My Favorite Composer (Today) — Richard Wagner

OkMy first exposure to the Tristan and Isolde overture was in the movie Excalibur. I was about nine years old, and fascinated, as most young boys probably tend to be, with Arthurian legend. To a boy of that age, Excalibur is both disturbing and hauntingly beautiful. I came away from the experience marked for life. Both Wagner and Orff are used in the soundtrack; and while Orff’s “O Fortuna” inspired me directly and immediately (and hadn’t yet been over-utilized in popular culture), the hyper-romantic strains of Wagner would find their way into my soul and infest my blood. This is what hopeless love sounds like.

And if you thought that was impressive, it gets better:

The quotation of the theme from the prelude at around 8:50 sends a chill through my core every time I hear it. Tonight as ever, while listening to this recording, I grow teary-eyed and short of breath.

Neither a great lover nor a hero, Wagner somehow tapped into the essence of both love and heroism like none before or after. How do we reconcile Wagner the man with Wagner the artist? We don’t. We regard him as a vessel through which flowed music that stretches the limitation of human imagination. His artistic output may not redeem him, but seems to escape him.

Wagner tackled epic subject matter — war, death, gods…even Armageddon itself. His productions required a special theater. Wagnerian singers struggle with greater physical demands than lyrical opera singers. Let’s close today’s post with a piece that never fails to touch me deeply:

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