Wagner’s “Die Walküre”: Magic Fire Music

At the end of the third and final act of Wagner’s Die Walküre, Wotan bids farewell to Brünnhilde, sending her into an enchanted sleep. Loge, the Norse god of fire, creates a protective circle of fire around the rock where she lies. Only the bravest of heroes will be able to penetrate the fire. At the opera’s 1870 premiere in Munich, the special effect of the flames terrified the audience. From the beginning of this …

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George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra: Five Legendary Recordings

In music one must think with the heart and feel with the brain. -George Szell George Szell was music director of the Cleveland Orchestra from 1946 until his death in July, 1970. During that time, the Hungarian-born Jewish-American conductor transformed the orchestra on the industrial shores of Lake Erie into one of the world’s most esteemed ensembles. He created an orchestra with a distinct sound and style- a seamless blend of European warmth, …

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Wagnerian Brawn: “Siegfried’s Forging Song”

In celebration of Labor Day, here is one of opera’s greatest displays of heroic physical labor and brawn. It’s “Siegfried’s Forging Song,” which concludes the first act of Wagner’s Siegfried, the third music drama in the Ring Cycle. Disgusted with the dwarf Mime’s lack of progress in reforging the broken pieces of Nothung, the sword that will slay the dragon Fafner, Siegfried takes up the task himself. The music takes on a frightening, almost violent, …

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Wagner’s “Die Meistersinger” Overture: Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic

Tomorrow marks the 205th anniversary of the birth of Richard Wagner (1813-1883). In celebration, let’s listen to a classic recording of the Overture to Wagner’s 1868 opera, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, by Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic. Die Meistersinger is one of Wagner’s later works, completed after Tristan and Isolde and between operas of the Ring Cycle. It’s something of an outlier in Wagner’s output- a comic love story in which no one dies and there are no …

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The Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra Turns 275

One of the world’s oldest and most eminent orchestras is turning 275. Leipzig’s Gewandhaus Orchestra kicked off a four week-long festival yesterday, commemorating the anniversary of its founding by the city’s nobility in 1743. Additionally, the festival celebrates the inauguration of Music Director Andris Nelsons. (The Latvian conductor is also currently Music Director of the Boston Symphony). Nelson’s recent predecessors include Riccardo Chailly, Herbert Blomstedt, and Kurt Masur. Bruno Walter and Wilhelm Furtwängler occupied the post prior …

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The Power of Six Notes: Exploring the “Dresden Amen”

On Friday, we listened to a few excerpts from Wagner’s epic final opera, Parsifal. Today, let’s return to one of Parsifal‘s most powerful and persistently recurring leitmotifs: the majestic, ascending six-note motive known as the “Dresden Amen.” This liturgical chord sequence was written by Johann Gottlieb Naumann (1741-1801) for use in Dresden’s court chapel some time in the late 18th century. It spread quickly to both Catholic and Lutheran churches throughout the German state of Saxony …

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Wagner’s Parsifal: The “Good Friday Spell”

Heroic sacrifice, compassion, healing, and rebirth…these are central themes of Wagner’s last opera, Parsifal. Unfolding over nearly five hours, Parsifal was conceived as a solemn mystical experience- a Gesamtkunstwerk (“total work of art”) blending Christian and Buddhist symbolism and Schopenhauerian philosophy. The story, based on a 13th-century epic verse by German poet Wolfram von Eschenbach, depicts the Arthurian knight Parsifal’s quest for the Holy Grail- the chalice that held the wine of Christ at the Last Supper. One of the opera’s …

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