Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Happy Birthday Richard Wagner

Happy 200th Birthday Richard Wagner!  On this 22 May there are Wagner-comments all over the blogosphere, ranging from the less than enthusiastic book by his grandson Gottlieb (whom others say has been dining off the family name for years) to ecstatic congratulations of music lovers. 
Wagner: etching (2008)

We have all heard stories about his antisemitism but one of his most virulent accusers, Joachim Kohler, has had a change of heart. In 1997 he portrayed Hitler as Wagner's creation (Wagner's Hitler -- The Prophet and His Disciple)  but in his 2004 book Richard Wagner:The Last Of The Titans his  "reading of the letters, diaries, and other documents of the main protagonists... results in some breathtaking but convincing reappraisals".

Regardless, Wagner certainly changed the face of western music.

Wagner was the first conductor to face the orchestra so he had eye contact with the musicians; was the first to write music that reflected the emotional journeys of the characters in his operas; the first to build an opera house with wonderful acoustics but with the orchestra hidden from view so as not to distract from the performance taking place on stage; the first (and only?) composer who instructed the orchestra not to drown out the singers as the audience had to understand the story; one of the very few (are there others?) who wrote his own librettos (or musical poems as he called them), then set them to music.

When you read his autobiography My Life you marvel at how, with so little formal education, he could produce these works of wonder.  And when his music gets under your skin, you are forever changed.

Stefan Mickisch, a man with a gift
for explaining Wagner's music
( 2009)

Festspielhaus - the Opera House that Wagner built in Bayreuth
(painted in 2009)

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