|1|| Der fliegende Holländer
(The flying Dutchman) - Overture
Prelude 3rd Act
(Vorspiel 3. Akt)
|Tristan und Isolde|
Total playing time :
PTC 5186 041
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Wagner, a symphonic composer in disguise
The overtures and preludes to his operas and music dramas
“ I do not know precisely what is my destination: however, I do know that one evening, after for the first time hearing a symphony by Beethoven, I became feverish and ill. As soon as I recovered, I became a musician.” Thus Richard Wagner described the enormous impression that Beethoven’s music had made on him in his novelette Eine Pilgerfahrt zu Beethoven (= a pilgrimage to Beethoven). Although it is difficult to separate fact and fiction in this novelette, Beethoven’s music did indeed exert a major influence on the life of the young composer. Wagner was 17 years old when he first heard Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, a work which was to play a central role during his entire life, and which he was, for instance, to conduct in 1846 at the opening of the Festival Theatre in Bayreuth.
At this time, Wagner also began to compose music. The first works he penned included a string quartet, piano music and a number of overtures (including one for Schiller’s play Die Braut von Messina (= the bride of Messina). In 1832, he completed his Symphony in C within six weeks (as he himself recorded), which was performed in Prague that same year. A year later, Mendelssohn programmed this symphony for a concert at the Leipzig Gewandhaus. Although Wagner never actually quoted his great example Beethoven in this work, he did admit that he could never have written the slow movement of the symphony had he not first heard the Andante from Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 and the Allegretto from his Symphony No. 7.
Remarkably, Wagner hung on to this early work, as opposed to many other scores, which he destroyed. He conducted it himself only once: in 1882, one year before his death, for the birthday of his wife, Cosima. That performance marked a turning point in the way Wagner thought as a composer. Until that moment, he had believed that there was no real sense in instrumental music by itself, and that it could develop into something meaningful only within the context of a music drama. He then wrote that he planned to turn his back on the music theatre and to dedicate himself entirely to the development of a new symphonic form. Beethoven had taken the sonata form – in which contrasting themes are responsible for the development – to its limits. Wagner planned to write one-movement symphonies, in which one single melody would be developed ceaselessly, in similar fashion to the so-called ‘Orchestermelodie’ (= orchestral melody): the continuously developing network of ‘leitmotivs’ in his music dramas.
Unfortunately, these orchestral works never came about, as Wagner died at his desk on February 13, 1883. Therefore, his symphonic oeuvre remains limited to the above-mentioned symphony; the Faust Overture from 1840/1844; the Siegfried Idyll, which he wrote for Cosima’s birthday in 1870; and a number of less important short pieces.
Overtures: Rienzi, Der fliegende Holländer (= The Flying Dutchman), Tannhäuser
Wagner’s most important contributions to symphonic literature are perhaps the overtures and preludes to his operas, as well as the instrumental sections from Der Ring des Nibelungen. Although his Siegfried Idyll was composed as an independent orchestral work, it is still based on themes from his opera Siegfried.
In a number of overtures, Wagner continues to elaborate on the romantic opera overture in which the most important themes from the work are reviewed. But instead of writing a colourful potpourri of catchy melodies, Wagner uses the overture to immediately introduce the drama. This is the case, for instance, in the overture he wrote for Rienzi in the autumn of 1840, after completing the rest of the opera. The overture provides a short summary of the most important moments in the opera. In the opening, we hear the prayer of the hero to whom the title refers, followed shortly by the flourish of trumpets which announce the insurrection, and later yet by the love theme of Irene and Adriano.
As the première of Rienzi met with such success in Dresden on October 20, 1842, the directors of the Court Opera decided to also stage Wagner’s new opera, Der fliegende Holländer, and to offer him a position there as conductor. In Der fliegende Holländer, Wagner gives the orchestra a more important role as the conveyor of the drama. Once again, he wrote the overture after completing the rest of the score. It unites not so much the different situations, as the various important elements of the opera: the storm and the sea; the Dutchman and his appalling destiny; and the world of the mariners.
In the overture for his following opera, Tannhäuser, Wagner took a major step in the musical sense of the word. In this work he used the harmony and orchestration to contrast musically the purity and chastity of Elisabeth’s love with the sensuality of Venus’ love.
Preludes: Lohengrin, Tristan und Isolde
It is but a small step from Tannhäuser to Lohengrin, which Wagner orchestrated with remarkable opulence and density. The music flows forth almost without interruption, and the technique of recurring themes - a harbinger of the ‘leitmotiv’-technique – is implemented to a much greater extent. Furthermore, Wagner characterizes the various dramatis personae not just by using different musical material, but also – mainly – by using different keys. In Lohengrin, Wagner departs from the romantic overtures he had so far composed. The prelude to the first act can best be described as a short symphonic poem, which bears no direct relationship to the plot of the opera. Wagner himself described this prelude as a musical vision of the Holy Grail, which descends from heaven and for a short while shines its light on the world of the mortals, after which it once again disappears from sight. By contrast, the atmosphere reflected in the prelude to the third act provides an exciting and flamboyant introduction to the marriage between Lohengrin and Elsa.
In a certain sense, the prelude to Tristan und Isolde is a further development of the prelude to the first act of Lohengrin: it is a closed composition, which to a certain extent is detached from the plot of the work. Wagner began writing the prelude while working on the first act in April 1858. He did not complete the concert version until 1859 and the following year he himself gave the première in Paris. As in the Lohengrin prelude, Wagner concentrates here on a limited number of short ‘leitmotivs’, which are allowed to climax in a great musical commotion and which symbolize the crux of the drama. In a musical sense too, this prelude contains the essence of the work: i.e. the famous, harmonically ambiguous Tristan chord, which is not resolved until the end of the opera. The famous Liebestod at the end of the opera refers thematically to the prelude: however, now it is no longer dominated by light and budding, all-encompassing love, but by darkness and death. When the opera ends in the key of B, it by no means leaves behind a sense of resignation: mainly, it is a confirmation of the tragedy which has taken place.
A one-movement symphony?
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
The prelude to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg can be characterized as a counterpart to the prelude to the first act of Lohengrin. It is by far the longest prelude ever written by Wagner. The composer penned the first sketches in November 1861 and completed the work in February/March of the following year. By then, he had already written the bulk of the libretto, but had not yet put down on paper even a single note of the actual opera. At first, Wagner seems to be taking a step backwards in this prelude, as once again we are treated to a foretaste of the most important musical themes: the theme of the Meistersinger, the march of the guilds, Walther von Stolzing’s Prize Song, and the great love theme. However, as the eminent German musicologist Carl Dahlhaus stated, this is only the upper layer. Just beneath the surface of this potpourri lies an orchestral work in its own right, in which the strict formal structure of a classical symphony has been compressed into one movement. Two themes are produced, then contrasted and further developed in the development, and finally presented again in combined form in a kind of recapitulation. Furthermore, the ‘character’ of the four movements of the symphony – allegro, andante, scherzo and finale – is the basis for this four-movement structure.
Following his early symphony, Wagner did not write another symphonic work. However, the disguised symphonic poems and one-movement symphonies formed by the overtures and preludes to his operas are sufficient to earn Wagner a ranking amongst the great symphonic composers of the nineteenth century.
“Superior acoustics and superior PentaTone engineering are particularly
flattering to the rich and burnished string sound so essential to a convincing
--Harry Pearson, The Absolute Sound
“A recording like five pieces of cake with whipped cream after one
another, but with Champaign rather than coffee.”
--Matthias Reisner, rondomagazin.de
“The Dutch Orchestra is clearly a world-class ensemble. Wind solos
are exemplary, strings are warm and full, and the brass majestic. PentaTone’s
5.0 multichannel is a real treat for surround sound enthusiasts.”
--Andrew Quint, Fanfare
Kreizberg conducts really fine performances of these two repertoire favorites…In
stereo this live recording sounds gorgeous, but DSD multichannel format offers
even more precise instrumental positioning and greater front-to-back depth,
all with brilliant highs and a rock-solid bass. But make no mistake, even
the audiophile credentials the quality of the music-making on offer speaks
---Dave Hurwitz, Classics Today, (10/30/2003)
“Apart from the fact that this are first SA-CD registrations of these works, they can compete with the best recordings in the catalogue.”
---Paul Janssen, Luister (December 2003)
“This is a superb surround recording with plenty of hall sound from the rear speakers.”
“..Great playing by an orchestra which clearly has this music in its
veins conducted by a chef who seems to be born for this repertoire… for
those who own a super-audio set with 5 speakers a “must”.
---René Segers, Luister
“…if you have a five-speaker system of fairly similar speakers,
you will be transported by the fire and gusto of these recordings. This reading
of the Flying Dutchman Overture will make you realize why the music was once
used on the soundtrack of so many movie serials and TV shows.”
---John Sunier, Audiophile Audition
Classical CD of the week
--The Telegraph, London