Discussion:
Happy Birthday, Richard W.
(too old to reply)
p***@gmail.com
2017-05-23 03:10:22 UTC
Permalink
Raw Message
Every year on this day I reflect on how Wagner changed my life, from the day I discovered his music at the age of fifteen. Thank you, Richard, for all the joy you have given me over all these years. Even now, I discover new revelations when I listen
to your music. I can never get enough. Happy birthday.
Mike Scott Rohan
2017-05-26 12:54:52 UTC
Permalink
Raw Message
Post by p***@gmail.com
Every year on this day I reflect on how Wagner changed my life, from the day I discovered his music at the age of fifteen. Thank you, Richard, for all the joy you have given me over all these years. Even now, I discover new revelations when I listen
to your music. I can never get enough. Happy birthday.
Hard to argue with that, although like many Wagnerians I occasionally react against aspects, both of the creation and the man himself. He's part of a richer world, not the centre of it -- no more than any other great artist. But wouldn't it be a poorer one without him? Imagine if all the subsequent generation of composers had followed Brahms instead....

Cheers,

Mike
Herman van der Woude
2017-05-26 13:16:17 UTC
Permalink
Raw Message
Post by Mike Scott Rohan
Post by p***@gmail.com
Every year on this day I reflect on how Wagner changed my life, from the day
I discovered his music at the age of fifteen. Thank you, Richard, for all
the joy you have given me over all these years. Even now, I discover new
revelations when I listen to your music. I can never get enough. Happy
birthday.
Hard to argue with that, although like many Wagnerians I occasionally react
against aspects, both of the creation and the man himself. He's part of a
richer world, not the centre of it -- no more than any other great artist.
But wouldn't it be a poorer one without him? Imagine if all the subsequent
generation of composers had followed Brahms instead....
Cheers,
Mike
A lot of composers would have written music in a very different way -
if at all. Just to mention a few at random who were influenced by
Wagner: Bruckner, Mahler, Elgar, Delius, Zweers (a Dutch composer), not
to forget Webern, Schoenberg, Debussy or Shostakovich. The real list if
one would make a list, would be un-endless long, I suppose.
However I am on your side when you say that is not the centre of the
world. He did help to shape music culture as it is today, as well as
did Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms, Liszt and Berlioz. Without Wagner we
would not have lived in a richer or a poorer world, but in a different
one, and no one can tell what the world would have sounded like,
because we have Wagner's music.
--
Met vriendelijke groet,
Cheers,
Herman van der Woude
Richard Partridge
2017-05-26 18:14:21 UTC
Permalink
Raw Message
On 5/26/17 8:54 AM, Mike Scott Rohan, at
Post by Mike Scott Rohan
Post by p***@gmail.com
Every year on this day I reflect on how Wagner changed my life, from the day
I discovered his music at the age of fifteen. Thank you, Richard, for all the
joy you have given me over all these years. Even now, I discover new
revelations when I listen
to your music. I can never get enough. Happy birthday.
Hard to argue with that, although like many Wagnerians I occasionally react
against aspects, both of the creation and the man himself. He's part of a
richer world, not the centre of it -- no more than any other great artist. But
wouldn't it be a poorer one without him? Imagine if all the subsequent
generation of composers had followed Brahms instead....
Cheers,
Mike
Hey! I like Brahms a lot! But I like Wagner a lot better. A world without
Wagner's operas would have a big hole in it.


Dick Partridge
Mike Scott Rohan
2017-05-27 16:37:28 UTC
Permalink
Raw Message
Post by Richard Partridge
Hey! I like Brahms a lot! But I like Wagner a lot better. A world without
Wagner's operas would have a big hole in it.
Dick Partridge
I like a lot of Brahms, too -- and I'm married to someone who likes more, so I get to appreciate it. What I was talking about was influences. Brahms was essentially and temperamentally backward-looking, especially to early and mid-period Beethoven. He was not exactly academic himself, but he appealed strongly to the academic school, both in his lack of harmonic and structural innovation, and his preference for "pure music" over dramatic music, always a prime requirement for intellectual snobbery. It's no accident that he occasionally contemplated opera (including one about gold-mining in the Yukon, apparently) but never came near creating one; not only was it not in him, but he seems to have thought it slightly vulgar. It all made him a very handy stick to beat Wagner with -- "why can't you write proper music like that nice Mr.Brahms?"

So suppose he had been the model for the next generation of composers? No free structures, no exploratory harmonies -- not just the Tristan chord but the whole harmonic world of the Ring -- no expressive nature-painting? No music-dramas, no tone -poems, little that moved beyond the walls of the concert hall or recital room? Imagine Debussy without the influence of "old Klingsor", or the whole flourishing of nationalist composers like Sibelius, who would have been cramped into the formal Germanic model. Where would Mahler have been, and Bruckner? And of course Strauss? Without the liberating influence of Wagner even Verdi would have still been considered a mere barrel-organ composer. Admittedly Brahms' influence did no harm to his protege Dvorak, but even so it was discovering Wagner as well that really liberated his potential. Likewise Rimsky-Korsakov in Russia, as opposed to the Germanic school represented by Rubinstein; where would his pupils such as Stravinsky and Glazounov have been? It doesn't bear thinking about. Even composers who hardly resembled Wagner, like Elgar and Vaughan Williams, or resented him, were still nevertheless influenced by him. Some of his influence was undoubtedly awful, of course; many mediocre composers simply imitated his worst aspects, and even many good ones had to go through a phase of Wagner-imitation, get it out of their systems as it were. But it didn't leave them unchanged. Would Brahms have achieved that? Or, more likely, would he have settled like a sedative mist over everything burgeoning and new? I can imagine that only too easily.

Cheers,

Mike
Richard Partridge
2017-05-27 17:18:27 UTC
Permalink
Raw Message
On 5/27/17 12:37 PM, Mike Scott Rohan, at
Post by Mike Scott Rohan
Post by Richard Partridge
Hey! I like Brahms a lot! But I like Wagner a lot better. A world without
Wagner's operas would have a big hole in it.
Dick Partridge
I like a lot of Brahms, too -- and I'm married to someone who likes more, so I
get to appreciate it. What I was talking about was influences. Brahms was
essentially and temperamentally backward-looking, especially to early and
mid-period Beethoven. He was not exactly academic himself, but he appealed
strongly to the academic school, both in his lack of harmonic and structural
innovation, and his preference for "pure music" over dramatic music, always a
prime requirement for intellectual snobbery. It's no accident that he
occasionally contemplated opera (including one about gold-mining in the Yukon,
apparently) but never came near creating one; not only was it not in him, but
he seems to have thought it slightly vulgar. It all made him a very handy
stick to beat Wagner with -- "why can't you write proper music like that nice
Mr.Brahms?"
So suppose he had been the model for the next generation of composers? No free
structures, no exploratory harmonies -- not just the Tristan chord but the
whole harmonic world of the Ring -- no expressive nature-painting? No
music-dramas, no tone -poems, little that moved beyond the walls of the
concert hall or recital room? Imagine Debussy without the influence of "old
Klingsor", or the whole flourishing of nationalist composers like Sibelius,
who would have been cramped into the formal Germanic model. Where would Mahler
have been, and Bruckner? And of course Strauss? Without the liberating
influence of Wagner even Verdi would have still been considered a mere
barrel-organ composer. Admittedly Brahms' influence did no harm to his protege
Dvorak, but even so it was discovering Wagner as well that really liberated
his potential. Likewise Rimsky-Korsakov in Russia, as opposed to the Germanic
school represented by Rubinstein; where would his pupils such as Stravinsky
and Glazounov have been? It doesn't bear thinking about. Even composers who
hardly resembled Wagner, like Elgar and Vaughan Williams, or resented him,
were still nevertheless influenced by him. Some of his influence was
undoubtedly awful, of course; many mediocre composers simply imitated his
worst aspects, and even many good ones had to go through a phase of
Wagner-imitation, get it out of their systems as it were. But it didn't leave
them unchanged. Would Brahms have achieved that? Or, more likely, would he
have settled like a sedative mist over everything burgeoning and new? I can
imagine that only too easily.
Cheers,
Mike
I don't know nearly enough about music to add to what you wrote, but don't
you think if it hadn't been Wagner, someone else would have come along? The
evolution of music would have continued somehow, and one way or another we
would have gotten to the present situation, where just as no artist tries to
paint pretty pictures, and no architect tries to design pretty buildings,
hardly any composer (except in an Ayn Rand novel) tries to write pretty
music any more.

Dick Partridge
Mike Scott Rohan
2017-06-06 14:18:29 UTC
Permalink
Raw Message
Post by Richard Partridge
I don't know nearly enough about music to add to what you wrote, but don't
you think if it hadn't been Wagner, someone else would have come along? The
evolution of music would have continued somehow, and one way or another we
would have gotten to the present situation, where just as no artist tries to
paint pretty pictures, and no architect tries to design pretty buildings,
hardly any composer (except in an Ayn Rand novel) tries to write pretty
music any more.
Dick Partridge
Well, I don't know that much compared to an awful lot of people, and you probably know more than you give yourself credit for. Sometimes Wagner's influence is largely technical, in the actual construction of harmonies, for example, or orchestration, but it's also there for the listening. Compare the music of Wagner's contemporaries, Mendelssohn and Schumann for example, with that of the next -- Strauss and Debussy, among many. The contrast is almost explosive, a sense of liberation, of expansive freedom and intense drama, extra depth of colour, complexity, nuance. Sometimes, as with Liszt and Verdi, you can hear the transition in the same composer's career -- yes, even with Verdi! Amazingly, that is almost entirely Wagner's work.

True, other composers had been experimenting and developing their language; but the development would have been much slower, more cautious, more easily suppressed by academic stuffiness; Wagner's force of personality pushed it all through in one lifetime. And he also gave music a sweeping dramatic potential which even Beethoven and Berlioz only anticipated, and which Brahms, for all his mellow virtues, simply didn't have. No wonder younger composers, even thoroughly academic ones like Tchaikovsky, grew impatient with him ("Christ, what a giftless bastard the man is!"). Unfair, but Brahms was too apt a weapon in the hands of obstructionists like Hanslick.

Brahms simply wasn't made to be a comparable inspiration. Whereas even composers whom you wouldn't associate with Wagner often went through an early Wagnerian phase, so powerful they almost seemed drunk on it, even when they outgrew him later. Debussy is one obvious case, with his famous remark when writing Pelleas that he had to watch out for "Old Klingsor" on every page -- yet he does in fact quote Parsifal once, and comes very near it elsewhere. An even more extreme reaction, of course, is Schoenberg's, from the very Wagnerian Gurrelieder and Tristanesque Verklarte Nacht to arid serialism.

But less likely Wagnerians include the extremely English Holst, best known of course for the Planets, and for later more small-scale works. He went through a Wagner phase so strong that he created several Wagnerian works, notably a huge operatic cycle Sita, based on the Ramayana. I've heard bits of it, and apart from his ghastly libretto, which reads like early Ring translations, it's really rather good; you can get some idea of how it sounds from his later tone-poem Indra, about the god who drives off the drought-demon to bring the monsoon:



Or Elgar, for example, more Brahmsian than Wagnerian symphonically -- but the opening numbers of his breakthrough work, the cantata King Olaf, are definitely Wagner-bitten:

(rather a weedy recording, unfortunately, but the best I could find online; the Andrew Davis one on Chandos is much better)

And Grieg's abortive opera about the same character, Olaf Tryggvason, is one of the clearest examples of Wagner fever, while remaining highly individual:




You probably know Sibelius's Swan of Tuonela; but did you know that it was originally the prelude for a mythological opera, Veen Luominen (The Building of the Boat) conceived in a long-lasting daze after experiencing the Ring at Bayreuth? With the Finnish national hero Vainamoinen reconceived as a Siegfried-like figure.

And, as I said, you can hear similar transitions in composers like Rimsky and even Dvorak, who owed so much to Brahms. Of course, being great talents in their own right, they all had to get over Wagnerism to establish their own identities; Holst cheerfully mocked Wagner in his opera The Perfect Fool. But almost always, to an extraordinary extent, Wagnerism was the catalyst. Puccini's famous parallel fifths in Boheme, lambasted by Hanslick, were ultimately the product of Wagner's liberating influence. Vaughan Williams said hearing Wagner was like reencountering something you'd always known. And even Britten, who adored Schumann and was disparaging about Wagner, betrays his influence, particularly in Billy Budd.

Yes, much of this might have happened anyway; but not all together, and not as fast, not as thrillingly. In short, as with only a few other composers, you can say (to steal an good line) that if Wagner hadn't existed it would have been necessary to invent him.

Cheers,

Mike
Richard Partridge
2017-06-06 17:59:45 UTC
Permalink
Raw Message
On 6/6/17 10:18 AM, Mike Scott Rohan, at
Post by Mike Scott Rohan
Post by Richard Partridge
I don't know nearly enough about music to add to what you wrote, but don't
you think if it hadn't been Wagner, someone else would have come along? The
evolution of music would have continued somehow, and one way or another we
would have gotten to the present situation, where just as no artist tries to
paint pretty pictures, and no architect tries to design pretty buildings,
hardly any composer (except in an Ayn Rand novel) tries to write pretty
music any more.
Dick Partridge
Well, I don't know that much compared to an awful lot of people, and you
probably know more than you give yourself credit for. Sometimes Wagner's
influence is largely technical, in the actual construction of harmonies, for
example, or orchestration, but it's also there for the listening. Compare the
music of Wagner's contemporaries, Mendelssohn and Schumann for example, with
that of the next -- Strauss and Debussy, among many. The contrast is almost
explosive, a sense of liberation, of expansive freedom and intense drama,
extra depth of colour, complexity, nuance. Sometimes, as with Liszt and Verdi,
you can hear the transition in the same composer's career -- yes, even with
Verdi! Amazingly, that is almost entirely Wagner's work.
True, other composers had been experimenting and developing their language;
but the development would have been much slower, more cautious, more easily
suppressed by academic stuffiness; Wagner's force of personality pushed it all
through in one lifetime. And he also gave music a sweeping dramatic potential
which even Beethoven and Berlioz only anticipated, and which Brahms, for all
his mellow virtues, simply didn't have. No wonder younger composers, even
thoroughly academic ones like Tchaikovsky, grew impatient with him ("Christ,
what a giftless bastard the man is!"). Unfair, but Brahms was too apt a weapon
in the hands of obstructionists like Hanslick.
Brahms simply wasn't made to be a comparable inspiration. Whereas even
composers whom you wouldn't associate with Wagner often went through an early
Wagnerian phase, so powerful they almost seemed drunk on it, even when they
outgrew him later. Debussy is one obvious case, with his famous remark when
writing Pelleas that he had to watch out for "Old Klingsor" on every page --
yet he does in fact quote Parsifal once, and comes very near it elsewhere. An
even more extreme reaction, of course, is Schoenberg's, from the very
Wagnerian Gurrelieder and Tristanesque Verklarte Nacht to arid serialism.
But less likely Wagnerians include the extremely English Holst, best known of
course for the Planets, and for later more small-scale works. He went through
a Wagner phase so strong that he created several Wagnerian works, notably a
huge operatic cycle Sita, based on the Ramayana. I've heard bits of it, and
apart from his ghastly libretto, which reads like early Ring translations,
it's really rather good; you can get some idea of how it sounds from his later
tone-poem Indra, about the god who drives off the drought-demon to bring the
http://youtu.be/K82ukc5sF1k
Or Elgar, for example, more Brahmsian than Wagnerian symphonically -- but the
opening numbers of his breakthrough work, the cantata King Olaf, are
http://youtu.be/_-kgKJ5Yw1Y (rather a weedy recording, unfortunately, but the
best I could find online; the Andrew Davis one on Chandos is much better)
And Grieg's abortive opera about the same character, Olaf Tryggvason, is one
http://youtu.be/mcXxV96_Zio
You probably know Sibelius's Swan of Tuonela; but did you know that it was
originally the prelude for a mythological opera, Veen Luominen (The Building
of the Boat) conceived in a long-lasting daze after experiencing the Ring at
Bayreuth? With the Finnish national hero Vainamoinen reconceived as a
Siegfried-like figure.
And, as I said, you can hear similar transitions in composers like Rimsky and
even Dvorak, who owed so much to Brahms. Of course, being great talents in
their own right, they all had to get over Wagnerism to establish their own
identities; Holst cheerfully mocked Wagner in his opera The Perfect Fool. But
almost always, to an extraordinary extent, Wagnerism was the catalyst.
Puccini's famous parallel fifths in Boheme, lambasted by Hanslick, were
ultimately the product of Wagner's liberating influence. Vaughan Williams said
hearing Wagner was like reencountering something you'd always known. And even
Britten, who adored Schumann and was disparaging about Wagner, betrays his
influence, particularly in Billy Budd.
Yes, much of this might have happened anyway; but not all together, and not as
fast, not as thrillingly. In short, as with only a few other composers, you
can say (to steal an good line) that if Wagner hadn't existed it would have
been necessary to invent him.
Cheers,
Mike
You make a very compelling case, and I'm sure you're right.

I have sometimes wondered what it would have been like to be at the first
performance of Das Rheingold at Bayreuth. In those days no phonographs were
commercially available and unless people had bought sheet music and played
something on the piano, they were in for an experience that nothing in their
previous exposure to music could have prepared them for. They must have
been amazed to see what an orchestra could do.

Dick Partridge
Mike Scott Rohan
2017-06-07 22:54:49 UTC
Permalink
Raw Message
Post by Richard Partridge
On 6/6/17 10:18 AM, Mike Scott Rohan, at
Post by Mike Scott Rohan
Post by Richard Partridge
I don't know nearly enough about music to add to what you wrote, but don't
you think if it hadn't been Wagner, someone else would have come along? The
evolution of music would have continued somehow, and one way or another we
would have gotten to the present situation, where just as no artist tries to
paint pretty pictures, and no architect tries to design pretty buildings,
hardly any composer (except in an Ayn Rand novel) tries to write pretty
music any more.
Dick Partridge
Well, I don't know that much compared to an awful lot of people, and you
probably know more than you give yourself credit for. Sometimes Wagner's
influence is largely technical, in the actual construction of harmonies, for
example, or orchestration, but it's also there for the listening. Compare the
music of Wagner's contemporaries, Mendelssohn and Schumann for example, with
that of the next -- Strauss and Debussy, among many. The contrast is almost
explosive, a sense of liberation, of expansive freedom and intense drama,
extra depth of colour, complexity, nuance. Sometimes, as with Liszt and Verdi,
you can hear the transition in the same composer's career -- yes, even with
Verdi! Amazingly, that is almost entirely Wagner's work.
True, other composers had been experimenting and developing their language;
but the development would have been much slower, more cautious, more easily
suppressed by academic stuffiness; Wagner's force of personality pushed it all
through in one lifetime. And he also gave music a sweeping dramatic potential
which even Beethoven and Berlioz only anticipated, and which Brahms, for all
his mellow virtues, simply didn't have. No wonder younger composers, even
thoroughly academic ones like Tchaikovsky, grew impatient with him ("Christ,
what a giftless bastard the man is!"). Unfair, but Brahms was too apt a weapon
in the hands of obstructionists like Hanslick.
Brahms simply wasn't made to be a comparable inspiration. Whereas even
composers whom you wouldn't associate with Wagner often went through an early
Wagnerian phase, so powerful they almost seemed drunk on it, even when they
outgrew him later. Debussy is one obvious case, with his famous remark when
writing Pelleas that he had to watch out for "Old Klingsor" on every page --
yet he does in fact quote Parsifal once, and comes very near it elsewhere. An
even more extreme reaction, of course, is Schoenberg's, from the very
Wagnerian Gurrelieder and Tristanesque Verklarte Nacht to arid serialism.
But less likely Wagnerians include the extremely English Holst, best known of
course for the Planets, and for later more small-scale works. He went through
a Wagner phase so strong that he created several Wagnerian works, notably a
huge operatic cycle Sita, based on the Ramayana. I've heard bits of it, and
apart from his ghastly libretto, which reads like early Ring translations,
it's really rather good; you can get some idea of how it sounds from his later
tone-poem Indra, about the god who drives off the drought-demon to bring the
http://youtu.be/K82ukc5sF1k
Or Elgar, for example, more Brahmsian than Wagnerian symphonically -- but the
opening numbers of his breakthrough work, the cantata King Olaf, are
http://youtu.be/_-kgKJ5Yw1Y (rather a weedy recording, unfortunately, but the
best I could find online; the Andrew Davis one on Chandos is much better)
And Grieg's abortive opera about the same character, Olaf Tryggvason, is one
http://youtu.be/mcXxV96_Zio
You probably know Sibelius's Swan of Tuonela; but did you know that it was
originally the prelude for a mythological opera, Veen Luominen (The Building
of the Boat) conceived in a long-lasting daze after experiencing the Ring at
Bayreuth? With the Finnish national hero Vainamoinen reconceived as a
Siegfried-like figure.
And, as I said, you can hear similar transitions in composers like Rimsky and
even Dvorak, who owed so much to Brahms. Of course, being great talents in
their own right, they all had to get over Wagnerism to establish their own
identities; Holst cheerfully mocked Wagner in his opera The Perfect Fool. But
almost always, to an extraordinary extent, Wagnerism was the catalyst.
Puccini's famous parallel fifths in Boheme, lambasted by Hanslick, were
ultimately the product of Wagner's liberating influence. Vaughan Williams said
hearing Wagner was like reencountering something you'd always known. And even
Britten, who adored Schumann and was disparaging about Wagner, betrays his
influence, particularly in Billy Budd.
Yes, much of this might have happened anyway; but not all together, and not as
fast, not as thrillingly. In short, as with only a few other composers, you
can say (to steal an good line) that if Wagner hadn't existed it would have
been necessary to invent him.
Cheers,
Mike
You make a very compelling case, and I'm sure you're right.
I have sometimes wondered what it would have been like to be at the first
performance of Das Rheingold at Bayreuth. In those days no phonographs were
commercially available and unless people had bought sheet music and played
something on the piano, they were in for an experience that nothing in their
previous exposure to music could have prepared them for. They must have
been amazed to see what an orchestra could do.
Dick Partridge
Especially a well-prepared one, which it certainly was at Bayreuth. Wagner's annoyance at Ludwig's Munich performances is often seen as an unprincipled hissy fit, but he may very well have been afraid of the damage a badly prepared orchestra could do to the reputation and chances of what he must have seen, rightly, as his ultimate breakthrough work. It's amusing to read Shaw's rebuke to the unimaginative string players who found the cascading figures of the Feuerzauber "impossible" to play as written. And the apprehension of those trying to mount the first British staging of Dutchman,positively sagging with relief when they found it wasn't really that incomprehensible after all.

It doesn't diminish your point to remember that a basic ability to play piano was much commoner then than it is now. C.S.Lewis, as an Edwardian child, fell in love with Arthur Rackham's illustrations -- then got hold of the piano scores and played through them incessantly, apparently without much difficulty. And he wasn't seriously studying music. Hence, too, the innumerable reductions and arrangements of the kind Wagner had to devil at in Paris -- at all levels. from Liszt's fiendish showpieces to pure parlour-dance stuff, of the kind gently parodied by Faure amd Chabrier in Souvenirs de Bayreuth. But even so, you're right; by all accounts the sheer orchestral splendour completely bowled over a lot of people! Oh, for time travel...

Cheers,

Mike
Richard Partridge
2017-06-08 18:37:44 UTC
Permalink
Raw Message
On 6/7/17 6:54 PM, Mike Scott Rohan, at
Post by Mike Scott Rohan
Post by Richard Partridge
On 6/6/17 10:18 AM, Mike Scott Rohan, at
Post by Mike Scott Rohan
Post by Richard Partridge
I don't know nearly enough about music to add to what you wrote, but don't
you think if it hadn't been Wagner, someone else would have come along?
The
evolution of music would have continued somehow, and one way or another we
would have gotten to the present situation, where just as no artist tries to
paint pretty pictures, and no architect tries to design pretty buildings,
hardly any composer (except in an Ayn Rand novel) tries to write pretty
music any more.
Dick Partridge
Well, I don't know that much compared to an awful lot of people, and you
probably know more than you give yourself credit for. Sometimes Wagner's
influence is largely technical, in the actual construction of harmonies, for
example, or orchestration, but it's also there for the listening. Compare the
music of Wagner's contemporaries, Mendelssohn and Schumann for example, with
that of the next -- Strauss and Debussy, among many. The contrast is almost
explosive, a sense of liberation, of expansive freedom and intense drama,
extra depth of colour, complexity, nuance. Sometimes, as with Liszt and Verdi,
you can hear the transition in the same composer's career -- yes, even with
Verdi! Amazingly, that is almost entirely Wagner's work.
True, other composers had been experimenting and developing their language;
but the development would have been much slower, more cautious, more easily
suppressed by academic stuffiness; Wagner's force of personality pushed it all
through in one lifetime. And he also gave music a sweeping dramatic potential
which even Beethoven and Berlioz only anticipated, and which Brahms, for all
his mellow virtues, simply didn't have. No wonder younger composers, even
thoroughly academic ones like Tchaikovsky, grew impatient with him ("Christ,
what a giftless bastard the man is!"). Unfair, but Brahms was too apt a weapon
in the hands of obstructionists like Hanslick.
Brahms simply wasn't made to be a comparable inspiration. Whereas even
composers whom you wouldn't associate with Wagner often went through an early
Wagnerian phase, so powerful they almost seemed drunk on it, even when they
outgrew him later. Debussy is one obvious case, with his famous remark when
writing Pelleas that he had to watch out for "Old Klingsor" on every page --
yet he does in fact quote Parsifal once, and comes very near it elsewhere. An
even more extreme reaction, of course, is Schoenberg's, from the very
Wagnerian Gurrelieder and Tristanesque Verklarte Nacht to arid serialism.
But less likely Wagnerians include the extremely English Holst, best known of
course for the Planets, and for later more small-scale works. He went through
a Wagner phase so strong that he created several Wagnerian works, notably a
huge operatic cycle Sita, based on the Ramayana. I've heard bits of it, and
apart from his ghastly libretto, which reads like early Ring translations,
it's really rather good; you can get some idea of how it sounds from his later
tone-poem Indra, about the god who drives off the drought-demon to bring the
http://youtu.be/K82ukc5sF1k
Or Elgar, for example, more Brahmsian than Wagnerian symphonically -- but the
opening numbers of his breakthrough work, the cantata King Olaf, are
http://youtu.be/_-kgKJ5Yw1Y (rather a weedy recording, unfortunately, but the
best I could find online; the Andrew Davis one on Chandos is much better)
And Grieg's abortive opera about the same character, Olaf Tryggvason, is one
http://youtu.be/mcXxV96_Zio
You probably know Sibelius's Swan of Tuonela; but did you know that it was
originally the prelude for a mythological opera, Veen Luominen (The Building
of the Boat) conceived in a long-lasting daze after experiencing the Ring at
Bayreuth? With the Finnish national hero Vainamoinen reconceived as a
Siegfried-like figure.
And, as I said, you can hear similar transitions in composers like Rimsky and
even Dvorak, who owed so much to Brahms. Of course, being great talents in
their own right, they all had to get over Wagnerism to establish their own
identities; Holst cheerfully mocked Wagner in his opera The Perfect Fool. But
almost always, to an extraordinary extent, Wagnerism was the catalyst.
Puccini's famous parallel fifths in Boheme, lambasted by Hanslick, were
ultimately the product of Wagner's liberating influence. Vaughan Williams said
hearing Wagner was like reencountering something you'd always known. And even
Britten, who adored Schumann and was disparaging about Wagner, betrays his
influence, particularly in Billy Budd.
Yes, much of this might have happened anyway; but not all together, and not as
fast, not as thrillingly. In short, as with only a few other composers, you
can say (to steal an good line) that if Wagner hadn't existed it would have
been necessary to invent him.
Cheers,
Mike
You make a very compelling case, and I'm sure you're right.
I have sometimes wondered what it would have been like to be at the first
performance of Das Rheingold at Bayreuth. In those days no phonographs were
commercially available and unless people had bought sheet music and played
something on the piano, they were in for an experience that nothing in their
previous exposure to music could have prepared them for. They must have
been amazed to see what an orchestra could do.
Dick Partridge
Especially a well-prepared one, which it certainly was at Bayreuth. Wagner's
annoyance at Ludwig's Munich performances is often seen as an unprincipled
hissy fit, but he may very well have been afraid of the damage a badly
prepared orchestra could do to the reputation and chances of what he must have
seen, rightly, as his ultimate breakthrough work. It's amusing to read Shaw's
rebuke to the unimaginative string players who found the cascading figures of
the Feuerzauber "impossible" to play as written. And the apprehension of those
trying to mount the first British staging of Dutchman,positively sagging with
relief when they found it wasn't really that incomprehensible after all.
It doesn't diminish your point to remember that a basic ability to play piano
was much commoner then than it is now. C.S.Lewis, as an Edwardian child, fell
in love with Arthur Rackham's illustrations -- then got hold of the piano
scores and played through them incessantly, apparently without much
difficulty. And he wasn't seriously studying music. Hence, too, the
innumerable reductions and arrangements of the kind Wagner had to devil at in
Paris -- at all levels. from Liszt's fiendish showpieces to pure parlour-dance
stuff, of the kind gently parodied by Faure amd Chabrier in Souvenirs de
Bayreuth. But even so, you're right; by all accounts the sheer orchestral
splendour completely bowled over a lot of people! Oh, for time travel...
Cheers,
Mike
Oh, for time travel, indeed! We would not have to worry about a Eurotrash
staging.

Dick Partridge
REP
2017-06-12 04:29:20 UTC
Permalink
Raw Message
Post by Mike Scott Rohan
Or Elgar, for example, more Brahmsian than Wagnerian symphonically
I hear it a bit differently from you. To my ears, Wagner's influence shines through more than Brahms's. Elgar was, of course, an admirer of both composers, but I only recall ever hearing about his infatuation with Wagner's operas, which he adored. Die Meistersinger was his favorite, and if I remember correctly, he intended his unfinished Spanish Lady (or some other unfinished work) to be something like the English Meistersinger.

In more subjective terms, Elgar and Wagner occupy the same emotional space for me. Their music evokes similar moods. The harmonies and the shape of Elgar's music bear a strong resemblance to Wagner's. The peaks and valleys are all guided by pure emotion rather than musical forms. There are moments of languor in both Elgar and Wagner that any classically-minded composer would find abhorrent. An Elgar symphony is more than music; it's a struggle of the human spirit.

In general, Elgar is far more dramatic than Brahms. And I find him closer to my heart for one important reason: He could write truly beautiful adagios, whereas Brahms couldn't write an adagio to save his life. Just listen the slow movement of the first symphony, or Sospiri, Op. 70:



This is music you can get lost in, the kind of music that comes directly from the soul (oh dear, citation needed). There's nothing comparable in Brahms, because Elgar had something he didn't. His music could be gut-wrenching, soul-crushing, and so bitter-sweet that it leaves a permanent impression on the soul. Take the finale to the second symphony, for example, perhaps the most elegiac piece of music ever written. The world itself seems to end with the closing bars of that symphony. I don't know how anyone can hear it and not be a changed person afterwards.

In short, Elgar reached heights of sublimity that Brahms apparently wasn't even capable of experiencing.

Wagner's influence on Elgar is detectable on the surface level too. I would think anyone who was familiar with Wagner would gear it. Take the first symphony, for example. My reaction, on first listening to it, was that Elgar had simply taken the Blood-brotherhood motif from Gotterdammerung and spun it out into a melody. There are other moments, too, in the Music-Makers and Dream of Gerontius, for example, that almost certainly had their genesis in Wagner.

REP

Loading...