In the midst of writing The Ring of the Nibelung, the most monumental artistic work of the 19th century, Richard Wagner took a breather. His intention was to write works that were smaller in scale and easier to perform. The result: Two of his greatest works, Tristan und Isolde and Die Meistersinger von Nuremburg.
Tristan, seething with erotic harmonies, is considered the most revolutionary work of classical music of its time. The opera was initially abandoned after 165 rehearsals after being declared unperformable. Die Meistersinger followed and became Wagner’s most popular opera. It was filled with warmth, wisdom, and comedy—and plenty of major chords. Wagner’s final opera, Parsifal, was conceived while the Ring was still in rehearsal and as new sonic possibilities were being discovered that changed the course of music throughout Europe.
Using excerpts from the finest representations on video, opera and classical music, scholar Saul Lilienstein unearths the treasures this great composer created beyond the Ring.
10 to 11:30 a.m. Tristan and Isolde
How Wagner's new harmonic depicts sexual desire, and his “endless melody” transforms the agony of tragic yearning into beautiful sound. His famous use of leitmotifs (musical phrases accompanying the appearances of characters, ideas, and dramatic situations) throughout Tristan revolutionized opera structure.
11:45 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. Die Meistersinger
Within all the innovations of Wagner’s mature style, genuine songs return, lovers are united, and characters can rejoice in an unrestrained profusion of melody. Profound questions about the role of art in society and of youthful exuberance versus wisdom born of maturity are interwoven into the music and the drama.
1:15 to 2:15 p.m. Break
2:15 to 4 p.m. Parsifal
In the mystic interior of his own opera house, the Festspielhaus in Bayreuth, the composer imagines new sonorities and dimensions—the sacred and the profane, sound and silence, Christianity and Buddhism. All are intermingled in Parsifal. In Wagner’s words about the opera, "Here time and space are interchangeable.”
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