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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This book is especially worth buying for those who are interested in Wagner, 8 Feb. 2014
This review is from: Music in 1853: The Biography of a Year (0) (Hardcover)
By 1853 the great cities of Europe were connected by a network of railways. Musicians were thus able to interact more easily, exchanging rapidly-delivered mail and freely crossing frontiers in the international spirit which followed the overthrow of Napoleon. Though none of its narrative (not even dialogue) is invented, this is a book which reads like a novel and as such is one which I found very difficult to put down. The starting point is a few weeks before Richard Wagner’s 40th Birthday. We become witnesses to meetings of Brahms, Spohr, Liszt, Schumann, Joachim and Berlioz, but everyone has Wagner on his mind. In fact he turns up on half of the book’s 186 pages.
Impatiently awaiting the first postal delivery of each day, Wagner kept up a voluminous correspondence with his friends, most important of which was that with Liszt who was ever willing to assist and encourage him as well as from time to time being a source of much-needed funds. Wagner’s first action of 1853 had been to send his libretti for Der Junge Siegfried and Siegfrieds Tod to the printers for a run of 50 copies.
In the week following the concerts which he conducted in Zurich to celebrate his birthday Wagner composed a piece of music for the first time in over five years: 23 bars for piano in the style of a polka which he presented to Mathilda Wesendonck. On 20th June he followed this with a single movement piano sonata at the head of which manuscript he wrote: “Wisst ihr, wie das wird?” “Know ye what is to come?” quoting the Norns and Brünnhilde from what was to become Götterdämmerung.
On 2nd July Wagner met Liszt off the train for his eight-day visit to Zurich. Wagner felt that he and Liszt were moving into a new world of music, leaving Schumann and his supporters far behind. Wagner read out the Rheingold and the Walküre poems and Hugh Macdonald speculates that it was Liszt’s playing him some of the symphonic poems he had been working on since their last meeting four years previously (Orpheus, Prometheus, Mazeppa) which might have prompted Wagner finally to embark on the huge task of composing the Ring which he had been contemplating for so long. Looking three or four years ahead, he and Liszt planned to mount a Ring in a newly-built theatre in Zurich.
In August Wagner set off for Italy, arriving in La Spezia. 15 years later he wrote of this trip: “Woke up with the orchestral introduction to Das Rheingold (the E¨ triad). Sinking in a rush of water. Immediate turnaround and decision to work.” Wagner never claimed that this was the first music he wrote for the Ring. In 1850 he had drafted the opening scenes for the Norns continuing into the first part of the scene for Brünnhilde and Siegfried in Götterdämmerung. In 1852 he jotted down the dragon’s motif and the Valkyries’ theme. But from that moment in La Spezia onward there was no turning back. According to Macdonald the Rubicon was crossed: “The most potent force in music since Beethoven was about to be unleashed in all its unimaginable splendour.”
Wagner returned from Italy with his head full of music, but a visit from Liszt and their trip to Paris together was “enough to keep him a little longer from the desk where a pile of 14 stave music paper awaited him.” With Liszt (“the only person who had any inkling of the real achievement on which Wagner was about to embark”) he visited Aldolphe Sax’s showroom where he came across saxhorns with their darker colour and more sombre tone than conventional horns and which he was to refashion into what would become known as “Wagner tubas”. Wagner arrived back in Zurich on 29th October and on 1st November he sat down at his desk and began to compose Der Ring des Nibelungen.

Roger Lee
Editor
Wagner News
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