Sunday, 26 August 2018


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, "Lange portrait"
We continue to ride the wave of modern technology: as Christie’s is set to auction off the first ever series of artworks created solely by Artificial Intelligence algorithm on October 23, and “La Divina,” Maria Callas herself – or at least, her hologram – gears up to serenade the present generation via intimate performances whilst on a world-wide “tour,” another industrious project out of Germany vows to usher the remaining facet of the artistic sphere into the unprecedented realm of the future: the world’s first ever Virtual Reality opera.* The composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The opera: The Marriage of Figaro.

Earlier this year, financiers at Berlin’s Avant Première Music + Media Market symposium were presented with an intriguing premise: the development of the world’s first Virtual Reality opera, with a centripetal POV for the viewer. Where spectators of the “Callas” tour will have the unique ability to view their late idol from the perspective of the audience, Pars Media’s pilot project, "360° Figaro" places the viewer center stage, where he, or she will “stand” in the middle of an operatic cast, allowing the user to feel as though they are actually taking part in the performance.

The ambitious project is presently under development. It is a collaborative endeavor, with Munich-based production company Pars Media working in conjunction with German record label Arthaus Musik, who have already recorded soloists Jacquelyn Wagner (as Rosina), Olena Tokar (as Susanna), Matthias Hausmann (as Count Almaviva) and Valentina Stadler (as Cherubino) from a studio in Halle (formerly the "Fernsehstudio Halle")  on August 21 and 22, 2018.

Mozart’s prized opera will be reduced to a series of scenes from the second act of Figaro, garnering a length of nearly 20 minutes. Produced by Jan Schmidt-Garre, the reduction promises to be as faithful as possible to the original plot, whilst remaining “understandable in lieu of a larger context.” It will be filmed using a state of the art 360° camera, consisting of the live vocals, with an added feature of binaural sound for headphone wearers, which will serve to greatly enhance the ‘life-like’ experience of being center stage by reproducing incredibly precise directional localization for the user in a virtual "3D" space.

360° Figaro is financed by the state of Saxony-Anhalt and the Fraunhofer Institute.

Further updates will be added to Unraveling Musical Myths when a date of launch has been announced.

Listen below – and imagine yourself on stage – to a glorious rendition of “Voi sigor, che giusto siete” from Herr Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro; Böhm, Wiener Staatsoper, Tokyo, 1980):

*It should be noted that similar VR operatic projects predate 360° Figaro:
The University Theatre and the Department of Music and Dance at the University of Kansas incorporated the idea of Virtual Reality in 2003 for Mozart's Die Zauberflöte, and a brief, award-winning tour, "Magic Butterfly," which contained VR adaptations of Puccini's Madama Butterfly in addition to Die Zauberflöte launched out of Cardiff in 2017 - providing an interactive virtual reality experience (presented by the Welsh National Opera) using technology created by the software package "Houdini." These differ from 360° Figaro, which will be the first of it's kind to integrate "live" cast members into the user experience, pre-recorded using a 360 degree camera
with a centripetal POV for the user, as opposed to computer generated imagery which mimic "live" action.

Further reading (external links):

Internal links:

Saturday, 25 August 2018


One of the few surviving, contemporary portraits of Beethoven: the
"Waldmüller" portrait (unfinished) by Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller.
Beethoven sat for this likeness sometime after April 13, 1823.
The Beethoven-Haus museum at Bonn is the recipient of two “previously unknown” documents related to the 19th century musical icon: a letter, addressed to one Heinrich von Struve, a childhood friend of the composer, and the original manuscript for Beethoven’s 1817 “Ruf vom Berge,” (Call of the Mountains), a tender lied set to texts written and assembled by the poet and Fidelio librettist Georg Friedrich Treitschke (who borrowed from the popular Volkslied “Wenn ich ein Vöglein wär” for the lied’s first verse).

Beethoven first met the Leipzig-born playwright in Vienna in 1811. Treitschke, who had relocated to the Austrian capital eleven years earlier, had already caused quite a stir among the city’s artistic sphere, establishing himself as a leading and eminent poetic mind – one which would serve both budding and established composers alike quite handsomely should they be fortuitous enough to make his acquaintance.

Together, the dynamic pair would first collaborate in 1814, when an unsatisfied Beethoven implored the revered writer to re-work the libretto for his only opera, Fidelio, which had been previously prepared into German by the Austrian librettist Joseph Sonnleithner from the French libretto of "Léonore, ou l'Amour conjugal," an alleged ‘historically inspired’ work by Jean-Nicolas Bouilly (1798).

The Treitschke version of Fidelio would premiere on the 23rd of May in 1814 at the Kärntnertortheater in Vienna, nearly a decade after the original Sonnleithner version of 1805 (and a subsequent reduction the following year by librettist Stephan von Breuning).

Heinrich von Struve
Beethoven’s relationship with Heinrich von Struve extends even further – the pair first made acquaintance sometime after 1789 in the composer’s native Bonn, following the death of von Struve’s sister, the wife of a local diplomat, whom he had visited from his home in the Bavarian city of Regensburg.

Von Struve was the son of Russian agent (and later Ambassador to Regensburg) Anton von Struve. At just 17, von Struve would become one of Beethoven’s youngest friends (the composer was two years his senior). He would later follow in the footsteps of his father, becoming a diplomat in the Russian Imperial Service.

Correspondence between the two friends survive, and are known to scholars. Two notable examples lay in a letter from Beethoven to von Struve, dated 17 September 1795 from Vienna, sold at auction in June 2012[1] in Berlin; and in a tender note from von Struve to the composer in the latter’s cherished Stammbuch, an autograph book gifted to Beethoven in November of 1792 before his departure from Bonn to Vienna, where he would reside until his death.

The Stammbuch, organized by Matthias Koch, the son of the owner of the Zehrgarten, (a tavern on the Marktplatz in Bonn which served as a favorite meeting hub for young artistic intelligentsia) and fellow mate Johann Martin Degenhart, was designed as both a token of farewell and as a keepsake for Beethoven to accompany him on his relocation to Vienna, where the 21 year old musician was scheduled to study under the eminent composer Joseph Haydn.

The collection of epigrams, poetry, and personal messages – solicited by Koch and Degenhart from frequent patrons of the Zehrgarten – began some eight or nine days before Beethoven’s departure, concluding on November 1, 1792, at which time it is believed the Stammbuch was presented to the composer during a celebratory sendoff held at the tavern. Beethoven was known to have cherished the autograph book – it was discovered among his possessions following his death in 1827.

Von Struve’s entry, which contains a quote from the noted philosopher Moses Mendelssohn, (father to both Felix and Fanny) is dated 30 October.[2]

It reads:

“Bestimmung des Menschen.

Wahrheit erkennen, Schönheit lieben,
Gutes wollen, das Beste thun.
Bonn den 30ten October 1792.

Denk, auch ferne, zuweilen Deines
wahren aufrichtigen Freundes

Heinr. Struve aus Regensbrg.
in Russisch Kaiserl.”

Translated into English:[3]

“Bonn, October 30th, 1792

The Purpose of Mankind

To discern Wisdom, to love Beauty,
To desire Good, to do the Best.

Think occasionally from afar
Of your sincere friend,

Heinr. Struve from Regensburg,
In the Russian Imperial Service."

This brief note is followed by an illustration by von Struve of two entwined wreaths: one wound with roses, the other with ripe grapes, representing the blossoms of youth, and the fruit of wisdom in "ripe, old age."[4]  Von Struve borrowed the first two verses from Mendelssohn’s entry in the Stammbuch of Norwegian artist Jacob Peter Hersleb.

At present, there are no further details on the new acquisitions at Bonn. The documents were acquired with the aid of the NRW Ministry of Culture, the Cultural Commissioner of the Federal Government and the Cultural Foundation of Länder. 

Listen below to a recording of English lyric tenor John Mark Ainsley perform Beethoven's “Ruf vom Berge” (wo0 147):

Footnotes / links:
[1]Letter sold by Berlin auction house Stargart for €140,000 on 6th June 2012 under lot no. 589.
Official register for 2012 and background

[2]Ludwig van Beethoven (Große Komponisten), Thayer, Alexander Wheelock
[3,4]Letters to Beethoven and Other Correspondence: 1824-1828 pp. 22, ed. Albrecht, Theodore
External Links:

Friday, 17 August 2018


Late maestro Claudio Abbado's illustrious tenure as chief conductor and artistic director of the Berlin Philharmonic is being celebrated today with the launch of a limited edition, 60-CD box set featuring the complete Deutsche Grammophon recordings:

To order, and for a detailed track listing, visit Presto Classical or Amazon.

Abbado is an Unraveling Musical Myths favorite - to learn more about this esteemed maestro, visit the Claudio Abbado archives.

- Rose.

Sunday, 12 August 2018


Image: Abu Dhabi Classics

The world renowned Bayreuth Festival is set to make history on the international stage with a historic performance of Wagner’s famous 1870 opera Die Walküre (The Valkyrie), the second installment of the composer’s Teutonic four-opera Ring Cycle, which is scheduled to be held at the iconic Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi, the Undersecretary of the UAE’s Department of Culture and Tourism (DCT) announced Friday.

The performance and it’s encore, scheduled for 30 January and 1 February 2019, respectively, will mark the first time in the much lauded festival’s 142 years that a staging will take place outside of Germany. Landing tickets for one of the summer season's 30 operatic performances held in the historic Bayreuth Festspielhaus theater remains a notoriously difficult feat: with an excess of 500,000 requests annually (for a venue that seats only 60,000), many Wagnerite hopefuls without an “in” can wait years – up to a decade is not unheard of – to score a seat in the theater designed by Wagner himself.

The landmark performance of Die Walküre, under the direction of great-grand daughter to the composer and present opera stage-director/co-director of the Bayreuth Festival, Katharina Wagner, will feature a cinematic montage related to Der Ring des Nibelungen during the performance, which will roll in real time, appearing on a screen set up behind the orchestra, in addition to the world premiere of a feature-length film, directed by Katherina, of The Valkyrie.

DCT Abu Dhabi Undersecretary Said Saif Saeed Ghobash underscored what a coup such a historic performance means to the UAE, and what the premiere international staging will offer the eastern hotspot:

“We have been working with Katharina Wagner for many years to bring this project to fruition, and it is truly unique. The Bayreuth Festival is coming to Abu Dhabi with a production reflecting its outstanding artistic quality and innovative vision which at the same time proves that Abu Dhabi is a platform for world-class cultural offerings.”

Die Walküre Abu Dhabi is funded under the patronage of Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Ticket prices range from AED 200 – AED 1195, and can be purchased through Ticketmaster and Virgin Megastores across the UAE.

Listen below to Siegmund's gorgeous aria "Winterstürme wichen dem Wonnemond," from Act I of Richard Wagner's Die Walküre (Jonas Kaufmann performs):

Further reading (external/internal links):
  • Located in NSW? Members of the International Association of Richard Wagner Societies are being given special access to advance bookings (hotel package + tickets) Contact information here

Internal links:
- Rose.

Friday, 10 August 2018


Richard and Cosima Wagner share an embrace
The Haus Wahnfried museum at Bayreuth has received a priceless acquisition – that of an engraved baton once owned by its esteemed former resident, Richard Wagner.

The long-lost relic was famously used by the 19th century Romantic icon to direct an intimate group of musicians, who had gathered at the foot of the staircase at the Wagner family villa in Lucerne on Christmas morning 1870, to perform a tender orchestral tribute from husband to wife on the anniversary of Mrs. Wagner's birth.[1] The music: the tender symphonic poem we know today as the Siegfried Idyll.

Originally titled “Tribschen-Idyll, with Fidi-Birdsong and Orange Sunrise,” the famous piece would later become known as “Siegfried Idyll,” after a cash strapped Wagner, frequently surmounted by debts, was forced to sell the score to the German publishing firm B. Schot in November 1877, much to the chagrin of wife Cosima - to whom the piece was dedicated - who reportedly “wept” at the very thought of making public such a private ode to herself and her family. Taking to her diary, she expressed her sorrows: 

“The secret treasure is to become public property – may the pleasure others take in it match the sacrifice I am making!"

One quickly gets an idea of just how personal this piece was to Cosima by examining it’s original name: “Fidi” was the name coined by the couple to address their young son; the “orange sunrise” may have been indicative of the morning son illuminating the family home, known as “Tribschen,”
and the delicate German lullaby, “Schlaf, Kindlein, Schlaf” (“Sleep, baby, Sleep,”) which the couple frequently sang to their daughter, Eva, also makes an appearance in the piece, represented by an oboe.

The Tribschen Idyll was performed twice that Christmas morning: the first performance, at dawn, which roused Cosima from her sleep, followed by a later encore after the family sat for breakfast.

The Mrs. recorded a play by play of the impromptu birthday surprise in her diary later that day:

“As I awoke, my ear caught a sound, which swelled fuller and fuller; no longer could I imagine myself to be dreaming: music was sounding, and such music! When it died away, Richard came into my room with the children and offered me the score of the symphonic birthday poem. I was in tears, but so were all the rest of the household. Richard had arranged his orchestra on the staircase, and thus was our Tribschen consecrated forever.”

The performance itself, organized in occulto with 17 members of the Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich (each musician hand-selected by Richard), included close family friend, the conductor Hans Richter in attendance, who had taken it upon himself to learn basic fingerings on the trumpet for the occasion, moving Cosima to include a reference to the musician in her famous diary:

“Now at last I understood all R’s working in secret, also dear [Hans] Richter’s trumpet (he blazed out the Siegfried theme splendidly and had learnt the trumpet especially to do it), which had won him many admonishments from me. "Now let me die," I exclaimed to R. "It would be easier to die for me than to live for me," he replied.”

Such tales of romance continue to surround the Siegfried Idyll, even today.

Late last month, it was announced the baton, used by Wagner that fateful morning in 1870, had surfaced in the safe deposit box of a woman living in Nebraska, USA.

That woman is Hannah Jo Smith, a member of the faculty of music at Doane University in Crete.

Smith revealed that it was she who was in possession of the long lost prized relic, and announced to the press of her decision to return the artifact to the Richard Wagner Museum (Haus Wahnfried) at Bayreuth during the 2018 Bayreuther Festspiele, a celebration of the operas of Wagner held annually in the Bavarian city. 

Close up of engraving commemorating the date of the first performance of the
Tribschen (Siegfried) Idyll | Photo by Genevieve Randall, NET

During a brief educational tour, Smith recounted how she came to be in possession of the baton, beginning with it’s remarkable finding by an American soldier, Bob Pearson, who happened upon the treasure whilst rummaging though the rubble of the heavily damaged Haus Wahnfried (which served as the Wagner’s former home.)

Much of the residence at Bayreuth suffered catastrophic damage following allied bombing by USAF forces during the Second World War, including the living area, guestroom and the rear of the residence. It was among these shattered remains - which destroyed many Wagner furnishings, including the maestro’s writing desk – that the baton, still in one piece, and bearing the engraving “DEN 25. DECEMBER 1870.” was espied by Pearson.

According to a passage in Cosima’s famous diary, the engraving was her doing: she noted that she had the baton sent off to be engraved as a token of remembrance for the touching performance – it would return to her some six weeks later.[2]

Perhaps unaware of the priceless relic’s value, Pearson would later trade the baton for the letters of the English novelist Aldous Huxley. That man, a family friend, gave the baton to Smith, who locked it away in a safe deposit box in Lincoln.

Such has been the 148-year journey of the Tribschen baton. Smith, now 62, her father, and Pearson since passed, made the decision to “divest” after consulting with her family.

The Tribschen-Idyll baton comes full circle, returning from whence it came, to
the Haus Wahnfried at Bayreuth. Pictured here before its return home
Photo by Genevieve Randall, NET

Alongside Anita Breckbill, Music Librarian at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Smith held a conference on the 27th of July at the International Association of Music Libraries in Leipzig, the city of Wagner’s birth. Then, in an especially poignant ceremony at Bayreuth on the last day of the month, the long lost baton came home to rest from whence it came – sat atop a cushion of plush red velvet, the small, wooden ‘instrument’ was welcomed home by maestro Christian Thielemann, who conducted - with the prized relic - none other than the Siegfried Idyll.

The baton is now part of the curated collection of Wagner artifacts at Haus Wahnfried.

And to that, I say, welcome home. 

*Update - 27 November, 2018: This article has been minorly amended to correct the following errors:
  • The American soldier Pearson (who discovered the baton) was incorrectly identified as "Ben" - this has been changed to "Bob." 
  • The baton was in fact returned to Wahnfried by Smith for its permanent collection (not simply on loan.)
  • Maestro Thielemann in fact conducted with the actual baton itself at Wahnfriel Saal. This has been changed from the use of his own baton.
Thank you to Anita Breckbill for the clarifications.

Listen below to maestro Christian Thielemann conduct Orchester der Deutschen Oper Berlin in a tender performance of the famous Siegfried Idyll:

Did You Know?

  • The Richard Wagner Museum and former family home, the “Haus Wahnfried,” was so named by the composer himself. “Wahnfried” is what is known as a German compound word: one which takes two individual words and combines them together to create a new word. In this instance: “Wahn,” which stands for "madness," or "delusion," is paired with “Fried,” which means “peace,” or “freedom.”

    An engraving above the entryway greets visitors to Haus Wahnfried – it was coined by Wagner, and translates roughly to “Here, where my troubled thoughts found rest / is this place “Wahnfried" named at my behest."
  • Receiving Wagner’s baton is just one of many historical milestones of which maestro Thielemann has bared witness. In 2013, the celebrated German conductor became the first in his field to conduct Wagner’s early operas at Bayreuth, Rienzi, Die Feen and Das Liebesverbot, all of which had previously been banned by Cosima following Wagner’s death – a result of Wagner having expressed his distaste for the works.

[1] Cosima was born on December 24, 1837, but chose to celebrate her birthday on the 25th, to coincide with Christmas.
[2]"Thursday, February 2, 1871...Arrival of the engraved baton from the Idyll" - Cosima Wagner; Cosima Wagner's Diaries Volume I 1869-1877, pp. 331, Harcourt Press

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Tuesday, 7 August 2018


Scholars at the University of Pisa have recently announced they have new “evidence” which would place famed Hungarian pianist and composer Franz Liszt in Italy, where it is now believed the musician performed the first known solo performance for piano, later known as the “solo recital”[1] in Pisa, in 1839.

If correct, the “discovery” will re-write music history as we know it: it has been a long held belief that this musical milestone was achieved by the musician one year later, in 1840, at the Hanover Square Rooms in London.[2] The 1839 theory has made the rounds for some time, however there has yet to be any conclusive evidence that would support such a claim.

At present, there is little to report on this development, however Unraveling Musical Myths will be actively following this story and an update will be provided when further information becomes available. 

What we do know thus far, as gleaned from the University of Pisa website, is that the University cites the discovery of a Graf fortepiano, believed to have been played by Liszt, which had been in the possession of one Cardella family. Musicologist Mariateresa Storino spoke with faculty at the University early last month of “documents related” to the instrument which conclude “for the first time” a clear corroboration with the written testimony of the musician’s one time travel companion and mother to his three children (including Cosima, who would marry Richard Wagner) the Countess Marie D’Agoult, who placed him in Pisa in March, 1839.

These elusive documents, which have yet to be revealed on the international circuit, are the end result of a two year long research project, set up as a competition (with the granting of a research award as the prize) by the
Center for the Dissemination of Culture and Musical Practice at the University. The project was led by Storino and funded by the educational institution and the Agenzia Generale UnipolSAI divisione SAI di Pisa.

An archival reveal, in addition to any other evidence, the University has announced, is forthcoming.

Read more about this story on the University of Pisa website here. (article in Italian) 

*UPDATE - NOVEMBER 24, 2018:


[1]Liszt initially planned to coin the previously unknown phenomenon of the solo performer as one who practiced “soliloquies.” By his first performance (now contested) in 1840, he had changed the title to “pianoforte recital,” (a designation believed to have been the brainchild of Frederick Beale of the London music publishing firm of Cramer, Beale, & Addison) which dumbfounded his audience when he introduced the performance as such, prompting one quizzical critic to utter “What does he mean? How can one recite upon the piano?”

It didn’t take long, however, for the audience to understand, and even less time to become hooked: Liszt would enter superstar status, attracting crowds large enough to overflow packed concert halls, complete with hordes of women breaking into hysteria and succumbing to bouts of syncope in what would become known colloquially as “Lisztomania” (à la German poet Heinrich Heine.)
[2]The Musical Times, April 1, 1902, p. 232: Liszt's early solo recitals in London, 1840 (includes contemporary critical review) (JSTOR)

Saturday, 4 August 2018


Chopin, c.1847. This daguerreotype,
discovered in 2017 in a "private
residence" by a Swiss Physicist is
one of only three known authentic
likenesses of the composer. Read
more about this incredible discovery
here on Unraveling Musical Myths
The 2010’s are one more proving to be a time of great development for Chopin – the recent announcement by Poland’s Fryderyk Chopin Institute (NIFC) of its intention to install it’s homegrown hero into the annals of digital history by making Chopin the first ever composer to have his entire oeuvre digitized (by 2020); to the appearance of an alleged ‘final’ post-mortem ‘(re)analysis’ and it’s conclusion in the pages of the American Journal of Medicine in 2014, and late 2017, respectively, and now, the announcement of a new concert hall to be built in the small village of Żelazowa Wola in Poland (some fifty kilometers outside of Warsaw), the city where the composer was born in 1810.

It won’t be just a concert hall that will be changing the landscape of the quaint suburb - the hall itself is merely one part of a larger project to build an “International Music Center” named after Chopin, consisting of a recording studio, chamber hall, rehearsal rooms and both educational and conference facilities. The concert hall itself is large enough to house at least 100 musicians and will seat 650 people, with construction on the project, which begins at the end of 2019 expecting to conclude by 2021.

 *CLICK TO ENLARGE* Interior (l) and exterior (r) of proposed design (mock up) | Designer's materials

The building’s sleek design will blend futuristic European architecture into the idyllic forested landscape surrounding the Chopin family manor (now part of a designated historic park and garden landscape, the “Park-Memorial,” built in the early 20th century). It was designed by the architectural firm Stelmach & Partners out of Lublin, who had previously worked on the property: winning a competition in 2006 to redesign the park adjacent to the Chopin museum at Żelazowa Wola, and later, its co-owner, Boleslaw Stelmach, designed the Chopin Centre at Warsaw in 2010.

The firm’s autonomy over the "Chopin International Music Center" of 2021 was also the direct result of having won an International competition – in this instance, to design a non-imposing concert hall and cultural institute honoring Chopin on the historic family estate at Żelazowa Wola. The contest was launched in 2017 by the NIFC and attracted over 200 designs from hopeful architectural firms spread out across the globe (some 18 countries took part). The competition was fierce: see this impressive proposal by the firm known as ELEMENT, published at the end of June on archdaily:

In the end, the winning design was that of a clear glass exterior with an interior palette comprised of neutral tones, keeping with the naturalistic flow of the well-kempt property, and ensuring that it is the music of Poland’s greatest musical export which takes center stage.

A graphic from an advert for the contest launched in 2017 by the Fryderyk Chopin Institute.

The estimated total cost of the project is PLN 80 mln (EUR 12 million). The PLN 200,000 (EUR 116,000) prize money received by Stelmach & Partners will make a small dent in what is soon to become the architectural embodiment of a priceless fortune.

Listen below to a stunning performance of Chopin's Piano Sonata No. 3 in B minor, exquisitely performed by a young Evgeny Kissin:

Read more:

(Internal links):
- Rose.