|VVCD - 00086
Orchestral music from operas
Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra
1 Overture to the opera Rienzi 13.12
2 Flight of the Valkiries from the opera Valkirie 4.01
3 Introduction and The death of Isolde from the opera Tristan and
4 Forest Murmers from the opera Siegfried 9.36
5 Funeral March from the opera Twilight of the Gods 7.33
6 Prelude to Act 3 to the opera Lohengrin 3.26
Total time: 53.51
Recorded: 1973 (6); 1977 (4,5); 1983 (3); 1984 (1,2)
Cover: Maxim Vorobiov. The Oak broken by the lightning. 1842.
Richard Wagner made
himself celebrated as a great opera composer and a reformer of the
musical theater. However he did not leave behind many significant
works in the genre of symphony, overture, or symphonic poem. The
only exception is his Faust Overture (1840, second edition - 1855).
Yet the scale of the orchestral episodes of his operas, the role
of the orchestra that cements the leitmotif fabric of the music
and the profoundness of the symphonic synthesizing make Wagner one
of the greatest symphonists of the post-Beethoven period. The outstanding
symphonic fragments of his operas represent a great independent
value and continue to live on a concert stage.
Wagner began to compose his early opera Rienzi in Riga in 1838 and
completed it in Paris in 1840. It's a five-act composition in the
style of "big French opera" of Gasparo Spontini or Giacomo
Meyerbeer. There is no a system of leitmotifs as such in the opera.
Nevertheless some of the motifs reappear in most important episodes
again and again. The Overture is based on the themes that in one
way or another are connected with the protagonist of the opera.
After a slow introduction a fast episode follows in the form of
sonata. The choruses of the Romans in the finales of the first two
acts of the opera express heroic spirit, resolution, and the readiness
to perform an exploit. (It's the theme in the main part and one
of the themes in the finale. Another theme in the finale of the
second act for the first time in the opera sounds in a "two
voice unison" of Adriano and Irene.) The theme of Rienzi's
prayer dominates the prelude to the fifth act and becomes a secondary
part of the sonata form (in the words of Boris Levic, a typically
Wagnerian melody). It will later echo in his mature operas (for
example, in overture to the Mastersingers of Nurenberg).
Prelude to Lohengrin Act 3 (1845 - 1848) is the most joyous piece
of the opera that probably became the composer's first true masterpiece.
The brilliance and grandeur contrast both with the somber second
act of the opera and with the beginning of its introduction (ethereal
beauty of Grail). The mood of the fragment is reflected in two themes
which go one after another and set off the form. The theme of the
middle fragment continues the march movement. While retaining the
connection with the themes of the main fragment it at the same time
anticipates the theme of the wedding march into which the interlude
Tristan and Isolde, as Romain Rolland once put it, resembles a high
mountain that towers over all other poems of love. The opera is
based on an ancient legend that was many times adapted and interpreted
by poets and musicians in the Middle Ages. Minnesinger Godfried
of Strasbourg's version underlies Wagner's opera. The ancient legend
here is "enriched" by philosophical concepts of Arthur
Schopenhauer (as presented in his work The World as Will and Representation)
but also by Wagner's personal love story with Matilde Wesendonk
(five romances on Wesendonk's verses sound like sort of etudes for
Wagner's opera consists of several scenes turning one into another
(with only caesura between the first and second acts). The leitmotifs
sound mainly in orchestra. Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov described Tristan
and Isolde as "very rich polyphony that sometimes reaches fantastic
beauty and plasticity…Exceptionally elegant style with extreme degree
The main leitmotifs of the introduction, "languor", "loving
glance", "the magic of love", "the ecstasy of
love", grow from one to another and represent the distillation
of the style of the opera. "The circular architectonics"
of the introduction with the music developing to its culmination
and then coming back to the starting point reflect the infinity
of passion and the futility of languor of love.
The introduction is often performed in concerts along with the final
episode of the opera, that of Isolde's death. (There is also its
piano version made by Ferenz Listz.) These two episodes are bound
with one another by thousands of threads that go through the finale
of the first act and a long duet in the second. The leitmotif of
"the death in love" dominates the latter.
The Ring of Nibelungs remains possibly the highest point in symphonic
tendencies of Wagner's music of which we spoke above. Some of the
orchestral episodes became the symbols of the Wagner's music.
Act 3 of The Valkiries, the second opera of the cycle, commences
with the famous Flight of the Valkiries. "What a grandiose,
wonderful picture! One can picture in one's mind these savage women
giants flying with thunder in the clouds on their magic horses",
Piotr Tchaikovsky wrote in a letter to Nadezhda von Meck. The leitmotif
of valkiries and their belligerent war-cry sound progressively growing
in volume. This war-cry is performed by chorus in opera but Wagner
wrote orchestral version too. This leitmotif goes against the background
of passages and trills of the string and wind instruments (depicting
the blasts of wind and the wail of thunder) and skipping figures
of bassoons and French horns depicting the clatter of horses' hoofs.
The symphonic poem Forest Murmers creates the basis of the act 2
of the opera Siegfried that is the third opera in the tetralogy.
In opera the music of the poem is dispersed throughout the act,
it sounds seven times. For the concert performance all the episodes
are collected together. The mysterious trembling rustle of the German
forest comes as a continuous image in the German folk poetry and
romantic opera, particularly in operas by Karl Maria von Weber.
Against the background of flickering strings not only the leitmotifs
of Siegfried's love of nature and, for the first time, a motif of
a bird sound but also leitmotifs reflecting the history of Velsungs.
The motif of sufferings of Velsungs reflects Siegfried's incessant
dreams of mother. The leitmotif of fire anticipates Siegfried's
The funeral march from the opera Twilight of the Gods is a mighty
and artistically convincing piece of music that could be compared
with Beethoven's Symphony No 3 "Eroica". This is, without
exaggeration, the tragic culmination of The Ring. The procession
with Siegfried's body comes as a grandiose completion of the thematic
material of the tetralogy. "The themes of the March present
sort of a musical genealogy of the main character. There's a motif
of Velsungs, Siegfried's parents, with their love and sufferings.
There's a motif of a sword that Sigmund extracted from the trunk
of the ash-tree. And there's a motif of Siegfried love for Brungilda"
Altogether there are twelve leitmotifs in the March. Probably the
main of them, apart from those mentioned above, is the motif of
the fate and death. The March is written in an unconstrained sonata
form with introduction and finale. The logic of its development
dictates the departure from traditional iteration of leitmotifs.
Instead the composer alternate motifs with similar content.