January 25 & 26, 2013
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Robert Franz, conductor
Richard Wagner | Seigfried Idyll
Richard Wagner/ Lorin Maazel | The Ring Without Words
BUY BOISE | BUY NAMPA
Richard Wagner | May 22, 1813 – February 13, 1883
The Ring Without Words
The truth must be told. Richard Wagner’s personal life was offensive. He was a scoundrel, an anti-Semite, constantly on the run from creditors and their lawsuits, and for his first 50 years, a professional failure. What kept him going was enormous talent, ambition, an outsized ego, and a grandiose dream that he could convert opera into a transcendental art form, melding all the fine arts into one epic spectacle.
Wagner disdained mid-18th century opera as a moribund fragmented series of arias, chorales, and duets designed to show off the singer’s vocal skills. He saw the operatic orchestra as a musically insignificant accompanist, playing marginal music at best.
Wagner’s dream would not have materialized had it not been for Ludwig II, the bizarre, newly-crowned 18 year-old rich King of Bavaria, who adored Wagner’s music. The young monarch paid all Wagner’s debts and put him on his court’s payroll. To a friend, Wagner, always the dramatist, wrote, “And, as if on cue, there was Ludwig, truly a ‘deus ex machina.’” With that kind of financial support, Wagner succeeded in reinventing opera, creating what he called “music drama,” an all inclusive dazzling extravaganza where the story, the singing, the music, and the staging were one colossal whole far greater than the sum of its parts. Wagner’s music now had star billing with the singers. Using and combining instruments in new ways, he originated sonorities and blends never before heard. No longer would the genre be “mere entertainment.”
Wagner’s 25 year dream became a reality in 1873 with the Ring of the Nibelung, four apocalyptic music dramas tied together by a single storyline. The 17 hour cycle, inspired by Teutonic and Norse legend, is the allegorical story of gods, giants, superhuman heroes, and the dwarf-like race of Nibelung, warring against each other to the death for possession of a magical gold ring which gives ultimate power to its owner. In the end, the cataclysmic battle destroys the deranged gods and their greedy old order, fortuitously unleashing the promise and power of love as the salvation of mankind. It is a story of redemption through renunciation featuring universal themes of birth, death, ambition, avarice, murder, and a lust for power and the erotic pleasures of the flesh. Wagner believed in his heart that his music dramas had the power to change the course of human events.
Wagner used a musical device called a “leitmotif” to anchor and to unify his “new music.” The “leitmotif” is a short, recognizable theme that stands for a character, an idea, an object, or a feeling; and a “leitmotif” reappears and metamorphoses as the drama progresses to reflect its changing circumstances
In 1987, Lorin Maazel extracted the best from the Ring’s music and braided it together into the glorious Ring Without Words. Jack Sullivan describes Maazel’s tour de force as “electrifying power with a narcotized sexiness, with its endless unresolved leitmotifs floating in what Wagner called ‘a sea of harmony.’ Liberated from their characters, the leitmotifs take on a mysterious life of their own.” In the piece, we experience the greenish twilight of the Rhine, enter Valhalla, and encounter hammering dwarfs, Siegmund and Sieglinde, Wotan, the Valkyries, and Siegfried and Brunhilde. The work ends with Siegfried’s death, funeral, and immolation.
Wagner wrote the opening piece on tonight’s program, the Siegfried Idyll, as a birthday gift for his wife Cosima, which he delivered on Christmas morning, 1870. Imagine you are asleep in your villa on the shore of placid Lake Lucerne, and you are gently awakened by soft music. Cosima, Franz Liszt’s daughter, tells the story in her diary. “I can give you no idea, my children, about this day. I shall only tell you quite barely what happened: As I awoke, my ear caught a sound, which swelled fuller and fuller. No longer could I imagine myself to be dreaming music. Music was sounding, and such music! When it died away Richard came into my room and offered me the score of the symphonic birthday poem. I was in tears. Richard had arranged his 13-piece orchestra on the staircase, and thus our Villa Triebschen was consecrated forever.”
Siegfried is the Ring’s third opera. While Wagner was composing it, Cosima delivered their son. They named him Siegfried, after the drama’s preternatural hero. The Siegfried Idyll was Wagner’s way of thanking Cosima for bearing their offspring. The sumptuous music is a composite of leitmotifs and love themes from the drama: Siegfried’s horn calls, bird music (listen to the woodwinds), an old German cradlesong (sung by the oboe), and a glowing section depicting the orange color of the sunrise the morning Siegfried was born. Wagner never intended the piece for public consumption, but when he found himself once again in debt a few years later, publish it he did -- to our great benefit.
History has seen fit to hold its nose at Wagner the person in favor of appreciating his art. Now that Israel has lifted its boycott, of his music, it is a judgment we can tolerate.
Siegfried Idyll was first performed by the Boise Philharmonic on February 28, 1961. It was most recently performed on October 22, 2004.
This is the Boise Philharmonic’s first performance of The Ring Without Words.
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