Influences | Wagnerism | Late Romantic | Classical
Between 1860 and 1918 Wagner became the most influential intellectual figure in Europe. For his Gesamtkunstwerk (‘Complete Art-Work’) he drew on a wide range of inspirations, including Greek tragedy, the symphonies of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827) and his own historicist ideas of realizing the latent tendencies of all arts. This ensured that his music-dramas reached into almost every area of European artistic, philosophical and even political life.
The performance of the revised Tannhäuser (in Paris in 1861), though poorly received by many traditional opera-goers, profoundly affected the poet and critic Charles Baudelaire. Baudelaire’s own portrayal of longing and the corruption of love in Les Fleurs du Mal (‘The Flowers of Evil’) found many echoes in Wagner’s newly written opening scene in the Venusberg. Baudelaire’s use of poetic ‘correspondences’ (suggestive parallels between feelings, expressed in poetry by transferring metaphors between the arts) also found common ground with Wagner’s ideas of artistic synthesis. Several magazines and societies were founded in Paris to promote Wagner’s ideas; in the 1870s and 80s almost no composer escaped his influence.
The performance of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde in Munich in 1865 also proved highly influential. Its novel use of chromaticism, orchestral colour and flexible rhythm had profound effects in many intellectual spheres. The struggle to escape the musical influence of Tristan became one of the distinguishing features of the early modern period in music.
The opening of the specially built Festspielhaus in Bayreuth in 1876 attracted musicians, monarchs, writers and philosophers from all over the world. The effect of the four-opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen (‘The Nibelung’s Ring’) was profound. The sunken orchestra pit and the darkened auditorium were much admired, though not copied, innovations. The presentation of many ideas in an opera house also changed the status of opera and the power and meaning of music. Music now had a new role as the articulator of unconscious feelings or ideas. Wagner’s dramaturgy, especially its use of monologues and its deliberately powerful engagement of the audience, also had a lasting effect.
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