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Wagner: Götterdämmerung - Live (1942) Bayreuth / conducted by Elmendorff / Record Label=Music & Arts / ASIN: B00004SCE8 ********************************************* --------------------------------- As Twilight Falls....Germany 1942 --------------------------------- This "Götterdämmerung" performance is among the best I’ve heard, and the theme of the opera (‘The Twilight of the Gods’): the crumbling of an old order, the saga of war and betrayal, makes the ‘historicity’ of this war-time concert (a live recording from the Bayreuth festival in Bavaria from 1942) an incredibly interesting recording. For those unfamiliar with Wagner’s "Götterdämmerung" – it is the fourth part of his epic operatic (4-day) cycle "Der Ring des Nibelungen: (‘The Ring of the Nibelungs’ [the Nibelungs are evil dwarves who fashion a cursed Ring]) based on Nordic/Germanic mythology and drawing largely from the mediaeval German epic _The Nibelungenleid_ (‘Song of the Nibelungs’) and the Norse _Volsunga Saga_ (note: Tolkien’s _The Lord of the Rings_ makes heavy use of the same sources as Wagner and Tolkien probably drew some inspiration from Wagner’s opera as well). [Biographical note: Many are probably turned off from Wagner because of his notorious anti-semitism. Whilst I neither dispute nor defend this charge: (1) it is important to separate an artist from his art and (2) Wagner’s personal relations with Jews are complex – for instance he strongly suspected that his actual father was Jewish and he had complex relations with Jews as stage-managers, &c. What I can make out from his writings is that he began to equate Judaism and capitalism and it is the latter which he actually despised. Again this is not a defence of Wagner, just an attempt at an explanation. But Wagner’s vision of the German Volk certainly would not have in cluded the Third Reich, nor would Wagner have applauded it. Hitler’s adoption of Wagner’s music (which shows, in part, like his adoption of Nietzsche’s philosophical writings, that he had little true understanding of either) is regrettable, leaving Wagner with a bad flavour, much like Hitler’s tainting of the ancient Indo-European symbol for good luck: the swastika (which Hitler used the wrong way round). An especially prominent symbol in India (the name of the symbol itself, swastika, is Sanskrit, not German), though it is found also on old Anglo-Saxon graves--being a truly primaeval Indo-European symbol, it is truly lamentable that the swastika should now have such evil associations.] ***** For those unfamiliar with the story of the Ring Cycle, I shall attempt a brief synopsis of the basic plot (leaving out many details, one must understand). [If you are familiar already with the Ring Cycle or do not desire to read through this section, skip down to the next set of ***’s]: The first opera of the cycle, "Das Rheingold" ('The Gold of the River Rhine'), tells of the fashioning of the cursed ring of power (again, does this remind anyone a bit of Tolkien?). The evil dwarf Alberich comes up from the depths of the earth and encounter the ethereally-beautiful Rhein-maidens swimming in the Rhein. As he is hideous ugly, they reject his clumsy advances, but accidentally tell him of the Rheingold they possess and what power one might wield were he to fashion a ring from it (and renounce love, for some reason). So Alberich does just this. Later, Wotan (=Odin), the king of the gods, with the help of Loge (=Loki), the trickster-god manages to take the ring from Alberich. A number of events occur (which I shall not relate here) which force Wotan reluctantly to ransom the ring to the giants; then, at the end of the opera, Erda (=’Earth-Mother’) comes to Wotan and prophesises that th e curse of the ring will bring about the downfall of the gods. In the second opera, "Die Walküre" ('The Valkyries'), Wotan, in order to protect Valhalla (the home of the gods), has sired eight daughters, the valkyries, and commanded them to gather up an army of dead heroes to guard Valhalla against its foretold doom. Meanwhile….a weaponless man called Siegmund is fleeing and comes across a house: he is wounded and exhausted and cannot go on, so he decides to rest here. Sieglinde, who lives in the house, finds him and invites him inside. She informs him that the house and she herself belong to Hunding and bids her guest wait for the master of the house. Siegmund says that bad luck haunts him and that he must leave lest he should bring bad luck to the house but Sieglinde convinces him to stay, saying that he cannot bring bad luck where bad luck already lives. Siegmund names himself ‘Woeful’ and waits for Hunding. Hunding arrives and greets Siegmund in a formal manner and then wants to hear his story. Siegmund tells his father was ‘Wolf’ and that he [Siegmund] had a twin sister. One day, Siegmund returned home, to find that his mother had been killed and his home burned. His sister and father were nowhere to be found. Later he saw a damsel in distress: she was being forced into a marriage he did not want. Siegmund rushed into her defence and killed some of her enemies - only to learn they were actually her brothers and kinsmen. Siegmund fought, but was wounded and eventually lost his sword. The girl was killed and Siegmund had to flee. At this point, Hunding declares that he was summoned to avenge on a murderer who had killed some people nearby, who has turned out to be Siegmund himself. Hunding says that his house will protect ‘Woeful’ for the night but that he must prepare to fight Hunding to the death on the morrow. Siegmund is left alone and recalls his father promised him a sword when he most ba dly would need one. Sieglinde enters. She tells him she was forced into marrying Hunding against her will. Their wedding party had an uninvited guest: a fearsome stranger whose large hat was pulled down to cover one eye [this is Wotan, who gave up one of his eyes]. Everybody except Sieglinde feared him. The stranger had a sword and he thrust that sword in the tree trunk that is in the middle of Hunding's house and said that the blade would belong to anyone who pulled it out of the tree. Many have tried but none of them succeeded. They both reveal their true feelings to each other. Sieglinde reveals to Siegmund that she is his lost twin sister as well, and calls him his true name, Siegmund. Siegmund draws the enchanted sword from the tree and names it Nothung (=‘Need’). They embrace each other passionately. In the next scene, Wotan gives orders to his favourite daughter valkyrie Brünnhilde to guard Siegmund in the coming battle. Then, his wife Fricka (the goddess of wedlock) objects and forces him to have Hunting warded instead, so he must command Brünnhilde to guard Hunting. Brünnhilde decides to disobey and to protect Siegmund instead. Wotan is forced to intervene and shatters the sword Nothung with his spear and Siegmund is slain. But Brünnhilde has found Sieglinde and at least carries her off to safety. Wotan is furious: he says Brünnhilde will be a valkyrie no longer, she will lay defenceless in deep sleep and will become wife to the first person who finds her. The other valkyries protest, but Wotan tells them to leave lest they wish to share Brünnhilde's fate. The eight valkyries flee in terror, only Brünnhilde and Wotan are left. Her last wish is that Wotan surround her with a wall of fire which only bravest of all heroes can penetrate. Brünnhilde falls in deep sleep and Wotan gives her a long goodbye - and then kisses her godhood away: she is a mortal woman now. Wotan knocks the ground three times with his Runespear and thus summons Loge ( in his fire-elemental form) to surround the sleeping Brünnhilde. "Siegfried", the third opera, named after the hero of the cycle, begins in a cavern in the wilderness. Siegfried, who is the son of Siegmund and Siegliende, has been orphaned and adopted by the dwarf Mime. No matter how well Mime forges a sword, Siegfried’s strength always manages to break it. Siegfried questions Mime about his parentage and Mime shows him the pieces of the shattered blade Nothung of his father. Siegfried himself forges Nothung anew. As Siegfried forges, Mime brews a drugged potion, intending to kill Siegfried as Wotan has told Mime that Siegfried is destined to slay him. Later, Siegfried asks Mime to teach him the meaning of fear and Mime sends him to meet the dragon Fafner. Fafner is actually one of the giants, who has transformed into a dragon himself by means of the Tarnhelm (another dwarvish item, taken by Wotan and ransomed to the giants) and killed his brother. In dragonish form, he sits on his hoard (which includes the cursed ring of the Rheingold). Siegfried slays Fafner with Nothung, in the course of the battle his hands are covered in the dragon’s blood and by tasting the blood he is able to understand the speech of birds. One bird tells him to take only the Tarnhelm and the ring and leave the rest of the treasure and also warns him of Mime’s treachery. After slaying Mime, Siegfried asks the bird where he might find a companion and the bird tells him of a maiden surrounded by a ring of fire. Siegfried finds Brünnhilde and is astonished by her, never having seen a woman before (he thinks at first, covered in armour, she is a man). Waking her with a kiss (sleeping-beauty-fashion), they declare their love for one another. The final opera in the cycle, "Götterdämmerung" ('The Twilight of the Gods'), is a glorious and horrible saga of love and betrayal. A new day dawns around the Valkyrie Rock where Siegfried and B rünnhilde are. Siegfried wishes (despite just falling in love) to go wandering in search of new heroic deeds. Brünnhilde lets him ride her horse, Grane, and Siegfried gives the Ring to Brünnhilde, as a token of his faith. After a passionate farewell, Siegfried rides down the mountainside toward the River Rhein. Brënnhilde can hear the sound of his hunting-horn from the distance. Meanwhile…in the hall of the Gibichungs, lord Gunther asks his clever half-brother Hagen (whose father is Alberich, the evil dwarf) how could he win more fame and glory. Hagen tells Gunther that he should marry and that there is only one woman noble enough for him: Brünnhilde, who is surrounded by magic fire which only the bravest of heroes can pass. Gunther laments that he lacks the courage for such a task. Hagen says that, indeed, the only one with such courage is Siegfried. And to kill two birds with one stone, Siegfried should be persuaded to marry Gunther's sister, Gutrune. Gutrune thinks Hagen is jesting: how could she charm the bravest hero in the world? Hagen reminds her of a magic potion which would make Siegfried lose his memory and fall in love with the first woman he sees. Siegfried, riding along the Rhein in search of noble quests appears. He wants either to fight Gunther or to befriend him. Gunther, not the bravest of men, prefers to become his friend. Gutrune appears and gives a ‘welcoming toast’ to Siegfried, with the magic potion of course. Siegfried then forgets Brünnhilde and falls in love with Gutrune. When Siegfried hears about Gunther's ‘beloved’, Brünnhilde, and the fires which surround her rock, his mind is struggling to throw off the spell of amnesia, but up to no avail (a very moving moment in the opera). He devises an ingenious plan: he will use the magic of the Tarnhelm to disguise himself as Gunther and win Brünnhilde for Gunther, if Gunther lets him marry his sister, Gutrune. Gunther and Siegfried swear an oath of bloodbroot herhood before Siegfried leaves to conquer Brünnhilde for Gunther. He does so (in the form of Gunther), takes the Ring from her finger, spends the night (chastely) with her, and returns the next day to the Gibichs with Brünnhilde. The Gibichs begin to prepare the feast for the double marriage. As the crowd of Gibichs watches, Brünnhilde and Gunther come from a boat. Brünnhilde is shocked, seeing Siegfried and Gutrune together. Then she notices the Ring on Siegfried's finger and says it was Siegfried who took the Ring from her. Siegfried is confused: he can now remember slaying a dragon and thus winning the Ring. Hagen suggests to Brünnhilde that Siegfried has played some trick. Brünnhilde screams: trickery! treachery! She even claims that Siegfried forced delight from her, at which Siegfried decides to swear a new oath that he has spoken true. Hagen offers his spear for the oath. Siegfried swears: if I have sworn falsely, let yours be the blade that pierces me. Suddenly, Brünnhilde also places her hand on the spear and blesses the blade for this purpose, for, she says, falsely has Siegfried sworn indeed. Later, Brünnhilde, Hagen and Gunther are together. Brünnhilde wonders aloud what has happened to Siegfried - what devil's trickery has made him betray her? Hagen offers to avenge her on Siegfried, but Brünnhilde doubts his combat prowess: a single flicker from Siegfried's eyes would suffice to make Hagen's courage falter. Surely, asks Hagen, he would still be vulnerable to his spear because of the false oath he swore on it? Brünnhilde says that she has protected Siegfried with magic which makes him invulnerable to any weapon - only his back she spared protection as she knew Siegfried would never turn and run from any combat. There shall my spear strike, declares Hagen. Gunther is desperate: the events have put him into a terrible shame. Hagen's answer is that only one thing can restore his honour now: Siegfried's death. Gunther falls silent a nd hesitates, but Hagen makes him come around with a hint of the all-powerful Ring which Siegfried is wearing. Brünnhilde, Hagen and Gunther decide that Siegfried shall die and plot to kill him during a hunting party. Meanwhile…Siegfried is again riding along the Rhein during the hunt. The Three Rheinmaidens are singing and swimming in the river, as Siegfried arrives. He is hunting, but has lost his prey. The Rheinmaidens spot the Ring and try to persuade (almost seduce) Siegfried into giving it to them. For a moment Siegfried holds the Ring in the air and is indeed going to give it away, but when the Rheinemaidens warn him of the dangers which he will meet if does not yield the Ring, he declares indignantly that he does not care for his life and will not be threatened into parting with the ring. The Rheinmaidens swim away calling him a madman - and they utter the prophecy that the Ring will today go to a certain lady, who will make a more reasonable decision. Siegfried meets the rest of the hunting party: Hagen, Gunther and some vassals. Gunther is very depressed as Hagen mixes a drink for Siegfried, who also offers the drink to Gunther. To brighten Gunther, Siegfried decides to tell a story from the years when he was but a boy. He now remembers Mime and how he could understand the bird which told him not to trust Mime - and how he eventually slaughtered Mime. Hagen gives him another drink which wakens his memory. Now Siegfried tells the others how he found Brünnhilde - Gunther is shocked: Siegfried remembers now everything (and what's more, his beloved turns out to be none other than Brünnhilde)! Two ravens (symbols/servants of Wotan) fly up and circle above Siegfried, then fly away. Hagen asks him if he was able to understand what the ravens said. Revenge they cried to me, says Hagen, and plunges his spear in Siegfried's back. Siegfried falls down. Gunther and the vassals are terrified and ask Hagen why he acted thus. Hagen maintains it was a vengea nce. Siegfried opens his eyes, sees a vision of Brünnhilde, and then dies. Siegfried's corpse is taken to the hall of the Gibichungs. Hagen tells Gutrune that Siegfried has fallen prey to a wild boar. Gutrune accuses Gunther of murdering Siegfried, but Gunther replies that Hagen was the ‘wild boar’. Hagen confesses murdering Siegfried, but as Gunther proceeds to take the Ring, he attacks Gunther and strikes him dead, saying abruptly: ‘Give the Ring here!’. Now everyone present is shocked, as Gunther is killed by his own half-brother. Nobody makes any attempt to stop Hagen as he now proceeds to take the Ring - but miraculously Siegfried's corpse raises its hand as Hagen draws near. Hagen is terrified and dares not go any nearer. Brünnhilde enters: she has heard everything and now knows what occurred. She declares that Siegfried belonged to her all the time and Gutrune weepingly admits this. Brünnhilde instructs the vassals to pile logs into a funeral pyre and leave Siegfried's corpse atop the pyre. She understands that it was not in fact Siegfried who deceived her as he in turn was betrayed himself and thus forgives Siegfried and mourns her loss. She wishes him peace saying that she knows now everything. Taking the Ring, she pronounces that the fire that shall soon consume her will cleanse the Curse from the Ring and that the Rheinmaidens shall be able to reclaim their purified gold from the ashes. She puts on the Ring and takes a torch from one of the vassals. She bids Wotan's ravens to fly home past the Valkyrie Rock and bid Loge to go to Valhalla: the downfall of gods is nigh. The funeral pyre is lit. Brünnhilde mounts her steed, Grane, and, speaking a last greeting to Siegfried, she rides into the blazing pyre (a bit like a Hindu widow of old flinging herself onto her husband’s funeral pyre [suttee]). **** The cast in this production of "Götterdämmerung" are very good. Set Svanholm as our hero Siegfried is excellent. Friedrich Dalberg (who was actually an Englishman who Germanised his name) makes a glorious villain as Hagen. Some do not find Martha Fuchs the best Brünnhilde (she has a bit of trouble with some of the higher notes, but the lower notes she hits perfectly and chillingly), but I enjoy her singing of the part and think she understands the role and text better than some other singers. Camilla Kallab is also quite good in her long monologue as Waltraute (a valkyrie) in Act 1. It is largely the conducting by Karl Elmendorff that makes this a definitive production of "Götterdämmerung". I do not find that many of the more recent conductors of this opera (like Solti) are really of the same calibre as Elmendorff. This fact by far outweighes any disadvantages this recording has in being an older recording (and thus being made with less sophisticated sound equipment than more recent productions). The sound quality is actually quite good, especially for a broadcast from 1942. It does not have any noticeable noises and I only know that it’s mono sound because it says so on the case. The Music & Arts label which released this recording has done a fabulous job cleaning it up and the discs themselves are well-manufactured (one finds a number of classical recordings on inferior CDs). However, it does not come with a libretto (the German lines and the translation), so you may want to purchase one. I highly recommend this recording of "Götterdämmerung" to any Ring aficionados, or anyone who enjoys Wagner. Those who enjoy Tolkien or epic mythology are also likely to appreciate the epic drama and power of Wagner’s Ring Cycle. If you’re new to Wagner and/or opera in general (as I was until quite recently), you may just want to fling yourself into it anyway – I found that the best way; the Ring Cycle, and "Götterdämmerung" in particular, being a particularly thrilling opera, i s a good best bet. However, you may want to start small: "Plácido Domingo & Deborah Voigt sing Wagner Love Duets" (from "Tristan und Isolde" & "Siegfried") is a very nice, well-recorded one-disc CD. If you’re looking for the complete Ring Cycle, I highly recommend the "Clemens Krauss 1953 Bayreuther Festspiele" production of all four operas of the cycle (and it’s very affordable). But this recording of "Götterdämmerung" remains my favourite.
Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries is another great piece of music for the uninitiated into the world of classical music, another one of those you didn't know you knew. Ever seen an Eddie Izzard show? If yes then you definately know it. This piece is extraordinarily written so that you can actually envisage the Valkyries marching out to war, determined to succeed, the quieter moments being the worried "is the enemy in sight?" type of moments you get in films. If you only ever listen to one Wagner work make it this one because it is without doubt the best.
I can't pretend to know Wagner's music all that well, there is a vast amount and it is all pretty hard going though very rewarding. I have the whole of The Ring of the Niebelung (The old Decca/Solti set, I joined Britannia to get this at £20!). As far as the storyline goes, if you are into such things as The Lord of the Rings, you will like this. But as I say, it is hard going, this is no background music, you have to pay attention and then it will come through to you. I have to admit, however, that what grabs me is the orchestration, it is wonderful. I've often wondered what it would be like to hear just the orchestra without the singing - even Mahler didn't write symphonies 4 hours long! The opera I have always intended to get is The Mastersingers. I once did a short course on this and Tristan and Isolde and thought it was ravishing, wonderful melodies especially the prize song. I have a friend who goes to Beyreuth every year to immerse herself and she is unswerving in her devotion - this year she "did" The Ring and hasn't come down to earth since!
Wagner is a giant of a composer and his works reflect this. Born in 1813 he was to grow up and be remembered not for his greatness as a composer, but mostly for a single composition, the Ring Cycle which is actually a work of many parts and needs to be performed over many nights. It is so long it and involved that the first work, the ring of the Nibelungen, was started in 1853, and the last part, Gotterdammerung, was not finished until 1874). It is based on the myths and legends and is an epic work telling the complex stories of the Gods and heroes. It is not only the story which is epic, but also the music. It is written in a grand scale with a large orchestra and great extremes of emotion that can be felt in the instrumental and vocal arrangements even if the words (which are in German) cannot be understood; the poetic nature of his music carries it through even language barriers. To confine the perception of Wagner to this one work is a mistake, although arguably his greatest work it is not singularly defining, his piano music and other coral music is also memorable, but often overlooked. Personally I also love his Symphony in C major, which although as an early work lacks some of the later maturity, still is pleasant and relaxing as well as holding the interest with interesting themes and motifs. Just as with many other composers he also has some weaker compositions, some of the songs, although inspired poetically do not deliver the same emotion and artistry as other works, or having been experimental just do not work. Overall he is worth listening to, but with discrimination of is good and not so good works.
Debuusy once said it was a shame that composers hadn't recognised that Wagner, who they took for a new dawn, was actually a sunset. And this just about somes Wagner up. He is one of the crowning glories of the Romantic language, but his achievements brought the language to a point where it collapsed under its own weight. Possibly Mahler and Strauss managed to eek just a little more out of it, but Wagner's music at least signalled the end. The basic premise of his musical language was a realisation that any note could become a leading note, thus it become possible to slide around keys in a completely unprecedented way, and harmony became a great deal more chromatic, and ambiguous. This makes for extremely colourful music, and, at times, some disorientation. But Wagner had to be a one off. Whilst composers thought he had unlocked the gate to heightened chromaticism, it quickly became clear that tonality wouldn't bear the weight of it, and atonality became more or less inevitable. So Wagner's music is great? Well yes, but there is hours and hours and hours and hours of stuff that sounds exactly the same. Take the Ring Cycle. A set of four operas, totalling between 16 and 24 hours, depending on the conductor. And all of it sounds extremely similar. Great if you are watching it on stage, and you happen to speak fairly archaic German. But on CD, you have to be quite a fan to sit through it all. You definitely have to hear some Wagner, but it takes a while to get into. Try starting with Tristan and Isolde, or maybe Tannhauser.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 The Ride of the Walkyres - National Symphony Orchestra Washington, Antal Doráti
2 Trauermarsch - Berliner Philharmoniker, Herbert von Karajan
3 Prelude to Act III - Giuseppe Sinopoli, New York Philharmonic Orchestra
4 Overture - Orchester der Bayreuther Festspiele, Karl Böhm
5 "Steuermann, lass die Wacht!" (nur Chor) - Chor der Bayreuther Festspiele, Wilhelm Pitz, Helmut Fellmer, Orchester der Bayreuther Festspiele, Karl Böhm
6 Prelude - Giuseppe Sinopoli, New York Philharmonic Orchestra
7 Overture - Orchester der Deutschen Oper Berlin, Otto Gerdes
8 "Freudig begrüßen wir die edle Halle" - Chorus of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Norbert Balatsch, Philharmonia Orchestra, Giuseppe Sinopoli
9 Einleitung: Tannhäusers Pilgerfahrt (Ausschnitt) - Philharmonia Orchestra, Giuseppe Sinopoli
10 Orchesterzwischenspiel - Berliner Philharmoniker, Herbert von Karajan
11 - Vorspiel und Siegfrieds Rheinfahrt - - Berliner Philharmoniker, Herbert von Karajan
12 "Zurück vom Ring!" - Karl Ridderbusch, Berliner Philharmoniker, Herbert von Karajan
13 Verwandlungsmusik - Berliner Philharmoniker, Herbert von Karajan
14 "Rheingold! Rheingold!" (Schluß) - Helen Donath, Edda Moser, Anna Reynolds, Berliner Philharmoniker, Herbert von Karajan
Disc #2 Tracklisting
1 Prelude to Act I - New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Giuseppe Sinopoli
2 "Treulich geführt ziehet dahin" - Bavarian Radio Chorus, Heinz Mende, Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Rafael Kubelik
3 Vorspiel (Prelude) - Staatskapelle Dresden, Giuseppe Sinopoli
4 Karfreitagszauber - Staatskapelle Dresden, Giuseppe Sinopoli
5 Verwandlungsmusik - Herbert von Karajan, Berliner Philharmoniker
6 Bacchanale - Staatskapelle Dresden, Giuseppe Sinopoli
7 "Beglückt darf nun dich, o Heimat, ich schauen" (Aus- schnitt) (Pilgerchor) - Chorus of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Norbert Balatsch, Philharmonia Orchestra, Giuseppe Sinopoli
8 Prelude - Berliner Philharmoniker, Herbert von Karajan
9 Einleitung 2. Szene - Berliner Philharmoniker, Herbert von Karajan
10 Siegfried Idyll - Berliner Philharmoniker, Rafael Kubelik
11 - Brünnhildes Erwachen: Einleitung - - Berliner Philharmoniker, Herbert von Karajan
12 Prelude - Orchester der Bayreuther Festspiele, Karl Böhm
13 Liebestod - Berliner Philharmoniker, Herbert von Karajan