Georg Solti; Jose Van Dam, Ben Heppner, etc.
Decca 452606
5:24, 7:18, 13:24, 3:08
Wagner: “Was Duftet Doch Der Flieder,” from Die
Meistersinger Von Nurnberg
Berlin Phlilharmonic Orchestra/Claudio Abbado; Bryn Terfel,
bass bar.
DG 471348


Program 5

This final segment explores the most personal and intimate of Wagner's operas, Parsifal. It was the first to be performed in Bayreuth on a stage built for him. As with previous segments, Bill takes us through a wondrous journey through this opera, so make sure all is comfortable so that we can hear all of it to close out this edition of Exploring Music.

Wagner: Parsifal (excerpts)
Bayreuth Festival Orchestra & Chorus/Hans Knappertsbusch;
Jess Thomas, Irene Dalis, etc.
Phil 464756
12:02, 35:08


The Exploring Music streaming website is supported by Mr. & Mrs. William Gardner Brown and the Richard P. and Susan Kiphart Family.  
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