Richard Wagner (1813-1883)
Richard Wagner began his great tetralogy Der Ring desNibelungen in 1848 and did not hear it performed in its entirety until 1876. Atfirst he envisaged a single music drama named Siegfrieds Tod, which eventuallybecame Gotterdammerung, but by 1851 he realised that he had the material for amuch larger project. Most of the libretto was written in 1851-52 and theprologue, Das Rheingold, was composed in the following two years. Wagner thenbusied himself with the composition of perhaps the finest segment of his epic,Die Walk?â??re, in 1854-56. Parts of the first and third acts were heard inconcert in Vienna on 26th December 1862, at the Theater an der Wien, and thewhole opera was performed for the first time on stage in Munich on 26th June1870. Finally it was heard in its proper place, as the second evening of TheRing, at the Festspielhaus in Bayreuth on 14th August 1876. It reached New Yorkin 1877 and London in 1882.
While it is occasionally possible to wince at thepretentious quality of Wagner's dialogue, and to wish that the poet in him hadbeen more self-critical and less long-winded, the musical and dramaticimportance of Die Walk?â??re is so self-evident that it needs no justificationtoday. Drawing on the old Nordic and Teutonic myths, Wagner fashioned gods andheroes who are all too human, so that it is impossible not to feel sympathywith their dilemmas. Die Walk?â??re deals with one of the deepest-seated socialtaboos, incest, and presents us with one of the greatest tragic characters inall Western drama, in the shape of the tortured god Wotan. As always withWagner, there are purple patches - the love duet of Act 1, Br?â??nnhilde's BattleCry, the Ride of the Valkyries, Wotan's Farewell and the Magic Fire Music - andyet the heart of Die Walk?â??re is the most conversational and least sensationalsection, Act 2. And the key to it is the impassioned argument between Wotan andhis wife Fricka. Not the least merit of this historic recording is that ittakes the second act so seriously. In addition the first act, almost a fulldrama in itself, here receives by far its finest representation on record.
Even in acoustic days, HMV did its best to bring Die Walk?â??reto gramophone listeners. Extensive excerpts were recorded with such illustriousWagnerians as the conductor Albert Coates, the bass-baritone Clarence Whitehilland the bass Robert Radford. With the coming of electrical recording in 1925,more than two hours of the opera was recorded piecemeal in London and Berlinwith Gota Ljungberg as Sieglinde, Frida Leider as Br?â??nnhilde, Emmi Leisner asFricka, Walter Widdop as Siegmund and Friedrich Schorr as Wotan. Some of thoseexcerpts, mostly conducted by Coates and Leo Blech, have still not beensurpassed. Nevertheless, by the early 1930s the electrical recording techniquehad been further refined and it was hoped to record the whole of Die Walk?â??re inBerlin, with Bruno Walter conducting the State Opera Orchestra. We can guess atthe probable cast: Lotte Lehmann, Leider, Leisner, Lauritz Melchior, Schorr andEmanuel List. But these plans were overtaken by political events. Early in 1933the Nazis took power in Germany and Jewish artists such as Walter, Schorr andList were immediately under threat. Walter was virtually railroaded out ofBerlin, his birthplace and the city where he had been educated; Schorr, alreadya favourite in Britain and America, cut Germany from his schedule; and List wasdismissed from the Berlin State Opera. The location for the recordings wasshifted to Vienna, where Walter now had his main European base, and the ViennaPhilharmonic - then, as now, the world's greatest orchestra - was retained. In1935 the whole of Act 1 and parts of Act 2 were taken down.
Melchior and Lehmann managed to sound astonishinglyyouthful, even though the soprano was in the 26th year of her operatic career;and if List did not quite live up to his reputation, he gave a sterlingperformance as Hunding, but logistical and budgetary problems made it difficultto complete Act 2 - even in those days really good Wagner singers were notnumerous - and only in 1938 was the rest of it undertaken in Berlin, under thevastly experienced leadership of Bruno Seidler-Winkler. We can see his hand inthe casting: he always had his ear to the ground and was able to engage afirst-rate group of young artists who probably cost HMV (through its affiliateElectrola) relatively little. This was to be the only major studio projectinvolving Marta Fuchs, whose career was wrecked by the war; Margarete Klose wasan outstanding Fricka; Melchior, the finest Heldentenor of that or any time,returned as Siegmund; and a controversial choice was made for Wotan. Thereigning exponent in Germany, with Schorr off the scene, was Rudolf Bockelmann,but Seidler-Winkler chose Hans Hotter, a gentle giant from the Bavarian StateOpera who had not yet sung the r?â??le on stage. Hotter was to be the leadingWotan of the next two decades and it is fascinating to hear his interpretationin embryo. Acts 1 and 2 were made available as separate sets on the premium redlabel, whereas the piecemeal abridged 1920s set had been put out on the cheaperblack label. A complete Act 3 was not available until 1945, when AmericanColumbia issued it with Artur Rodzinski conducting.
Bruno Seidler-Winkler (1880-1960) was born in Berlin,studied the piano at the Stern Conservatory there with Ernst Jedliczka andbecame a child prodigy. He was also a member of the Domchor and played theviolin well enough to lead a theatre orchestra. He was recording for DeutscheGrammophon by the turn of the century and was the company's pioneering musicaldirector, making sets of Die Fledermaus and Carmen in 1908. He conducted inChicago from 1923 to 1925 and was in charge of the Berlin Radio Orchestra from1925 to 1933. After that he taught at the Berlin Hochschule. From 1935 to 1944Seidler-Winkler recorded extensively for Electrola as conductor and accompanist- his series of Lieder with Karl Erb was particularly successful. He can alsobe heard on record accompanying the violinists Adolf Busch and Ginette Neveu.
Lotte Lehmann (1888-1976) was born in Perleberg and studiedin Berlin with a variety of teachers including Mathilde Mallinger. From 1909she sang at the Stadttheater in Hamburg and from 1914 she was associated withthe Vienna Court/State Opera, where she won particular acclaim in the operas ofRichard Strauss, taking part in the premi?â?¿res of Ariadne auf Naxos (revisedversion, 1916) and Die Frau ohne Schatten (1919). In 1924 she was in thepremi?â?¿re of Intermezzo in Dresden, and from that year she was a regular guestat Covent Garden, famed for her Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier. In 1930 shemade her American debut in Chicago and from 1934 she was at the Metropolitan inNew York. After the Anschluss in 1938 she moved to America. Her operatic repertoirewas wide, taking in both lyric and dramatic r?â??les, and in later years sheacquired a reputation as a Lieder singer, continuing as a recitalist for sixyears after her last appearance at the Met in 1945. She wrote a number ofbooks, including a novel, and after her retirement was famed as a teacher. Herwarm, distinctive tone can be heard on a myriad of records, including anabridged set of Der Rosenkavalier.
Marta Fuchs (1898-1974) was born in Stuttgart and studiedthere as well as in Munich and Milan. She started as a mezzo-soprano and sangin the concert hall until 1928, when she made her operatic debut at Aachen. In1930 Fritz Busch engaged her for the Saxon State Opera in Dresden, where shemoved up to become one of Germany's leading dramatic sopranos, singing atBayreuth from 1933 to 1942. From 1935 she also sang at the Berlin Sta