Sunday, 17 July 2011

Sunday night is... Wagner, Tristan und Isolde overture

Zubin Mehta conducting Bayerische Staatsoper Bayerisches Staatsorchester (National Theatre Munich)

'I know of some, and have heard of many, who could not sleep after it, but cried the night away. I feel strongly out of place here," Mark Twain wrote, having just sat through Wagner's Tristan und Isolde. "Sometimes," he added, "I feel like the one sane person in the community of the mad." Twain's amazement at the emotions aroused by Wagner's feverish study of adulterous passion is substantiated by accounts of similar goings-on at other early performances. The French composer Emmanuel Chabrier heard it in Munich in 1880 and broke down during the prelude, sobbing uncontrollably. Another composer, Guillaume Lekeu passed out during a performance at Bayreuth. In 1886, the novelist Catulle Mendes - a fervent Wagnerite whose ex-wife Judith Gautier had been the composer's last mistress - issued a health warning: "One has to keep one's distance from this work - or, conquered, suffer with it as much as he who wrote it."

Delirium accompanied Tristan from the beginning, and still does. Wagner, working on the score in 1858, thought he was unleashing on the world "something fearful" that could lead to derangement, and wrote hysterically that "only mediocre performances can save me! Completely good ones are bound to drive people mad!"

- Tim Ashley, The Guardian, Fri 13 October, 2000

Down in London again today. Down again on 21st, first BBC radio prom appearance in discussion. The Eyewitness exhibition first. 22nd it is the NPS EGM. Then proms and telly on 26th.

Other things - all too many things - in between. Unlike Twain I sometimes think I am the only mad person in the community of the sane. It's probably the Tristan chord to blame.


Alfred Corn said...

There's a PhD. thesis to write about the effect of Wagner on 19th and 20th c. literature, Baudelaire, Verlaine, Nietzsche, and Mann, some of the highlights. No doubt T&I had something to do with the double suicide at Mayerling, and how many others not known about. RW is the Titan among titans, representative of the 19th c.'s overweening effort to do everything on a superhuman scale. Which inevitably leads to a decline and fall. The Gesamtkunstwerk devolving into a Goetterdaemerung, chronicled by Spengler.

George S said...

Then there was the supreme gesamtkunstwerk of the period 1939-1945...

And it is immensely seductive.

So Arthur pleaded from the barge:
The life writ small is the life writ large.
But history answered: Not at all.
The life write large is the life writ small.