Wagner

Discussion in 'Classical Music' started by cookiemonster, Feb 15, 2004.

  1. cookiemonster

    cookiemonster

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    Ok, quite simply, where do i start? :shame:

    Thanks
     
    cookiemonster, Feb 15, 2004
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  2. cookiemonster

    tones compulsive cantater

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    By waiting for GrahamN to see your post!
     
    tones, Feb 15, 2004
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  3. cookiemonster

    sideshowbob Trisha

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    I found watching Apocalypse Now a good starting point. Can't beat heavy ordinance, helicopters, and The Ride of the Valkyries as a combo.

    -- Ian
     
    sideshowbob, Feb 15, 2004
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  4. cookiemonster

    cookiemonster

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    I hope he doesn't tell me off again.

    I've already got as far as Ian's suggested initiation procedure if that helps.

    BTW - I am honestly clueless about Wagner. You may want to know that i don't have a mobile phone either, just to prove that i am serious.
     
    cookiemonster, Feb 15, 2004
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  5. cookiemonster

    PeteH Natural Blue

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    There are plenty of compilations of the "best bits" and so forth available, but personally I'd say there's no point messing about with that sort of thing if you actually want to get an idea of what it's all about. I'd be inclined just to bite the bullet and buy a good recording of one of the music-dramas and see how you get on.

    Which just leaves the question of which one :rolleyes: . To my mind The Flying Dutchman (Der Fliegende Hollander) is the most "approachable" of the Wagner repertory - it's his earliest work that sees regular performance and his style hasn't yet consistently developed the voluptuous extremes of Tristan und Isolde and the like, so while in some ways it's not entirely representative of Wagner as a whole (there are a few horribly twee bits which IMO sound more like second-rate Rossini than Wagner, such as the Spinning Chorus at the beginning of Act 2) it's probably the easiest place to start. Plus at around two and a quarter hours it's positively bite-sized by Wagner standards :D

    The recent Barenboim set on Teldec is superb all round and can be found fairly cheap if you're lucky - I got mine for £11 in HMV IIRC.
     
    PeteH, Feb 15, 2004
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  6. cookiemonster

    tones compulsive cantater

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    I tend to agree with an old friend who said that Wagner has his magnificent moments - and his extremely long and boring half-hours. I am therefore disqualified from offering any comments!
     
    tones, Feb 15, 2004
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  7. cookiemonster

    Herman

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    T and A

    Easy.

    You start with Tristan & Isolde.

    Most people regard this as the best thing Wagner did, and it comes in one piece!

    The recording to get is Karl Böhm in DG's The Originals. You also might wanna check out the DVDs.

    Herman
     
    Herman, Feb 15, 2004
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  8. cookiemonster

    Rodrigo de Sá This club's crushing bore

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    Re: T and A

    Seconded. Tristan gets you straight into the heart of Wagner's music. Just try and persevere.

    Edited to add: And if you want to feel at ease with that kind of musical language, go and try to find a recent Wand recording of Bruckner's 9th Symphony. If you like Wagner you'll love the late Bruckner even if it is quite different.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 15, 2004
    Rodrigo de Sá, Feb 15, 2004
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  9. cookiemonster

    PeteH Natural Blue

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    Re: T and A

    Thirded as long as you want to jump in at the deep end rather than acclimatise yourself gently :)
     
    PeteH, Feb 15, 2004
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  10. cookiemonster

    michaelab desafinado

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    I think that starting with an entire opera like Tristan is perhaps starting at the deep end a little :eek:

    I'd probably start with a CD of "bits and pieces" which no doubt many true fans would find abhorrent :) It's a nice intro though and doesn't commit you to a 5 hour session.

    One I could recommend is "Wagner: Overtures and Preludes". It's a 2CD release by DG which includes (amongst many other things) the Prelude to the 1st and 3rd acts of Tristan plus the Liebestod from the Karl Böhm DG recording of the same.

    Details (Amazon link) here

    Tristan is probably the best full opera to start with though and I second the Karl Böhm / DG recommendation above.

    When you feel like taking on the big daddy of them all, the Ring cycle, then the Georg Solti / DECCA set (recorded in the 60s) is the one to go for.

    The story of the Ring cycle (which is 4 separate 4-5 hour operas :eek: ) is a great one and shares many similarities with Lord of the Rings, the Arthurian legends, and Star Wars (no, I'm not joking). IMO it's definitely worth knowing the story beforehand (that applies to any Wagner opera) as then the "Leitmotifs" will make more sense. "Leitmotifs" was a device used by Wagner where each character or significant theme has a musical theme associated with it and these then come and go throughout the music as the story requires or to give you a hint that all is not as it seems, often in extremely clever combinations.

    I'll shut up now though as GrahamN is bound to be far better at doing the whole background bit than I am :)

    Michael.
     
    michaelab, Feb 15, 2004
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  11. cookiemonster

    Herman

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    philistine alert

    I didn't know cds with bits and pieces existed, but the idea is totally silly. In Wagner there is no undeep end. However, most people who listen to Wagner at home (as opposed to the real thing in the theatre), do not sit down for a couple of hours straight, but take the music as it gets along. I.e. you start with the prelude, and proceed scene by scene. You do not however, cheat yourself with somebody else's totally incoherent greatest hits from Wagner.

    BTW the Solti Ring is rather controversial, in that some people like it. Most people don't.

    Incidentally I am not a "Wagner fan", but these things are elementary.

    Herman
     
    Herman, Feb 15, 2004
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  12. cookiemonster

    PeteH Natural Blue

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    Re: philistine alert

    Ah come on, surely you'd say Dutchman is easier going than Tristan? And saying that "most people don't" like the Solti Ring is surely a little contentious too - IME it's widely regarded as one of the gramophone's all-time greats, although I must admit I've never actually heard much of it myself (I'm not really a Wagnerite either :eek: )
     
    PeteH, Feb 15, 2004
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  13. cookiemonster

    michaelab desafinado

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    Re: philistine alert

    I knew someone wouldn't like the idea of a compilation CD :rolleyes:

    If you don't know whether you even like Wagner then there's absolutely no harm in listening to a compilation CD to get an idea of how is music is. The kind of horrified reaction you showed above is typical of the elitism in classical music that's driving away new listeners :mad:

    FWIW I am a Wagner fan and I do have most of the operas complete but I also have the overtures and preludes CD I mentioned above for when I can't be bothered with a large chunk from a single opera.

    Got any more snobbishness to hand down to me?

    Suggesting that "most people" don't like the Solti ring is quite ridiculous. It's widely regarded as one of the best.

    Michael.
     
    michaelab, Feb 15, 2004
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  14. cookiemonster

    GrahamN

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    No tellings off required cookie - with any luck this thread will remain a science-free zone! Michael's already done a pretty good job, so I've little to add beyond qualifying his recommened route (although I doubt that'll stop me writing a screed or two). I also find Herman's responses here singularly unhelpful: yes Tristan is wonderful, but it is a deep end, and there is an easier way in.

    The place to start is with the question "Do I find a soprano (fat or otherwise) battling it out at the extremes of her abilities (pitch and/or volume) with a huge orchestra a) one of the glories of western civilisation; b) in a similar category to sourcing the materials for a period-violin restring from Tiddles next door without anaesthetic; c) not sure." The other question is what's more important - words/drama or music. For the answer to that, listen to Richard Strauss' "Capriccio" (or one second thoughts don't - he takes about 3 hours to come down on a definite "Well I'm not too sure").

    If a) then welcome, you're already here so go out and buy at least one full opera and enjoy. Tristan's good (Bohm gets excellent reviews, as does the Barenboim recording on Teldec I have), my other top suggestion would be Die Walkure.

    If b), then it's going to be a long road - to be taken in easy stages.

    If c), I can lend/copy you a pretty fair single CD of extracts from the Ring (Karajan/DG) - and you can make up your own mind.

    One way definitely NOT to get in though is through Lorin Maazel's "Ring without Words" - about an hour of non-vocal bits of the Ring: good idea, but makes complete mincemeat of the music (OK Wagner did believe the orchestra carried the drama, but the vocal parts are integral parts of the texture and have to be there) and no sense of the drama either.

    You may be interested that my route was firmly b) :eek: . When I first heard e.g. the Prelude from Lohengrin Act 1, or that from Tristan I was completely bowled over - but could not stand opera singing in any form whatsoever. So I got myself (or rather ripped off tapes of - I was still at school and had no money) an LP of "bleeding chunks" - orchestral excerpts, overtures etc. You must hear the Tristan Prelude and Liebestod, Overtures to Flying Dutchman (and you wont be able to avoid Tannhauser), Preludes to Lohengrin Act 1 (that to Act III seems to be played far more often, porbably because it's much shorter, but it's nothing like as good a piece of music), Rheingold, Gotterdammerung and Parsifal, and Siegfried's Funeral March. I got to know most of the through a Klemperer "bleeding chunks" LP. I would assume these are all on the CD Michael recommended. (Ah just checked - how can thay possibly have omitted the Funeral March - the most important bit of the whole Ring cycle!!!! I'd probably go for the Solti Orchestral Favourites linked at the bottom of that page - although that loses the Libestod) This is rather limiting though, as of course he's an opera composer - so you're going to have to bite the singing bullet sometime to get any further.

    This is where the music/drama question comes in. If you're more interested in the music, then getting bite sized helpings of the best bits is probably the way in (such as that Ring extracts) and get acclimatised to the way of the Wagnerian (and Straussian) singer - just let the glory of the sounds wash over and envelop you. Once you do though, just about everything else sounds effete and poncy! If the drama is more important, then go for complete operas. Make sure you have time to sit and listen properly - at first listen Wagner is not particularly good background music - and with the libretto in front of you so you know what's going on. Once you get to know them the leitmotive will tell you what's going on without listening to the words, but you need them to start with.

    I think the first opera I heard complete was Flying Dutchman - because it was on telly (Robin Bailey and Gwynneth Jones IIRC). For home listening though I started with Rheingold (his shortest mature opera). Plenty goes on, you're in at the beginning of the story, there're loads of really good music (although the best comes in the next one - Die Walkure) - shame the last few bars are just a bit on the bombastic side (Wagner's reputation for blasting away at full tilt all the time is a gross canard). The Solti recording is stunning: Jack London is a super Wotan, the scene with him and Erda (telling him it'll all end in tears) always sends a shiver down my spine, and the scene in Niebelheim is wonderful. OK the purists don't like some of the special effects - but I think they work superbly here, if not so well elsewhere. I personally don't much like the Solti Walkure - primarily because of Hans Hotter as Wotan - he may have been the world's best Wotan 5 or 10 years previously (and of years before that), but he's well over the hill by this time and it's just painful to listen to him. I much prefer the Bohm recording for this - but having just heard John Tomlinson a few weeks ago (even though he's also well past his best) his recording with Barenboim may well be worth a listen.

    The main problem with Tristan as a drama is that not much happens in the just over 4 hours of music: 2 people (+ a couple of hangers on) do a lot of agonising about duty and love, a bit of illicit nookey and a couple deaths (one completely inexplicable) at the end. As a philosopher though there's loads to get your teeth into - and the music is just tremendous.

    Actually the route I found into Wagner's operas was to listen to those by Richard Strauss! Absolutely fell in love with Salome from the first notes, Elektra is a bit/lot tougher harmonically, Rosenkavalier a bit longer, and by the time you get to Die Frau ohne Schatten you're virtually there.
     
    GrahamN, Feb 16, 2004
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  15. cookiemonster

    PeteH Natural Blue

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    Great idea. Sod Wagner, listen to Strauss first - it comes with much less pretentious baggage and the music's much better to boot :D :p ;)
     
    PeteH, Feb 16, 2004
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  16. cookiemonster

    Herman

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    Rosenkavalier

    Cookiemonster will be really helped with this advice.
     
    Herman, Feb 16, 2004
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  17. cookiemonster

    cookiemonster

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    Thanks for all the replies.

    Just to say for now that i actually unearthed yesterday a cassette of Wagner overtures (Solti), so i'm going to give that a listen today. (I think this might be one that Michael gave me?).

    I will investigate further all of the suggestions. Haven't heard much Strauss either - i have much to learn.

    Graham - i think i'm firmly in the b) group. So it may be a long hike.

    Thanks again. Will let you know how i get on.
     
    cookiemonster, Feb 17, 2004
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  18. cookiemonster

    michaelab desafinado

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    Yep - that was one of mine. "gave" is perhaps the wrong word though since I seem to remember receiving 20 odd quid for that bag of tapes :D

    Michael.
     
    michaelab, Feb 17, 2004
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  19. cookiemonster

    lordsummit moderate mod

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    Personally I love Wagner, but her indoors can still only cope with the orchestral bits and lord knows I've tried.

    I would start off by looking at orchestral excerpts and overtures the Ring cycle is thick with them, you will adore them, it's almost impossible not too.

    Then listen to all the different versions of the Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde and then take the plunge. Listen to the Liebstod with a soprano (warbler to my wife)

    If you like this then try some excerpts the last act of Gotterdamerung is amazing, I like the first act of Siegfried, and I could listen to Rhinegold all day.

    Then get yourself sat down one day and listen to the whole shebang, better still go and see one......you never know one day you could end up hooked.

    If on the other hand you find the orchestral music is as far as it goes, you've then got tons to look at. Richard Strauss, Mahler, Bruckner the world is definitely your Cookie.

    By the way I feel Solti is much maligned usually for snobbish reasons. The criticism I've heard several times is that it is too beautiful..... I beg your pardon.
     
    lordsummit, Feb 17, 2004
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  20. cookiemonster

    Rodrigo de Sá This club's crushing bore

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    Your Summitship (there is no smily for genuflexion, otherwise I would have inserted one here):

    Yours is perhaps the more realistic proposition. Climb the ladder step by step and make sure you can come down.

    It is a fact that liking the better known Wagner is not an accurate indication of liking his operas. So Strauss, Bruckner and some Mahler could be the right ways to go. And, after that, as Graham pointed out, parhaps the operatic Wagner may be less difficult (I'll be burnt for this - suggesting that one begins with Wagner, turns to his followers, and then back to him again; it does seem silly!). :)
     
    Rodrigo de Sá, Feb 17, 2004
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