Posted tagged ‘orchestration’

Oh, Wagner! Wagner!

October 2, 2007

(…said in tones of exasperation, not reverence…) – how can you do this to me?  How dare you take over whole chunks of my life like this? 

I remember in the early 1970s sitting though a whole cycle of The Ring at Covent Garden, spread over a couple of weeks, and for all that time it was really impossible to listen to any other music or even to think about anything else.  ‘Real’ life faded into insignificance, and was put on hold for the duration.  Well, now that I am involved from the other direction, with rehearsals and performances of The Ring at Covent Garden, I find the same thing is still true – this time spread over a couple of months…

So – what is it about Wagner?  Was he a ‘great’ composer?  I don’t know.  Certainly there is tremendous and moving and impressive (and loud) music in his operas;  and Götterdämmerung (the fourth and last opera in the Ring cycle) has some of the most weirdly forward-looking, avant-garde music imaginable (more so, to my mind, than the ‘ground-breaking’ harmonies of Tristan und Isolde).  It also has some clunkily terrible, BAD music.  

Was he, as many claim, a great psychologist of human nature?  Hmmm.  I’d much rather have Richard Strauss and his librettist, Hugo von Hofmannsthal:  show me anything in Wagner to match their heartbreaking, penetrating insight into the character of the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier (Hans Sachs in Die Meistersinger?  Wotan in The Ring??  I don’t think so).  Or in any case I’d rather have Mozart and Lorenzo da Ponte – all the psychological insight, delivered with tenderness, humour and the lightest of touches.  Or any of Janáček’s operas…  surely there is more humanity, and sense of man’s place in the universe, in Janacek’s Cunning Little Vixen than in the whole of The Ring (and you could fit Janacek’s opera, complete, about three times into just one act of Götterdämmerung). 

(And don’t even think about how many Haydn symphonies you could fit into that time!   (more…)