About Gods and Heroes: the most popular Wagner works in the Müpa

Although Wagner fans can easily list a bunch of vocal details from his works that can be performed out of the dramatic flow, but these are mainly found in the early romantic operas. Also, throughout his life work, there are orchestral numbers whose charms remain irresistible even after hearing them for the hundredth time. The artistic director of the Wagner Days in Budapest, Adam Fischer, conducts a selection of these pieces with the National Philharmonic Orchestra.

Sir Isidor George Henschel, the German-born British baritone, pianist, conductor and composer, has recorded the following anecdote:

“Yesterday morning I took the score of Götterdämmerung to Brahms. In the afternoon he asked me:

– Why did you bring it to me? (He asked me to!) I’m interested and fascinated, but I don’t always enjoy it. Tristan, that is quite different. But if I pick this one up in the morning, I’m grumpy for the rest of the day.

…Today I read him the news from a Berlin newspaper that a member of the Wagner orchestra had died in Bayreuth.

– ‘We have the first corpse,’ he said dryly.”

I don’t know whether there is any composer more ambivalent than Wagner, but it is certain that the above little story illustrates well how contrasting emotions the music of this great Romantic composer can evoke. Gottfried Wagner, the artist’s great-grandson, who is also a music historian, expresses this view in his monograph on his great-grandfather:

“Wagner knew exactly what effect his music had. He wrote to Mathilde Wesendock: ‘Think of my music as it penetrates with its delicate, subtle, mysterious sap through the subtle pores of perception to the very core of life, to conquer everything that is there, the reason and self-sufficient sustaining power, to wash out everything that belongs to the obsession of personality, and to leave only the wonderfully exalted sigh of the admission of unconsciousness.’

If you, dear reader, have any musical experience of Wagner, please recall your first impressions. As for myself, I was hugely impressed even in the very first few minutes of my introduction to this fascinating and unique musical world by listening to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. Its overture is also on the programme at Müpa Budapest on 21 June.

According to the above quoted Gottfried Wagner, the master considered himself a “programme musician” and his musical dramas as Gesamtkunstkunstwerk, in the service of which music was also a part. In 1851, he declared that he would not write any more operas but ‘dramas’: “I hope you understand my position and why I am offering this.”

And indeed, Wagner’s operas depict passionate stories and dramatic situations. Love affairs, human emotions and fateful decisions are often central themes. He strove to achieve a powerful emotional impact by depicting them effectively through the power of music and stage events. He used a highly expressive musical language, capable of conveying the depth and intensity of emotion. His musical structures, melodies, harmonies and orchestration all convey desires, passions, love and pain. The emotional impact is enhanced by the variety of musical dynamics, accents, tempo changes and timbres.

Wagner focused on the inner feelings and thoughts of the characters. He used music to portray in depth the characters’ state of mind, their desires, hopes, doubts and suffering. The honest and intense portrayal of emotions through the characters evokes identification and compassion from the audience. In the music, he used so-called leitmotifs, which create links of mood and meaning between musical elements and story elements. They are linked to specific characters, situations or emotions and help to follow and identify with those emotions.

He was also a pioneer in stage technology, with innovative ideas such as the canal system that allowed for changing sets on stage and spectacular water effects. In addition, Wagner paid great attention to stage movement, to the harmony between musical and visual elements, and to the atmosphere of the performance in general.

Müpa Budapest’s programme offers a glimpse into the highlights of his life work, including Der Fliegende Holländer, Tannhäuser, Lohengrin, Tristan und Isolde, Die Meistersinger von Nuremberg, Götterdämmerung and The Valkyrie. Beginners and seasoned Wagner lovers alike will enjoy the high quality of the National Philharmonic’s usual evening.

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Article: Anna Rácz

Translation: Zsófia Hacsek