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Tag Archives: 1840s

Richard Wagner (1813-1883) is undoubtedly one of Western music’s most controversial figures.  His operas (he called them music-dramas) redefined the genre and pushed it to its limits.  His epic Ring cycle spans four operas and about 16 hours of music.   For this, he invented the leitmotif, a recognizable melodic theme connected to certain characters, places, events, or moods in his operas.  He also invented new instruments (e.g. the Wagner tuba) and had his own opera house built (at Bayreuth) in order to get exactly the sound that he wanted.  He pushed harmonic boundaries ever further, eventually eschewing any tonal resolution in the opera Tristan und Isolde (which is often regarded as the first modern opera).  For all of these operas, he assumed near total control, writing the librettos and designing the sets himself.  He was also a writer whose opinions on many things,especially Judaism, have remained a stain on his character.  In short, he was a large, uncompromising personality whose effects are still strongly felt in music and beyond.

Wagner finished the opera Lohengrin in 1848.  It tells the story of Elsa, a princess in Brabant (what we now call Antwerp), who is rescued and wedded a by a knight in shining armor who insists on remaining nameless.  Drama and tragedy ensue, ending with the death of several characters in typical Wagnerian fashion. Elsa’s Procession to the Cathedral comes at the end of Act II, when Elsa is on her way to be married to the knight, who we later learn is Lohengrin, knight of the Holy Grail.  Even in its original form, this section is almost a band piece, dominated by winds and percussion.  It has become a staple of the band repertoire as a standalone piece.

The Baylor University Wind Ensemble performs the classic band arrangement of Elsa, created by Lucien Cailliet in 1938:

Here is the version from the original opera, in a production at La Scala in Milan in 2012:

You can read more about Lohengrin on Wikipedia and at the Met Opera website.  As for Wagner himself, here is just a small sampling of what the Internet has to say about him: Wikipedia, Biography.com (video), the Jewish Virtual Library,WagnerOpera.net, ipl2, and PBS Great Performances.

Richard Wagner (1813-1883) is undoubtedly one of Western music’s most controversial figures.  His operas (he called them music-dramas) redefined the genre and pushed it to its limits.  His epic Ring cycle spans four operas and about 16 hours of music.   For this, invented the leitmotif, a recognizable melodic theme connected to certain characters, places, events, or moods in his operas.  He also invented new instruments (e.g. the Wagner tuba) and had his own opera house built (at Bayreuth) in order to get exactly the sound that he wanted.  He pushed harmonic boundaries ever further, eventually eschewing any tonal resolution in the opera Tristan und Isolde (which is often regarded as the first modern opera).  For all of these operas, he assumed near total control, writing the librettos and designing the sets himself.  He was also a writer whose opinions on many things, especially Judaism, have remained a stain on his character.  In short, he was a large, uncompromising personality whose effects are still strongly felt in music and beyond.

One of Wagner’s earliest musical heroes was Carl Maria von Weber, another German composer of famous operas.  This composer was Wagner’s direct inspiration for Trauersinfonie.  Richard Franko Goldman elaborates in the program notes from his band‘s edition of the score:

Eighteen years after the death in London of Carl Maria von Weber, a patriotic movement in Germany resulted in the transference of his remains to his native land.  In December of that year (1844) an impressive ceremony took place in Dresden, in which Wagner took a leading part.  Besides reading the solemn oration, Wagner composed the march for the torchlight procession.  This march, scored by Wagner for large wind band, was based on two themes from Weber’s opera “Euryanthe“, and thus represented a musical homage to the earlier composer.  The score remained unpublished until 1926, and the work has remained among the least known of all Wagner’s compositions.

The Funeral Music was performed in a revised “concert” version by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra under Mengelberg in 1927.  On that occasion, Herbert Peyser wrote in the New York Evening Telegram: “This extraordinary piece–only 80 bars in length, but so profoundly moving, so filled with spacious and majestic solemnity…invites a prohibitive amount of history.  The melodic materials collated by Wagner are only the eerie pianissimo theme from the ‘Euryanthe’ Overture, associated with the vision of Emma’s spirit, and the sorrowful cavatina ‘Hier, dicht am Quell’, the first closing the composition in the transfigured form it assumes in the last act of the opera…

“The effect of this music, magnificent and heart-shaking as it was…must have been overwhelming amid the solemnity of that nocturnal torch-light procession in the Dresden of 1844…For if the themes are Weber’s, the creative imagination embodied in their sequence, their scoring, their exalted lament, is powerfully Wagner’s…”

Wagner’s scoring was for large, but conventional military band, similar to the bands of today except for the absence of saxophones.  The composition as played by the Goldman Band is in faithful accordance with the original score except for very minor revisions, made by Erik Leidzen, which were necessitated by the changes in wind instruments and usage since Wagner’s early years.

There also exists a later edition of the score, edited by Michael Votta and John Boyd, which goes further towards identifying Wagner’s original instrumentation and source material (and calls the piece Trauermusik).  Like the Leidzen edition, though, it does include parts for saxophones, which had only just been invented and were not in wide usage at the time of Trauersinfonie‘s composition.

An excellent high school band plays the Boyd/Votta Trauermusik.  They do some wonderful musical things, but I would quibble with some of the rubato, given that this piece was written as a processional.  Still, it is an excellent performance all around, certainly the best on YouTube at the moment:

Read more about Trauersinfonie at windbandlit’s blog and the Wind Repertory Project, or check out Michael Votta’s research on the piece (also try here).  Arne Dich put together a woodwind quintet version of the piece, which you can download for free.  As for Wagner himself, here is just a small sampling of what the Internet has to say about him: Wikipedia, Biography.com (video), the Jewish Virtual Library, WagnerOpera.net, ipl2, and PBS Great Performances.

For a taste of the original material from Euryanthe that Wagner used, listen to the overture, especially around 4:40:

Here also is the cavatina “Hier dicht am quell”:

Minnesota native Thomas Root is the Director of Bands and Professor of Music at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah.  His 23 published compositions, including 1977’s Polly Oliver, are played by bands around the United States.  See more about him at Weber State and Grand Mesa Music.

Sweet Polly Oliver is an English folk song that tells the tale of a young woman who dresses as a male soldier to follow her true love off to war.  The lyrics, from Wikipedia:

As sweet Polly Oliver lay musing in bed,
A sudden strange fancy came into her head.
“Nor father nor mother shall make me false prove,
I’ll ‘list as a soldier, and follow my love.”

So early next morning she softly arose,
And dressed herself up in her dead brother’s clothes.
She cut her hair close, and she stained her face brown,
And went for a soldier to fair London Town.

Then up spoke the sergeant one day at his drill,
“Now who’s good for nursing? A captain, he’s ill.”
“I’m ready,” said Polly. To nurse him she’s gone,
And finds it’s her true love all wasted and wan.

The first week the doctor kept shaking his head,
“No nursing, young fellow, can save him,” he said.
But when Polly Oliver had nursed him back to life
He cried, “You have cherished him as if you were his wife”.

O then Polly Oliver, she burst into tears
And told the good doctor her hopes and her fears,
And very shortly after, for better or for worse,
The captain took joyfully his pretty soldier nurse.

An anonymous band plays Root’s varied treatment of Polly Oliver:

English composer Benjamin Britten also composed a treatment of Sweet Polly Oliver for voice and piano.  Here it is with Britten at the piano and tenor Peters Pears:

The composer known conventionally as Franz von Suppe (1819-1895) was born to an Italian-Belgian father and a Viennese mother  in Croatia, which was then part of the Kingdom of Dalmatia in the Austro-Hungarian empire.  His full name befits his convoluted nationality: his parents named him Francesco Ezechiele Ermenegildo Cavaliere Suppé Demelli.  His early musical training was in flute and singing.  His parents pushed him to study law, but he continued his musical studies nonetheless.  He eventually moved to Vienna to complete his studies and find work conducting in opera houses.  He went on to compose over 100 works for the stage.

The Poet and the Peasant (Dichter und Bauer in the original German) is one of von Suppe’s earlier operettas, written in 1846 when he was 27 years old.  Like most of his work, the operetta itself is rarely performed.  But the overture has become a classic at pops concerts for both bands and orchestras.

Franz von Suppe on wikipedia, naxos.com, and Allmusic.com.

A nice program note on Poet and Peasant.

Here’s the overture played by a very capable concert band:

and now the original orchestral version: