Monday, 22 May 2017


Herr Richard Wagner
Today’s Quote of the Day comes to us from the private correspondence of 19th century German composer Richard Wagner – who was born on this spring day at Leipzig in 1813 – to the editor of the weekly journal "Berliner Musikalische Zeitung," Karl Gaillard, dated January 30 1844 at Dresden, in which the composer discusses his third opera, Rienzi, and his unique method of composition:

“I at first took to writing for myself of necessity, since no good librettos were offered me. I could not now, however, compose on anothers' operatic text for the following reasons. It is not my way to choose some story or other at pleasure, get it versified, and then begin to consider how to make suitable music for it. For this mode of procedure I should need to be twice inspired, which is impossible...

The way I set to work is quite different. In the first place I am only attracted to matter the poetic and musical significance of which strike me simultaneously. Before I go on to write a verse or plot or scene I am already intoxicated by the musical aroma of my subject. I have every note, every characteristic motif in my head, so that when the versification is complete and the scenes arranged, the opera is practically finished for me; the detailed musical treatment is just a peaceful meditative after-labor, the real moment of creation having long preceded it.”
Posting for the premiere production of
Wagner's Rienzi at the Hofoper Dresden,
October 20, 1842
This quote in particular dates from the early portion of Wagner’s career as an operatic composer. He had just staged, with the assistance of confidante and future foe Giacomo Meyerbeer, his third and fourth operas Rienzi (1842) and Der Fliegende Holländer (1843) at Dresden. Both operas - and this extract - are historically significant to fans of the larger-than-life composer in that they originate from a transitional period in terms of Wagner’s stylistic output. 

Known famously for touting the idea of “all-encompassing works of art,” (his "Gesamtkunstwerk" ideal), Wagner – who wrote all of his own libretti - would begin his journey from opera to epic music drama with the creation of these two works: ending with the traditional grand opera stylings of Rienzi and beginning with the signature use of leitmotifs in Der Fliegende Holländer. By the time Wagner premiered his megalithic opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen in 1876, the composer’s envisionment for unifying all works of art via the theatre would come to a glorious – if controversial – fruition.

Looking back on Rienzi, and on the concept of grand opera itself (a “monstrosity” of a style according to a more mature Wagner) the composer would, some seven years post debut, pen a letter to future father-in-law Franz Liszt from his sojourn in Zurich, in which Richard would later claim of his early work:
 “I as an artist and man, have not the heart for the reconstruction of that, to my taste, superannuated work, which, in consequence of its immoderate dimensions, I have had to remodel more than once. I no longer have the heart for it, and desire from all my soul to do something new instead.”
It would be here, in self-imposed exile that Wagner would reinvent himself as a musician “of the future” – it would also be in Zurich that the composer would begin work on the aforementioned epic Ring cycle, and the incredibly lush Tristan und Isolde.

One could posit that, in regards to Wagner’s reflections on Rienzi, that the composer spoke perhaps too harshly – although rarely performed in the 21st century thanks to the descendants of Wagner at Bayreuth who, to comply with the wishes of the widow Cosima Wagner, - who famously banned all performances of Richard’s most personally detested opera from the family built and owned festspielhaus following the composers’ death in 1883[1] - gems like Allmächt'ger Vater (otherwise known as Rienzi's Prayer) from the opera's final act continually make the rounds as an outstanding standalone aria for established tenors around the globe.

Though, who among us can argue the with the maestro on the majesty that is Tristan?

Alles Gute zum Geburtstag!

Listen below to the famous prayer Allmächt'ger Vater from Richard Wagner's 1842 opera Rienzi. René Kollo performs.

Did you know?

Josef Tichatschek
The original Rienzi, tenor Josef Tichatschek (who was also the first heldentenor in operatic history, not to mention a favorite of Wagner himself) was apparently so taken with a since redacted passage from the third act of Rienzi, he and each of the soloists who performed it donated a silver groschen to a ceremonial fund that Tichatschek had started. According to music scholars, the singers were unaware that a poverty-stricken Wagner was pocketing the funds in order to purchase his next meal!

[1]The ban was lifted in 2013, with maestro Christian Theilemann conducting performances of Rienzi, Die Feen and Das Liebesverbot.
Further reading:
Learn more about Herr Wagner by perusing the Wagner Archives here at Unraveling Musical Myths.

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