Mozart the Dramatist: The Value of his Operas to him, to his Age and to Us (Faber Finds)

Mozart the Dramatist
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But you must be careful with leitmotifs. She is obviously something much larger than she has been before that point. How far did he want the audience to be consciously aware of them? As far as I know, he never said anything definite on that score. There are ironic quotations, enforced quotations, motifs that were originally in the major and then go into the minor, other key changes, or they are put in combination.

For example, take the prelude to the third act of Siegfried , which is when Wagner went back after a twelve year break to recompose The Ring. And the number of motifs that he throws around, like Jove hurling rocks at you, is absolutely flabbergasting. Can you give an example of a particular motif that transmogrifies and, in so doing, acquires new dramatic meaning? When the motif of Valhalla is introduced, it is itself a transformation of the ring motif.

The introduction of the ring motif in the opening scene of Rheingold is threatening and oddly unobtrusive.

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For your security, communications may be recorded and monitored. He learns that, if on finishing a poem he is con- vinced that it is good, the chances are that the poem is a self- imitation. Which I love. If poems could be created in a trance without the conscious participation of the poet, the writing of poetiy would be so boring or even unpleasant an operation that only a substantial reward in money or social prestige could induce a man to be a poet. Copyright , I94it by Marianne Moore. French Romantic composer.

But then, after Alberich has stolen the gold and gone off, you get it much more clearly as the transformation music takes place to take you into the rocky height. And you gradually hear the motif in thirds moving until it becomes, before your very ears, the Valhalla motif which is quiet and enormously noble. It quite quickly receives grand—and even pompous—treatment.

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At the end of The Ring , it takes on an extreme grandeur that is crushed. Why have you chosen this? It does have a lot of contributors, edited by Barry Millington. He has some useful things in there, like a very good chapter about mistakes that everybody makes about Wagner, for example, that more books have been written about Wagner than anyone else in history apart from Napoleon, Hitler, and Christ. The best chapters are the ones on the operas, the basic elements of the plot, their scoring, where they come from, and the way they were received and so forth. Would it be an exaggeration to say that Wagner is the most controversial composer ever?

It would be an understatement. The esteem for him is so high, or so furious. Wagner seems to operate at a certain level that excites some people enormously and upsets other people. The idea of Wagner as a bore is no longer tolerable as a thought by any musically educated person. No sane musical person would say that Wagner was negligible. It is perfectly clear that Wagner is an astonishing creative genius. The main claims against him are womanizing.

It is not true, or at least a shallow and silly reading of what happened. He was absolute hell and acknowledged this himself. He was a great composer, pianist, proselytiser for Wagner and other composers, and selfless in many ways, but he was a terrible husband. Cosima fell hopelessly in love with Wagner and Wagner fell in love with her—though never in the way that he had done with Mathilde Wesendonck. Wagner was, in most respects, an extremely nice man. He was a wonderful father and very anarchic, whereas Cosima wanted the children brought up strictly.

Wagner believed in giving them their freedom and romping around and so forth. People who knew Wagner were completely charmed, including people who thought they were going to be hostile to him. Nietzsche was prepared to be charmed by him but when he met him was just bowled; he wrote to a friend that he was the most delightful, witty, fast-talking person. In small gatherings, he kept everybody entertained and was wonderful. He had such supernatural energy, he was just brimming over the whole time.

Everyone always talks about his megalomania, but is a person a megalomaniac if they have ridiculously vast ambitions all of which are completely fulfilled? One reason that Wagner is so controversial is that people are annoyed that he had these world-conquering ambitions all of which he managed to fulfil completely.

He surpassed anything anyone could imagine. Tristan und Isolde is a particular miracle of art, as everybody will agree. Without Tristan , the whole of late Romantic music would have been impossible.

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Shocking eroticism was another charge against him. Clara Schumann, who attended a performance of Tristan, said that she had never been so shocked in her life. You feel with other composers—even ones who are dealing with love and so forth—that there are quite long passages where there is no sense of an underlying erotic surge in the music. With Wagner, there constantly is.

There he is, lying on the floor in a state of extreme weakness because she has explained how his mother Herzeleide died because he deserted her, and she pined and waited and he never turned up again. Parsifal goes in for this orgy of self-reproach and then collapses. Why does it set a watershed for musical history? The main thing about Tristan is that you are waiting for it to reach some kind of conclusion which is endlessly postponed.

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The very opening phrase — the famous yearning opening phrase — is then repeated with long silences and repeated again, which gives the basis for the whole. That creates an extreme feeling of unease and ecstasy combined, at least in the sympathetic listener. Wagner had to work with these extremely elaborate and confusing and confused medieval sources and he just got right in there, stripped them all down, and got to the barebones. For me, Wagner is the most perfect dramatist there is — even greater than Shakespeare in sheer construction.

For example, after the shattering power of the Tristan prelude which never quite resolves, you have the very beautiful unaccompanied song of the sailor singing in the rigging. A lot of people have said — and I think I probably agree — that you need to know Tristan in order to enjoy Meistersinger to the full, to see what an astonishing contrast there is between the two. When the character of Hans Sachs references the legend of Tristan in Meistersinger , you hear associated Tristan music by Wagner. Is that kind of self-referentiality mirrored anywhere else in his work?

Not like that, no. Parsifal itself breaks entirely new harmonic ground, especially the third act which is the object of universal devotion among musicians. It is just radiant and amazing, having a luminous quality with trumpet piercing through it in that strange and unease-making way. Can you say a bit about what this means and whether Wagner was equally committed to this totalising principle throughout his career?

The concept of the Gesamtkunstwerk is a bit of a bore actually, as Thomas Mann points out in his great essay. He needed to work himself through this kind of cumulative view that the more arts you could get into one package, the more exciting it would be. The main thing comes down to action, music, and words being as integrated as possible.

But this is what Monteverdi wanted, what Gluck wanted, and what Mozart certainly wanted. This is what all the people one most values in opera wanted. He had a desperately overactive mind.

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Is there not the idea that up until Wagner began composing his later works, music was subservient in some way to just showing off the vocal prowess of the singers? Yes, he certainly wanted to react against the prioritisation of the voice just idly doing things to show off. My feelings about Handel, for example, is that a great deal of it is someone standing still and emoting with floods of coloratura. And coloratura drives me mad, except if sung in certain Italian operas and if sung by Maria Callas. The whole thing about vocal gymnastics, which is really what it comes down to, in Rossini or Donizetti, makes me feel that this should really be in the Olympics, not in the opera house.

Wagner went back to the old line of dramma per musica , the original thing: drama through the music, opera as drama. That is the only idea that matters. Wagner, up to a point, I think was confused about that. I think the arguments in Rheingold are so interesting and compelling. You have this hammer and tongs quality that is unlike any opera by anybody. You have giants complaining about keeping contracts. But it keeps the music down a lot of the time. Quite a lot of Rheingold is something near the recitative. As far as most opera composers are concerned, Wagner was unusual in that he wrote the libretti and the music.

Does he give equal weight to the text as he does to the music? Would you say that Wagner is the most philosophical composer? Can you give another example of how this is reflected in his work? The Ring is the opera of his with the most evident argumentation.

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Parsifal carries you into some pretty abstract areas too, such as the nature of the relationship between sin, redemption, chastity, sensuality, and conquering base impulses in the interest of higher ones. Wagner is interested in myth in general and Christianity has been the central myth of the western world.

For example, a lot of his characters tend to not know who their mother or their father was — sometimes both, sometimes one or the other. It might have been his official father but it could have been Ludwig Geyer whom his mother went on to marry. There are various other themes such as redemption through or by or from love, in a broad sense, which pervades the works. Wagner was a huge reader and very enthusiastic and impatient.

So, there is this permeability between his life and his work. Yes, of course. We just have the good fortune or bad fortune of knowing a lot about Wagner. This was partly because of his copious letter writing and partly because he made such an enormous impression on anybody who ever met him.

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They all wrote about him. The title of this book emphasizes drama rather than music. How hands-on was Wagner with the production history of the operas? He was a man of the theatre, through and through and through. He walked across the stage and nobody ever did it with such dignity and humility and grace as Wagner. He terrified people when he was producing The Ring by jumping up onto the scenery and staging the battle between Siegmund and Hunding.

He was pretty old by then—he was about and his health was already shaky—and there he was jumping up on top of cardboard scenery. He would turn himself into a toad or into a dragon for Das Rheingold. He just loved acting. He was most at home on the boards. He tended to like very brisk tempi, or at least he said he liked brisk tempi. For example, the only time in his later life that he conducted part of his operas was the famous occasion of the last performance of the first run of Parsifal in He went down into the orchestra pit and conducted for the transformation music to the final scene.

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He moved up to Levi who was conducting and gently pushed him aside and took up his baton and conducted to the end. And Wagner took it so slowly that the singers would nearly have died except it was him conducting so, of course, they were prepared to do anything for him. So, they did them at this incredibly slow tempo that Wagner adopted. He would have done everything if he could have done. Why do you think that is? People are frightened by opera anyway, I think. Wagner is like that only with knobs on. I think people are just scared by the size, the amount of commitment that you have to make in order to get to know his works.

His last public concert was on 19 October at the Royal Albert Hall in London, where he conducted the Philharmonia orchestra in a program of his works. His best known music is the opening to Thus Spake Zarathustra , which became one of best known pieces of film music when Stanley Kubrick used it in his film A Space Odyssey. Jawrence, London, German original, , Atlantis-Verlag, Zurich.

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Buy Mozart the Dramatist: The Value of his Operas to him, to his Age and to Us ( Faber Finds) Main by Brigid Brophy (ISBN: ) from Amazon's. Mozart the Dramatist: The Value of His Operas to Him, to His Age and to Us . Certainly I find it hard to credit misogyny, which she asserts, as an inspiration for .

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