We continue tonight with our playing of Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle, Der Ring des Nibelungen. As we have stated in the last two weeks, Wagner wrote the libretto between 1848 and 1852, writing the four operas in reverse order. The music, on the other hand, was written in the order of the narrative. Wagner had the music for Siegfried written up to the end of Act 2, at which point he set the opera aside while he wrote Tristan und Isolde and Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. He picked up where he left off in 1869, and had the rest of the cycle completed by October of that same year. Although he had completed the music, Wagner delayed publishing the opera because he wanted the cycle premiered in its entirety, not in individual parts (King Ludwig had insisted on hearing Das Reingold and Die Walküre upon publication, in spite of Wagner’s objections). The premiere was also delayed because of Wagner’s desire to have a theater built for his music. Siegfried was eventually premiered on August 16th, 1876, in the newly completed Bayreuth Festspielhaus, as part of the first complete performance of the cycle.
Tonight’s recording is from Karl Böhm’s excellent live recording from the 1967 Bayreuth Festival. We hear Wolfgang Windgassen (like Lauritz Melchior, one of the all-time great heldentenors), Erwin Wohlfahrt, Birgit Nilsson (one of the all-time great Brünnhildes), Theo Adam, and Gustav Neidlinger. Böhm leads the Bayreuth Festival Orchestra & Chorus.
For our second piece this evening, we’re going to hear one of Wagner’s few non-operatic works. The Wesendonck Lieder is a song cycle that Wagner wrote while writing Tristan und Isolde, using poems by Mathilde Wesendonck, the wife of one of Wagner’s patrons, and the focus of an alleged love affair of Wagner’s. Wagner used the music as studies, and eventually used some of this material in Tristan und Isolde. The cycle was initially written for female voice and piano, but eventually set the 5th movement, Träume, for chamber orchestra in 1857. The rest of the orchestration was completed by the noted Wagnerian conductor Felix Mottl. There have been other orchestral arrangements of the cycle, but Mottl’s is the most commonly performed version. Tonight’s recording is a 2010 recording, with Measha Brueggergosman singing. Franz Welser-Möst leads the Cleveland Orchestra.
Our next work is an oratorio by Johann Sebastian Bach, written for Ascension Sunday, which was celebrated today. Lobet Gott in seinen Reichen (Praise God in his Kingdoms), BWV 11, was likely composed in 1735, with Bach recycling older material, as he often did. It was first performed on May 19, 1735. The text is presumed to have been written by Picander, who used multiple Biblical sources. Tonight’s recording is a 1989 recording, with Emma Kirkby, Evelyn Tubb, Margaret Cable, Wilfried Jochens, and Stephen Charlesworth. Andrew Parrott leads the Taverner Consort & Players.
Our last work of the evening is a piece by the German early Baroque composer Heinrich Schütz. Schütz wrote Kleiner Geistlicher Concerten sometime around 1639, in the midst of the Thirty Years War, as an attempt to console those who had lost so much to the violence that surrounded them. We shall hear a 1990 recording of the Concerto Vocale, under the direction of Rene Jacobs.