The Composer and his Muse: Gustav and Alma Mahler



Not just the inspiration behind several of Gustav Mahler’s symphonies, Alma Mahler-Werfel (née Schindler) was the ultimate groupie of the twentieth century's European artistic elite, serving as muse to visionary men in many creative fields.  When Mahler first met her, she was already a renowned beauty in Viennese intellectual circles, with the painter Klimt wrapped around her little finger and an affair underway with her composition teacher Alexander von Zemlinsky.

During his second season in Vienna, Mahler acquired a spacious modern apartment on the Auenbruggerstrasse and built a summer villa on land he had acquired next to his new composing studio at Maiernigg. In November 1901, he met Alma Schindler, the stepdaughter of painter Carl Moll, at a social gathering that included the theatre director Max Burckhard. Alma was not initially keen to meet Mahler, on account of "the scandals about him and every young woman who aspired to sing in opera". The two engaged in a lively disagreement about a ballet by Alexander von Zemlinsky (Alma was one of Zemlinsky's pupils), but agreed to meet at the Hofoper the following day. This meeting led to a rapid courtship; Mahler and Alma were married at a private ceremony on 9 March 1902. Alma was by then pregnant with her first child, a daughter Maria Anna, who was born on 3 November 1902. A second daughter, Anna, was born in 1904.

Friends of the couple were surprised by the marriage and dubious of its wisdom. Mahler's family considered Alma to be flirtatious, unreliable, and too fond of seeing young men fall for her charms. Mahler was by nature moody and authoritarian—Natalie Bauer-Lechner, his earlier partner, said that living with him was "like being on a boat that is ceaselessly rocked to and fro by the waves". Alma soon became resentful that, on Mahler's insistence that there could only be one composer in the family, she had given up her music studies. She wrote in her diary: "How hard it is to be so mercilessly deprived of ... things closest to one's heart". Mahler's requirement that their married life be organised around his creative activities imposed strains, and precipitated rebellion on Alma's part; the marriage was nevertheless marked at times by expressions of considerable passion, particularly from Mahler.

The Adagietto of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony is dedicated to his young wife in what friends and contemporaries described as a “declaration of love”.



The Sixth may be subtitled Tragische but, ironically, his most pessimistic symphony was composed in 1903-4 during a period of relative domestic bliss and features a soaring melody widely known as the “Alma theme”.



He also dedicated the Eighth Symphony of a Thousand to his wife.



In June 1910, after becoming severely depressed in the wake their daughter  Maria's death who died of scarlet fever or diphtheria, Alma began an affair with the young architect Walter Gropius (later head of the Bauhaus), whom she met during a rest at a spa.

Alma's affair with the architect Walter Gropius wrenched from Mahler some of his most anguished musical outpourings. The manuscript of his Tenth, unfinished, symphony is littered with annotations of broken-hearted utterances: “Why hast Thou forsaken me?”… “To live for you! To die for you!”



Following the emotional crisis in their marriage after Gustav's discovery of Alma's affair with Gropius, Gustav began to take a serious interest in Alma's musical compositions, regretting his earlier dismissive attitude and taking promotional actions. Gustav edited some of her songs (Die stille Stadt, In meines Vaters Garten, Laue Sommernacht, Bei dir ist es traut, Ich wandle unter Blumen).Upon his urging, and under his guidance, Alma prepared five of her songs for publication (they were issued in 1910, by Gustav's own publisher, Universal Edition).

In February 1911, Gustav fell severely ill with an infection related to a heart defect that had been diagnosed several years earlier. He died on 18 May.


Beethoven Suffered from Lead Poisoning

Tests confirm that Ludwig van Beethoven suffered from lead poisoning. The legendary composer, who experienced decades of illness that left him in misery for most of his life, died in 1827.

Researchers aren't sure why his lead levels were so high, but they have some ideas. "There are many possibilities," says Bill Walsh, who headed a team that studied Beethoven's hair samples and fragments from his skull at the Department of Energy laboratory in Argonne, Ill.

The composer was a wine lover, and wine at the time was known to contain high lead levels. He also drank out of a goblet made partially of lead and stayed at a spa where he drank mineral water, Walsh says. But Walsh says Beethoven may not have been exposed to higher-than-normal lead levels. The composer may have been hyper-sensitive to lead and his body may not have been able to eliminate it, Walsh says. Walsh says researchers are convinced the hair and bone samples they tested are Beethoven's because they came from two different sources and were matched by DNA tests.

The blue rise at the center of the chart shows high levels in Beethoven's bones; the red lines show much lower levels in a bone from a control subject, who lived in the same historical period.

Argonne National Laboratory

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Around 1801, Beethoven began to lose his hearing. He suffered a severe form of tinnitus, a "roar" in his ears that made it hard for him to appreciate music and he would avoid conversation. Over time, his hearing loss became acute: there is a well-attested story that, at the premiere of his Ninth Symphony, he had to be turned round to see the tumultuous applause of the audience, hearing nothing. In 1802, he became depressed, and considered committing suicide. He left Vienna for a time for small Austrian town of Heiligenstadt, where he wrote the "Heiligenstadt Testament", in which he resolved to continue living through his
 art.  



As Beethoven's hearing loss worsened, he tried to improve his situation with these "hearing trumpets."  They did not work for him.

Beethoven's Ear Horns

As a result of Beethoven's hearing loss, a unique historical record has been preserved: he kept conversation books discussing music and other issues, and giving an insight into his thought. Even today, the conversation books form the basis for investigation into how he felt his music should be performed, and his relationship to art - which he took very seriously.


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The Man Who Wrote Mozart's words: Librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte


Lorenzo Da Ponte Engraving by Michele Pekenino
Lorenzo Da Ponte, was a Venetian priest and poet. Da Ponte wrote the words for 28 operas by 11 composers, including three of Mozart's greatest and most beloved operas — Don Giovanni, and The Marriage of Figaro and Così fan tutte.

At certain creative junctures, even the greatest of artistic minds depend on empathetic collaborators to unlock their true potential.

Mozart, of course, composed numerous operas – a total of 22 musical dramas, to be precise – but more than 225 years after his death, it remains the realm of scholarly critical debate why he enjoyed such a prodigious, prolific run alongside Da Ponte. It cannot be a coincidence – lightning, as they, say, does not strike twice, let alone thrice.

Historically, listeners have tended to overlook Da Ponte’s contributions, characterising the Venetian wordsmith as smartly workmanlike, rather than inspired – the true genius, of course, was Mozart, his librettist a historical footnote.

Yet it remains amusing to remember that, when the pair first met in 1783, it was Mozart who was starstruck by his illustrious elder. Some seven years the composer’s senior, Da Ponte was at that time already shining among Vienna’s brightest lights. As the official poet to the Habsburg’s court theatre, he was ironically best known for composing librettos for Antonio Salieri.

Mindful of Salieri’s success, and eager to establish himself further in the same city, Mozart surmised that the key to fame was penning an Italian “opera buffa” in the same light-hearted, comic mould.

"The best thing is when a good composer, who understands the stage enough to make sound suggestions, meets an able poet, that true phoenix,” Mozart wrote around this time.

He rightly supposed Da Ponte to be his “true phoenix”, yet the librettist repeatedly rejected the advances of the impoverished composer, overworked as he was writing for better-known names. Eventually, Mozart landed on a project he would not resist. A recent audience favourite had been Paisiello’s The Barber of Seville – more famously adapted by Rossini, three decades later, based on the French play of the same name by Pierre Beaumarchais.

Despite the fact the source material was banned, Mozart convinced Da Ponte to write a libretto based on its sequel, The Marriage of Figaro. After the latter succeeded in convincing his employer, Emperor Joseph II, that the play’s “subversive” content had been cut, the pair had themselves a modest hit.

Continuing the plot from Paisiello’s work, the opera told the farcical story of how the lowly barber Figaro eventually succeeds in marrying his beloved Susanna, despite the efforts of their lewd employer Count Almaviva.

Figaro was not quite the Viennese blockbuster Mozart was hankering after, running for only nine nights in total, but it did make history in its own way. Following the opera’s May 1786 premiere, conducted at the Burgtheater by Mozart himself, the stars returned to the stage for five encores, repeating favourite musical moments from the score – leading the impatient Joseph II to issue an official decree ordering that in future no vocal piece should be performed twice at the historic hall on a single evening.


However, Figaro did prove a smash in Prague, then the second city of the Habsburg Empire, early the next year, and Mozart was promptly commissioned to write another opera. This time it was Da Ponte who had the pertinent suggestion of revisiting the centuries-old tale of Don Juan.

The dramatic potential offered by this legendary libertine was to prove an intoxicating inspiration to Mozart, with the monumental Don Giovanni artistically eclipsing even its two chronological neighbours. Blurring the conventional boundaries between comedy and drama, there was a maturity and intensity to the score, and a metaphysical gravity to the theme, which paved the way for the romantic movement to come. The conflict between masked Juan’s roguish vice and Donna Anna’s earthly righteousness, between sensualist pleasure and religious invocation, willingly subverted Mozart’s perceived role as a mere entertainer.

Following its Prague premiere in October 1787, Don Giovanni was to have a rippling effect beyond the world of music – it is said Goethe began work on his masterpiece Faust after sitting down to the opera, while philosopher Kierkegaard was lyrically moved.

“The usefulness of Don Giovanni is that it puts a stake through the heart of the chocolate-box Mozart, the car-radio Mozart, the Mozart-makes-you-smarter Mozart,” once wrote the New Yorker music critic Alex Ross. “If the opera were played in bus stations or dentists’ waiting rooms, it would spread fear. It would probably cause perversion in infants.”


The pair’s final collaboration Così Fan Tutte, another opera buffa which premiered 43 months after The Marriage of Figaro. Translated directly as 'Women are Like That', Mozart reluctantly wrote the lead role of Fiordiligi for Da Ponte’s mistress Adriana Ferrarese del Bene.



Recent research has undermined the well-worn legend that Joseph II commissioned the work. Instead, newer research supports the ironic notion that Mozart took on the project after Salieri felt unable to score a libretto – a harbinger of the further changes in favour to come.

In either case, Così Fan Tutte marks something of anomaly in Da Ponte’s oeuvre, as one of the only two original librettos from a catalogue of more than 50 which were otherwise based on existing material.

It was to prove not just his final work with Mozart, but his last contribution to the city which made his celebrity. Shortly after its premiere, at Vienna’s Burgtheater in January 1790, Joseph II passed away and, haunted by malicious rumours, Da Ponte was exiled by the succeeding monarch, Leopold II. He fled to London, where he was persecuted by debt and arrest, and later New York, where he worked variously as a grocer, a milliner, bookseller and an Italian teacher. Mozart, meanwhile, went on to write just three more operas before his death less than two years later.














The Composer and His Muse: Salieri, Mozart and Nancy Storace


Did Salieri plot Mozart's demise to the point of actually poisoning him? Or is it just as fanciful as all those serpents and magic bells in the younger composer's opera The Magic Flute?

Antonio Salieri was a hugely influential composer of opera and a much in-demand teacher who taught Schubert, Beethoven and Liszt. The chances are, however, that you've only ever heard of Salieri because he happened to be the arch-rival of the irrepressible Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Or was he?

The rise of the poisoning tale

Mozart's rivalry with Salieri could have originated with an incident in 1781, when Mozart applied to be the music teacher of Princess Elisabeth of Württemberg, and Salieri was selected instead because of his reputation as a singing teacher. In the following year Mozart once again failed to be selected as the Princess' piano teacher.

In addition, when Lorenzo Da Ponte was in Prague preparing the production of Mozart's setting of his Don Giovanni, the poet was ordered back to Vienna for a royal wedding for which Salieri's Axur, re d'Ormus would be performed. Obviously, Mozart was not pleased by this.

Within six years of Salieri's death, the Russian writer Pushkin wrote a play, Mozart and Salieri , which portrayed the danger of envy. In 1898, Rimsky-Korsakov turned Pushkin's play into an opera. In both, it's suggested that Salieri's jealousy of Mozart led him to poison the younger composer.

However, even with Mozart and Salieri's rivalry for certain jobs, there is very little evidence that the relationship between the two composers was at all acrimonious beyond this, especially after 1785 or so, when Mozart had become established in Vienna. Rather, they appeared to usually see each other as friends and colleagues, and supported each other's work. In several of Mozart’s letters, there is evidence that the Italians (supposedly lead by Salieri) in Emperor Joseph’s court did get in the way of several attempts to advance Mozart's career, and some of these are portrayed in the film Amadeus. There is, however, no clear proof that Salieri hated Mozart or plotted against him or planned his death, although those ideas made for a much more exciting story.

Where the film rings true is in its portrayal of Mozart's uncanny improvisational ability, his computer memory and instant recall, his effortless skill at composition - "without setting down his billiard cue" - his talent for languages and his genius for musical and verbal mimicry. That the divine Mozart could also curse like a sailor, improvise obscene verses and even talk backwards was also true  though its doubtful Salieri and his faction would have been as offended by Mozart's language as he is in the film. The late 18th century was not noted for its delicacy of language. However - all quibbles aside - this moving and hugely entertaining film is still an excellent introduction to Mozart, his music and his world.


Lost cantata by Mozart and Salieri found in Prague



A long-lost composition co-written by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri was rediscovered in the Czech National Museum in Prague. German musicologist and composer Timo Jouko Herrmann found the piece while doing research on Antonio Salieri in the collection of the Czech Museum of Music. It’s a libretto written by Lorenzo Da Ponte, a Venetian priest and poet who wrote the librettos for three of Mozarts most beloved operas — Don Giovanni, The Marriage of Figaro and Così fan tutte — and published by printer to the Imperial court in Vienna Joseph von Kurzböck. Very unusually for a libretto, this one includes the sheet music in a simple piano arrangement. Mozart and Salieri’s names do not appear anywhere in the pamphlet, only their initials in the musical notation identifying which measures were written by which composer. There is also a third composer credited, one Cornetti, who is unknown under that name.

The piece is entitled Per la Ricuperata Salute di Ofelia (“For the recovered health of Ophelia”) and was written in 1785. The Ophelia in question was Nancy Storace, an English coloratura soprano who was friends with and muse to both Mozart and Salieri.


Nancy was a musical prodigy from a very young age. She gave her first public performance when she was eight years old and debuted at London’s Haymarket Theatre the next year. Her older brother Stephen was also a child prodigy, taught by his father to play violin so expertly that by the age of 10 he was performing the most complex, difficult pieces of the time.

Nancy traveled to Venice to take voice lessons from composer Antonio Sacchini and began getting professional gigs, rapidly rising from minor parts to leads and becoming something of a sensation. While still a teenager in 1782 she performed the role of Dorina in the Milan premiere of Giuseppe Sarti’s opera Fra I Due Litiganti Il Terzo Gode, a part that Sarti wrote specifically for her, to great acclaim.

When in 1783 Austrian Emperor Joseph II decided to put together a company dedicated to performances of Italian opera buffa (comic opera), he snapped up the 18-year-old Nancy Storace for his prima donna.

The opera that Nancy premiered was Antonio Salieri's La scuola de gelosi (The School of Jealousy), in which she took the role of the Countess Bandiera.  The plot of the opera involves love intrigues, attempted seductions and provocations to jealousy between members of the three different social strata: the aristocracy, the bourgeoisie and the working class, which was typical for plots in the early to late 1780s.


Mozart had first seen Nancy when she made her Viennese debut in Salieri’s La Scuola De’ Gelosi. He immediately fell in love with her as an artist and, it was rumored, their relationship actually went much deeper. Certainly Nancy and Stephen became part of Mozart’s circle and were often at his house, while he frequently had dinner with them and their mother.


The role of Susanna in Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro was written for and first performed by her. it is possible that her lively acting style was the inspiration for the central character of Susanna.


When she was about to leave Vienna, Storace performed in a farewell concert on 23 February 1787. For this occasion Mozart wrote the concert recitative and aria "Ch'io mi scordi di te?

The rediscovery of Per la Ricuperata Salute di Ofelia underscores that Mozart and Salieri were on good terms in 1785, even though a few years earlier Mozart had written in letters to his father of his frustration with the Italian cabal at the Viennese court. He thought Salieri, Da Ponte and other Italians who had the ear of the Emperor were blocking his ascent, but by 1785 Mozart was well-established and was working closely with said Italians. Salieri would go out of his way to express approval of Mozart’s work, even directing performances of several of his compositions.

Vasiliy Shkafer as Mozart and Fyodor Shalyapin as Salieri
(Russian Private Opera, 1898)

Nonetheless, decades after Mozart’s premature death rumors were rife that Salieri had poisoned his rival. The rumor was immortalized in art when, six years after Salieri’s 1825 death, revered Russian poet Alexander Pushkin wrote a verse drama Mozart and Salieri that posited Salieri as the bitterly jealous poisoner of the greater man. Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov set the play to music in the opera Mozart and Salieri, and playwright Peter Shaffer based his 1979 play Amadeus on Pushkin’s drama. That in turn was adapted for film in the Oscar-winning movie of the same name directed by Miloš Forman. So now when people think of Mozart and Salieri they think of a rivalry unto the death, when in fact the two men were on quite good terms.

And now, possibly for the first time and certainly for the first time in centuries, here is Per la Ricuperata Salute di Ofelia by Wolfgang Mozart and Antonio Salieri, played on the harpsichord by Lukas Vendl.






Sources:  http://www.classicfm.com/composers/mozart/guides/did-salieri-murder-mozart-mythbuster/#yi3zSJWK2xaMF3wI.99http://www.classicfm.com/composers/mozart/guides/mozart-love/#dS2kjorX0xDfOkRh.97
http://www.thehistoryblog.com/archives/40680 https://reelrundown.com/movies/Historical-Inaccuracies-in-Amadeus

Music Education: More Than Just Music!



Whether your child is the next Beyonce or more likely to sing her solos in the shower, she is bound to benefit from some form of music education. Research shows that learning the do-re-mis can help children excel in ways beyond the basic ABCs.

More Than Just Music


Research has found that learning music facilitates learning other subjects and enhances skills that children inevitably use in other areas. “A music-rich experience for children of singing, listening and moving is really bringing a very serious benefit to children as they progress into more formal learning,” says Mary Luehrisen, executive director of the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) Foundation, a not-for-profit association that promotes the benefits of making music.

Making music involves more than the voice or fingers playing an instrument; a child learning about music has to tap into multiple skill sets, often simultaneously. For instance, people use their ears and eyes, as well as large and small muscles, says Kenneth Guilmartin, cofounder of Music Together, an early childhood music development program for infants through kindergarteners that involves parents or caregivers in the classes.

“Music learning supports all learning. Not that Mozart makes you smarter, but it’s a very integrating, stimulating pastime or activity,” Guilmartin says.

Language Development


“When you look at children ages two to nine, one of the breakthroughs in that area is music’s benefit for language development, which is so important at that stage,” says Luehrisen. While children come into the world ready to decode sounds and words, music education helps enhance those natural abilities. “Growing up in a musically rich environment is often advantageous for children’s language development,” she says. But Luehrisen adds that those inborn capacities need to be “reinforced, practiced, celebrated,” which can be done at home or in a more formal music education setting.

According to the Children’s Music Workshop, the effect of music education on language development can be seen in the brain. “Recent studies have clearly indicated that musical training physically develops the part of the left side of the brain known to be involved with processing language, and can actually wire the brain’s circuits in specific ways. Linking familiar songs to new information can also help imprint information on young minds,” the group claims.

This relationship between music and language development is also socially advantageous to young children. “The development of language over time tends to enhance parts of the brain that help process music,” says Dr. Kyle Pruett, clinical professor of child psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine and a practicing musician. “Language competence is at the root of social competence. Musical experience strengthens the capacity to be verbally competent.”

Increased IQ


A study by E. Glenn Schellenberg at the University of Toronto at Mississauga, as published in a 2004 issue of Psychological Science, found a small increase in the IQs of six-year-olds who were given weekly voice and piano lessons. Schellenberg provided nine months of piano and voice lessons to a dozen six-year-olds, drama lessons (to see if exposure to arts in general versus just music had an effect) to a second group of six-year-olds, and no lessons to a third group. The children’s IQs were tested before entering the first grade, then again before entering the second grade.

Surprisingly, the children who were given music lessons over the school year tested on average three IQ points higher than the other groups. The drama group didn’t have the same increase in IQ, but did experience increased social behavior benefits not seen in the music-only group.

The Brain Works Harder

 
Research indicates the brain of a musician, even a young one, works differently than that of a nonmusician. “There’s some good neuroscience research that children involved in music have larger growth of neural activity than people not in music training. When you’re a musician and you’re playing an instrument, you have to be using more of your brain,” says Dr. Eric Rasmussen, chair of the Early Childhood Music Department at the Peabody Preparatory of The Johns Hopkins University, where he teaches a specialized music curriculum for children aged two months to nine years.

In fact, a study led by Ellen Winner, professor of psychology at Boston College, and Gottfried Schlaug, professor of neurology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School, found changes in the brain images of children who underwent 15 months of weekly music instruction and practice. The students in the study who received music instruction had improved sound discrimination and fine motor tasks, and brain imaging showed changes to the networks in the brain associated with those abilities, according to the Dana Foundation, a private philanthropic organization that supports brain research.

Spatial-Temporal Skills


Research has also found a causal link between music and spatial intelligence, which means that understanding music can help children visualize various elements that should go together, like they would do when solving a math problem.

“We have some pretty good data that music instruction does reliably improve spatial-temporal skills in children over time,” explains Pruett, who helped found the Performing Arts Medicine Association. These skills come into play in solving multistep problems one would encounter in architecture, engineering, math, art, gaming, and especially working with computers.

Improved Test Scores


A study published in 2007 by Christopher Johnson, professor of music education and music therapy at the University of Kansas, revealed that students in elementary schools with superior music education programs scored around 22 percent higher in English and 20 percent higher in math scores on standardized tests, compared to schools with low-quality music programs, regardless of socioeconomic disparities among the schools or school districts. Johnson compares the concentration that music training requires to the focus needed to perform well on a standardized test.

Aside from test score results, Johnson’s study highlights the positive effects that a quality music education can have on a young child’s success. Luehrisen explains this psychological phenomenon in two sentences: “Schools that have rigorous programs and high-quality music and arts teachers probably have high-quality teachers in other areas. If you have an environment where there are a lot of people doing creative, smart, great things, joyful things, even people who aren’t doing that have a tendency to go up and do better.”

And it doesn’t end there: along with better performance results on concentration-based tasks, music training can help with basic memory recall. “Formal training in music is also associated with other cognitive strengths such as verbal recall proficiency,” Pruett says. “People who have had formal musical training tend to be pretty good at remembering verbal information stored in memory.”

Being Musical


Music can improve your child’ abilities in learning and other nonmusic tasks, but it’s important to understand that music does not make one smarter. As Pruett explains, the many intrinsic benefits to music education include being disciplined, learning a skill, being part of the music world, managing performance, being part of something you can be proud of, and even struggling with a less than perfect teacher.

“It’s important not to oversell how smart music can make you,” Pruett says. “Music makes your kid interesting and happy, and smart will come later. It enriches his or her appetite for things that bring you pleasure and for the friends you meet.”
While parents may hope that enrolling their child in a music program will make her a better student, the primary reasons to provide your child with a musical education should be to help them become more musical, to appreciate all aspects of music, and to respect the process of learning an instrument or learning to sing, which is valuable on its own merit.

“There is a massive benefit from being musical that we don’t understand, but it’s individual. Music is for music’s sake,” Rasmussen says. “The benefit of music education for me is about being musical. It gives you have a better understanding of yourself. The horizons are higher when you are involved in music,” he adds. “Your understanding of art and the world, and how you can think and express yourself, are enhanced.”
 


Laura Lewis Brown caught the writing bug as soon as she could hold a pen. For several years, she wrote a national online column on relationships, and she now teaches writing as an adjunct professor. She lives in Baltimore with her husband and three young children, who give her a lot of material for her blog, EarlyMorningMom.com.

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The Composer and his Muse: Richard Wagner

Born on May 22, 1813. German composer, theater director, polemicist, and conductor who is primarily known for his operas (or, as some of his later works were later known, "music dramas"). Unlike most opera composers, Wagner wrote both the libretto and the music for each of his stage works.

Until his final years, Wagner's life was characterized by political exile, turbulent love affairs, poverty and repeated flight from his creditors. His controversial writings on music, drama and politics have attracted extensive comment since the late 20th century, especially where they express antisemitic sentiments. The effect of his ideas can be traced in many of the arts throughout the 20th century; his influence spread beyond composition into conducting, philosophy, literature, the visual arts and theater.

Wagner began composing the music for Das Rheingold between November 1853 and September 1854, following it immediately with Die Walküre (written between June 1854 and March 1856). He began work on the third Ring opera, which he now called simply Siegfried, probably in September 1856, but by June 1857 he had completed only the first two acts. He decided to put the work aside to concentrate on a new idea: Tristan und Isolde, based on the Arthurian love story Tristan and Iseult.

One source of inspiration for Tristan und Isolde was the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer, notably his The World as Will and Representation, to which Wagner had been introduced in 1854 by his poet friend Georg Herwegh. Wagner later called this the most important event of his life.


A second source of inspiration was Wagner's infatuation with the poet-writer Mathilde Wesendonck, the wife of the silk merchant Otto Wesendonck. Wagner met the Wesendoncks, who were both great admirers of his music, in Zürich in 1852. From May 1853 onwards Wesendonck made several loans to Wagner to finance his household expenses in Zürich, and in 1857 placed a cottage on his estate at Wagner's disposal,which became known as the Asyl ("asylum" or "place of rest"). During this period, Wagner's growing passion for his patron's wife inspired him to put aside work on the Ring cycle (which was not resumed for the next twelve years) and begin work on Tristan. While planning the opera, Wagner composed the Wesendonck Lieder, five songs for voice and piano, setting poems by Mathilde. Two of these settings are explicitly subtitled by Wagner as "studies for Tristan und Isolde".


Amongst the conducting engagements that Wagner undertook for revenue during this period, he gave several concerts in 1855 with the London Philharmonic Society, including one before Queen Victoria. The Queen enjoyed his Tannhäuser overture and spoke with Wagner after the concert, writing of him in her diary that he was "short, very quiet, wears spectacles & has a very finely-developed forehead, a hooked nose & projecting chin."

Wagner's uneasy affair with Mathilde collapsed in 1858, when his wife Minna intercepted a letter to Mathilde from him. After the resulting confrontation with Minna, Wagner left Zürich alone, bound for Venice, where he rented an apartment in the Palazzo Giustinian, while Minna returned to Germany. Wagner's attitude to Minna had changed; the editor of his correspondence with her, John Burk, has said that she was to him "an invalid, to be treated with kindness and consideration, but, except at a distance,  a menace to his peace of mind." Wagner continued his correspondence with Mathilde and his friendship with her husband Otto, who maintained his financial support of the composer. In an 1859 letter to Mathilde, Wagner wrote, half-satirically, of Tristan: "Child! This Tristan is turning into something terrible. This final act!!!—I fear the opera will be banned ... only mediocre performances can save me! Perfectly good ones will be bound to drive people mad."


After grave difficulties in rehearsal, Tristan und Isolde premiered at the National Theatre Munich on 10 June 1865, the first Wagner opera premiere in almost 15 years. (The premiere had been scheduled for 15 May, but was delayed by bailiffs acting for Wagner's creditors, and also because the Isolde, Malvina Schnorr von Carolsfeld, was hoarse and needed time to recover.) The conductor of this premiere was Hans von Bülow, whose wife, Cosima, had given birth in April that year to a daughter, named Isolde, a child not of Bülow but of Wagner.

Cosima was 24 years younger than Wagner and was herself illegitimate, the daughter of the Countess Marie d'Agoult, who had left her husband for Franz Liszt. Liszt initially disapproved of his daughter's involvement with Wagner, though nevertheless the two men were friends. The indiscreet affair scandalised Munich, and Wagner also fell into disfavour with many leading members of the court and was finally forced to leave Munich.

Minna had died of a heart attack on 25 January 1866 in Dresden. Wagner did not attend the funeral. Following Minna's death Cosima wrote to Hans von Bülow on a number of occasions asking him to grant her a divorce, but Bülow refused to concede this. He only consented after she had two more children with Wagner; another daughter, named Eva, after the heroine of Meistersinger, and a son Siegfried, named for the hero of the Ring. The divorce was finally sanctioned, after delays in the legal process, by a Berlin court on 18 July 1870. Richard and Cosima's wedding took place on 25 August 1870. On Christmas Day of that year, Wagner arranged a surprise performance (its premiere) of the Siegfried Idyll for Cosima's birthday. The marriage to Cosima lasted to the end of Wagner's life.




Classical Works Inspired by Rain


‘I love all films that start with rain…’ writes the poet Don Paterson. But how has rain been rendered in music? Is the mood of a rainy day necessarily melancholic and disappointing or can the rhythm of a good downpour suggest something joyful or cathartic? Here are examples of how rain has been made in music. 

Chopin: Prelude Op. 28, No. 15 – ‘Raindrop Prelude’




A sudden rain shower can create both distance and intimacy. It can often induce a meditative or dream-like mood in the adult, or for the child who cannot go out to play. It is thought Chopin’s ‘Raindrop Prelude’ was indeed inspired by a dream, according to his partner George Sand’s account of the moment of composition.

In her autobiography, Sand writes that: ‘He saw himself drowned in a lake – heavy, icy drops of water falling rhythmically on his chest - and when I had him listen to the drops of water falling rhythmically on the roof, he denied having heard it. He was even angry at what I translated by the expression ‘imitative harmony.’’ 

This story is part of the mythology that surrounds the magic of this intimate, introspective piece.



Britten, Noye’s Fludde




Britten’s opera for children, Noye’s Fludde, depicts the dramatic story of Noah’s Ark. The sound of the first drops of this epic deluge is actually made and inspired by domestic objects: the china mug and the wooden spoon. 

Britten’s assistant, Imogen Holst, recalls her own involvement in this moment of experimental composition shared with Britten: ‘I had once to teach Women’s Institute percussion groups during a wartime ‘social half hour’, so I was able to take him into my kitchen and show him how a row of china mugs hanging on a length of string could be hit with a large wooden spoon.’



Debussy Estampes, ‘Jardins sous la pluie’


‘Jardins sous la pluie’ or ‘Gardens in the Rain’ is from Debussy’s Estampes for solo piano. It evokes the light and colour of a spring shower through its trembling, fluid and slightly frenetic sound. It also seems to capture the delicate quality of each raindrop through this rapidity of notes.

Pianist Stephen Hough writes that ‘Debussy’s discovery of new sounds at the piano is directly related to the physiology of hands on keyboard.’ As we are transported by the intense mood of rain communicated in this piece, we are also experiencing the physicality of the piano and the movement of fingers in a new way.



Judith Weir, The Welcome Arrival of Rain



Rain in this piece is a response to the monsoon rains returning in India, and is inspired by an extract of verse from the Hindu text, Bhagavata Purana. The piece captures the sense of sudden rain, its syncopating rhythmic energy, and the change, renewal and growth it brings. 

It also becomes a metaphor for the process of creativity itself, as Weir describes: ‘Whilst I composed it, as the notes and the pages multiplied, I began to think of a comparison with the arrival of the monsoon in India, when aridity is pierced by life-giving rain; and humans, animals and vegetation revel in sudden activity and fertility.’


 John Luther Adams, In the Rain




How does rain sound? In the Rain investigates and experiments with how we hear its changing rhythms. Adams encourages us to attend to the sonic expression of the natural world, as well how the rain encounters and catches on objects and surfaces. There is a numinous, otherworldly quality to this work.


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