Today is the 200th birthday of Richard Wagner, for many the greatest composer who ever lived. Germany has been celebrating. A monument is to be erected in Leipzig, his birthplace, and there will be concerts at Bayreuth.
Wagner once said, “I hold the Jewish race to be the born enemy of pure humanity and everything noble in it.” No surprise, then, that Adolf Hitler became a great fan. Wagner’s great-granddaughter at least wants to lay the ghosts to rest and has announced that she will make private letters available to historians so they can look into the rumours that Wagner’s daughter-in-law – Winifred, an English woman – had a relationship with the Führer. Whether he was a beast or not, his music is remarkable. Here is one of my favourites, the overture to Tristan und Isolde, conducted of course by my friend Antonio Pappano:
Wagner had the opera house at Bayreuth built solely for the performance of his own work and today the tradition continues under the management of his heirs. It is said that the building was largely funded by the extravagant Ludwig II of Bavaria, famous for perhaps his greatest folly, the castle of Neuschwanstein.
I have never understood people who say they hate Wagner’s music, or can’t abide any of it. Personally, I will admit that I don’t like it all. I know, for example, that true fans will think me a philistine for saying that, for the most part, Das Rheingold is a drudge to sit through. It has its moments, as the famous quote says, but I am always amazed that the singers can remember their parts as they have no melody at all to work with. I’ll come back to The Ring after treating you to the Tannhaüser overture (can you spot the Doe, a deer bit?)
Well, we can’t have Wagner’s birthday without perhaps his best known tune! Used in films like Apocalypse Now and more recently Valkyrie, it is almost always heard on the radio without the voices. And it’s the voices that make it. Have a good one!