Happy 202nd anniversary to the Old Fellow! We present an image of the artist as a young Lohengrin, hope Placido sings a little Swan-King today and look forward to Wagner Society SA bash on Sunday (see below). “Mein lieber Schwann!”
Sunday afternoon, 24 May, the Wagner Society of SA hosted a lunch and talk by Gillian and Nicholas Braithwaite. Jill is a violinist of note and Nicholas is the highly esteemed conductor (he led ASO from 1987 to 1991), he has recorded and conducted all over the world.
The Braithwaites gave a sparkling talk on the difficulty of Wagner, of the challenging abyss between conception and execution and the fact that the best musicians never sound the same twice. Jill played a sample from some of Wagner’s more hideously difficult moments from Tannhäuser, Rhinegold (especially some of Loge’s motifs, which Nicholas modestly declared to be “impossible”) and Siegfried.
It was noted that the early precocious Wagner was moved to apply intricate variations to his repetition, so that it was impossible for a musician to absorb the work and be confident of the patterns – rather, each pattern had to be studied and mastered down to the last stitch.
The Master composed mainly by piano but either forgot, or disregarded the fact that tinkering with multiple varied chords is physically easier on the ivories than on, say, the violin (and Jill Braithwaite demonstrated how insanely difficult it can be, displaying some of her music books with crosses and underlining, marking particularly difficult bits, hurled across the score).
You can imagine the composer, at orchestral rehearsal, channelling William Wyler, asking the musicians to “just…be better.” Or, as Nicholas Braithwaite quoted an early source, Reginald Goodall, “Don’t mumble the little notes.” Braithwaite also recalled Georg Solti, a little unhappily, referring to his nickname ‘The Screaming Skull’.
Nicholas recalled his operatic work in Germany in the early 1960s, particularly pre-wall Berlin and venerated Wieland Wagner as a genius, particularly his radical staging of the 1950s. A charming presentation from two accomplished musicians and Wagnerians.
A last May gift: the May newsletter of the Richard Wagner Society SA reveals that the ASO plans to do (a bit of) Die Walküre next year. Alas, there is the accursed matter of money (as the Master was so vexed, so are we) so please give generously to the RWS fund for this holy purpose!