Wagner as a Composer, the Output Essay

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As a composer, the output of Richard Wagner is epic in its scope. Wagner's operas such as his Ring cycle, Tristan and Isolde, and Parsifal changed the nature of modern music, even the structure of modern opera houses and the expectations listeners brought to the concert experience. Wagner had strong views about religion, German nationalism, the importance of German folk tales and culture that were articulated through his many musical and written works. He is one of the most controversial musical artists of the 20th century, widely known as Hitler's favorite composer, but only after his death. Even had he only composed the Ring cycle, his ideology and musicology would continue to challenge scholars and musicians alike. However, as well as his major, frequently-performed compositions, he was also the author of numerous tracts upon the nature of art, as well as composed a number of prose pieces that were never performed or formulated into operas. These works all prefigure Wagner's more famous creations. According to the Grove Encyclopedia of Music: "Wagner did more than any other composer to change music and indeed to change art and thinking about it [art]. His life and his music arouse passions like no other composer's. His works are hated as much as they are worshipped; but no-one denies their greatness" (Sadie 1996).

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Essay on Wagner as a Composer, the Output of Assignment

Shadows of his ambition, if not his greatness are manifest in Leubald. Wagner's Leubald is one of his earliest creative endeavors. The work was begun when the author was only thirteen and he was still a student. Wagner had aspirations as a prose dramatist, and Leubald began as a play entitled Leubald and Adelaide. Unfortunately for the young Wagner (and perhaps fortunately for the history of opera) the play was a flop when it was finally performed. Wagner still believed that the work, largely inspired by Shakespeare's Hamlet and Heinrich von Kleist's Die Familie Schroffenstein could be a success. He decided to set the drama to music. Ironically, he exclaimed at the time, regarding his endeavors: "Oh! I am no composer…I only wanted to learn enough to put Leubald and Adelaide to music" (Maar 2000, p.1). Only the libretto, not the music survives. Of its Gothic plot it is said that Wagner adapted Kleist's novel quite liberally: "Wagner follows even the most tortuous steps of Kleist's plot; not only its diffuse murderous frenzy and the climax of the stabbed couple, but also the incarceration, the flight, the gathering of foes in a forest cave," where finally the two lovers meet their death (Maar 2000, p.1). This theme of doomed love in the context of an insane family struggle would reoccur in Tristan and Isolde, as would the character 'type' of the Byronic, brooding hero misunderstood by a cruel world.

Die Bergwerke zu Falun

Die Bergwerke zu Falun began as an adaptation of a short story by E.T.A. Hoffmann, one of Wagner's favorite authors. "Although Richard Wagner never developed his Die Bergwerke zu Falun. Entwurf zu einer Oper in drei Akten (after E.T.A. Hoffmann's tale "The Mines of Falun") beyond a prose sketch, it is surprising in this time of a Wagnerian renaissance that scholars have devoted so little attention to the piece" observed Marc A. Weiner, a noted Wagner scholar (Weiner 202). Hoffman's tale ends with a climax where an old woman is reunited with the corpse of the man she loved. The corpse is preserved, while she has grown wrinkled with age, and Wagner was fascinated with the dramatic potential inherent in this image. Elis, the hero, is first seen lamenting his fate to a typical Wagnerian 'listening' figure, and the two, in the sketch, create a contrast between the philosophically 'knowing' man and the well-intentioned but unknowing commoner. Reflecting upon the differences between the Wagner version and the original source, Weiner writes: "Typically Wagnerian is his willingness to have Elis recount to Joens the events of Hoffmann's sea-side opening scene while already in Falun. The immediacy of the moment, so telling in Hoffmann, is thereby compromised, and only a musician of Wagner's stature was able in later years to overcome the dramatically static situation of a character recalling at 'heavenly length' events and emotions from the past" (Weiner 204). However, this serves to delineate the character difference between the two men, Elis whose role was to be sung by a heroic tenor, and Joens by a baritone. "The typical Wagnerian confidant is a devoted yet basically unenlightened companion who serves both as a dramatic foil to the tragic hero and as a driving element in the development of the story. Joens is the first character of this type to appear in Wagner's works, foreshadowing such figures as Wolfram in Tannhauser, who alone among the knights offers the hero succor, and Kurwenal in Tristan und Isolde, who lends a loving but uncomprehending ear to Tristan's metaphysical suffering" (Weiner 204). The normalcy of Joens acts as a foil to the torment of the Hamlet-like, philosophical Elis. Joens was not even a character in the Hoffman story; rather Wagner created an amalgam of several characters to embody a singular dramatic foil for the proposed opera.

Another theme that emerges is that Elis' brooding, Byronic tendencies mean he can never knew real love. "The two lovers are kept apart not so much by circumstance, but by Elis' inability to speak his true feelings to Ulla, recalling Lohengrin's fear of infidelity and dishonesty" (Weiner 206). Women are essentially untrustworthy in Elis' view, and because of this belief he is unable to experience true happiness on earth. The idea that lovers can only be united through death, and the representation of this through the joining of the woman with the corpse of the man she loves will also later occur in Tristan.

Fredreich I

Early in his career, reflecting a patriotic spirit of Teutonic nationalism, Wagner embarked upon a dramatic depiction of the life of Fredreich I of Prussia; it was never composed or even fully drafted. However, it prefigures the Wagnerian fascination with strong male heroes and representations of older Germanic folkloric heroism. It was possibly intended to be written as a music drama but no libretto or music was ever written (Sadie 1996).

Jesus de Nazareth

This work is exists in the form of a prose draft. Because the draft is dated before Wagner's great Christian medieval epic of the quest for the Holy Grail Parsifal, it is seen as a direct prefiguring of the later, more famous work. For example, during the play, the figure of Mary Magdalene abases herself before Jesus in repentance, and later washes his feet and anoints his head. This was depicted in the Bible, of course, but in Wagner's treatment of the Magdalene figure many scholars see the shadows of the mysterious, healing and ageless Kundry in Parsifal (Beckett 11). Wagner was fascinated by ambiguous Magdalene figures, since he saw chastity as a corruption of the true message of Christianity, and an example of the encroachment of more worldly religions (such as Judaism) upon Christian doctrine. Calling chastity "egoism" he believed that actions in the world had little to do with true spiritual salvation (Beckett 12). Wagner was fascinated with Eastern religions, which had begun to be circulated in Western texts and discussed by intellectuals in Wagner's circle at the time. This retelling of the Gospels seems an attempt to reconcile Wagner's emerging religious ideas, later articulated in Parsifal, about the relationship of man to God.

Wieland der Schmeid

In his utopian text The Art-Work of the Future, Wagner includes a tale of Wieland the Smith as an example of what modern German art should aspire to -- art which embodied the values of the 'folk.' (Wagner 102). In this story, Wieland the Smith sees a Swan-maiden whom he conquers and marries. She gives him a… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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