Richard Wagner (1813-1883)
Scenes from Lohengrin and Siegfried
Richard Wagner was born in Leipzig in 1813, the acknowledgedson of a Government official Carl Friedrich Wagner and his wife Johanna, butapparently fathered in fact by the actor Ludwig Geyer, who was to marry Johannaafter Carl Friedrich's death. Wagner's education was an intermittent one, muchof it in Dresden, where he fell under the spell of Weber and Der Freisch??tz,the first great German romantic opera. Returning to Leipzig he was to profitmore from contact with his uncle Adolf, a widely read scholar with a knowledgeof Greek tragedy, as well as of the classics of Italy, the works ofShakespeare, and of course, of the literature of his own country. In LeipzigWagner took the opportunity of furthering his own interests in music,stimulated by the performances of the famous Gewandhaus Orchestra andBeethoven's opera Fidelio, which he heard in 1829. He borrowed books from themusic lending library of Robert Schumann's future teacher and father-in-law,Friedrich Wieck, and took private music lessons at the Thomasschule, where J.S.Bach had been employed a century earlier.
The later career of Wagner was a turbulent one. His incomenever matched his ambitions, and he was driven on by an aggressive and ruthlessurge to create a new form of music, the music of the future, particularly inthe conjunction of all arts in a series of great music dramas. He worked firstas conductor at the undistinguished opera-house in Magdeburg, married a singer,Minna Planer, moved to Konigsberg and later to Riga. From there, pursued bycreditors, he sailed for England, and thence a week later to Paris, wheresuccess continued to elude him. Recognition was finally to come from his nativeSaxony, with a production for the opera Rienzi in Dresden and an officialappointment to the royal court. His own tactless espousal of revolutionarynotions led to his flight from Saxony in 1849, at first to Liszt in Weimar, andthen to Switzerland. Further troubles were to follow as the result of thepolitical suspicions he had aroused, the constant attention of creditors andhis selfish unscrupulousness in his relations with women. The protection laterafforded by King Ludwig II of Bavaria allowed some respite from difficulties,but his liaison with Liszt's daughter Cosima, wife of the Bavarian courtconductor Hans von B??low, and his unpopularity in Munich, led to a furtherperiod of exile in Switzerland. His final relative triumph in the establishmentof a Festival devoted to his work in Bayreuth was accomplished again with theencouragement of King Ludwig. The first festival took place in 1876, but didnothing to reduce his increasing personal debts.
Wagner died during the course of a visit to Venice in 1883.In his lifetime he had inspired equally fanatical devotion and hatred, both ofwhich continued after his death. His principal achievement must be seen in thecreation of massive and stupendous masterpieces for the theatre, such as hisGerman epic cycle The Ring of the Nibelung, and his expansion of traditionalharmonic and constructional devices in music.
The opera Lohengrin was first performed in Weimar in 1850under the direction of Liszt, who had helped Wagner in his flight from Dresden.The work opens with King Henry the Fowler hearing the accusation of fratricidebrought by Telramund against Elsa of Brabant, to whom he had served as guardianafter the death of her father, suggesting that she had killed her brotherGottfried in order to assume control over the land with a secret lover. TheKing decrees mortal combat to discover her guilt or innocence, and she declaresthat her champion will be a knight that she has seen in a dream. As the heraldsummons the combatants and Elsa prays for help, a swan is seen drawing a boat,from which steps an unknown knight. Telramund is defeated but the knight spareshis victim, while the heathen Ortrud, Telramund's wife and fellow conspirator,wonders if her powers are waning. Reproached by Telramund, now condemned tobanishment, she tells him that the knight's power can only be broken if he ismade to reveal his name. She arouses the pity of Elsa and at the same timecasts doubt on the origin of the mysterious knight. A herald announcesTelramund's banishment and the appointment of the knight to rule Brabant, ashusband to Elsa. Telramund seeks to learn the knight's name and rank but isdenied an answer by the knight, who seeks Elsa's assurance of trust in him asthey proceed to their wedding.
 The Prelude to the third act depicts the weddingcelebration.  The King and his men escort Lohengrin, and the ladies of thecourt Elsa to the bridal chamber, before leaving them alone together.  Theyexchange avowals of love.  Lohengrin explains the feelings that had broughthim to become her champion, but she returns to the mystery of her husband'sname.  He urges her to accept the mystery, like the scents wafted to themfrom the garden.  Elsa would prove her worth by risking danger for him,seeking to share knowledge of his name, that must conceal some danger.
 Lohengrin reminds her of her promise not to seek hisname and tries to reassure her, hinting at his own noble origin.  Elsa isfurther disturbed by this confession, now imagining that he will leave her toreturn to the high state from which he came; she seems to see the swan thatbrought him, ready to take him away again. At last she asks the question,seeking openly to know his name.  Telramund and four companions burst inwith drawn swords, but Lohengrin, with a sword that Elsa hands him, strikesTelramund dead, while the other knights yield. Lohengrin leads Elsa, fainting,to a couch, and tells the knights to take Telramund's body to the King's court.He calls to Elsa's maids to take her before the King, where he will answer herquestion about his identity.
In the final scene Lohengrin, before the King, rejects thecommission to lead the royal troops in war, and, revealing the body ofTelramund, seeks and finds justification for his action. He accuses Elsa ofbreaking her word and explains his own origin, as a Knight of the Grail. As hetakes his final leave, he tells Elsa that her brother Gottfried is alive,transformed by her magic, as Ortrud claims, into a swan. Gottfried reappears,as Lohengrin sadly sails away, his boat now drawn by a dove, and Elsa sinkslifeless into her brother's arms.
Siegfried is the third part of the great Wagneriantetralogy, The Ring, and was first staged at Bayreuth in 1876. As the workopens, Mime sits by the forge in his cave in the forest, hammering out a swordand complaining about his endless labour. He can make swords strong enough forgiants yet Siegfried breaks them in two like children's toys, but if he couldjoin together the blade of the great sword Nothung, Siegfried would be able tokill the dragon giant Fafner, and then Mime could gain possession of the ring.He continues his work and his complaint. Siegfried comes cheerfully in from theforest. He is leading a bear, jokingly provoking it to attack Mime, who cowersin fear. Siegfried sets the bear free and it trots back to the wood. He hadsought a friend in the forest, sounded his horn and been joined by the bear.Mime has forged a sword for Siegfried, who takes the offered weapon, looking atit critically. He