Music, art and all things cultural as well as geopolitical reached a precipice in the early 20th century which resulted in World War I. Certainly the industrial revolution played a role in that event, as it also did in the creation of the figure of Richard Wagner.
Wagner, the dreamer who is dreaming the dream, couldn’t have existed before the industrial revolution. That revolution, in part, made his opera house at Bayreuth, Germany possible — both as structure and as arts temple in which to create theater. But it was the industrial revolution that enabled people to get there to hear this “music of the future.” He was the first “composer himself as Mecca” — a truly remarkable achievement.
I think the thing to really embrace when thinking about listening to the music of Wagner, is its mythic proportions. At the same time, that requires almost by definition, considering myths.
What is a myth? What of myth? A myth should hold some basic truth and, upon reflection, perhaps reveal something previously not understood. In the stories of myths, heroes, heroines, monsters, weapons and all the rest exist as the elements of the myth. And in Wagner’s operas, each one of those elements has a special theme associated with it.
The principal exponent of this style we all know is, of course, John Williams. Just as in “Jaws,” when you hear the two-note theme and know the shark is nearby, all the way through Wagner’s works these short little themes create the tapestry against which the story is acted out ... basically like a sung, medieval “Star Wars.”
Everything about this world is bigger than life and simply glorious in the extreme. I couldn’t be more excited to be welcoming dear friend and colleague Othalie Graham to sing this amazing music with the TSO Sept. 8. She will be taking on the roles of three Wagner heroines: Elisabeth from “Tannäuser,” Isolde from “Tristan und Isolde,” and Brunnhilde from “The Ring.”
Through film, there is really no other composer whose influence is felt more in our daily lives. Wagner’s music was still brand new when the first generations of film composers immigrated from Europe to the US in the 1920s and ‘30s. His music was known well and dissected by every music student and composer of those years, and his style — along with that of his successor, Richard Strauss — became synonymous with film scoring.
Just a random listing of the scenarios alone says it all:
- Formal guests arriving for a song contest ... imagine a 15th-century Grammy Awards.
- Our heroine awaiting the return of her beloved Tannhäuser ... a singer/songwriter who was away hanging out with Venus in her Bacchanalian Grotto, presumably singing somewhat naughty songs.
- A woman who through a love potion and much drama, only finds release and unification with her beloved through death and transformation.
- Lastly a daughter of a god after the death of her beloved, declares an end to the age of those gods and rides on her horse into his funeral pyre.
These works epitomize 19th-century romantic thought in every possible way, from gender roles both traditional and groundbreaking to grandness of thought and grandness of gesture. To revel in them is an irreplaceable and incomparable way to live in another time for a couple of hours.
In so many ways, I have never taken on a more meaningful concert with the TSO and I am really excited to be doing it for the start of this season.