17 Feb 2015Sofia Opera and Ballet


"Never in my life have I been truly blessed by love..."

This confession of the romantic Richard Wagner, in love with Mathilde Wesendonck, the wife of his benefactor Otto Wesendonck during his Swiss exile, opens the page not only to the women and love in his life, but also to the fate of a universal artist, poet, composer, writer, born in the complex times of the second half of the 19th century.

The turmoil of that time comes alive in Richard Wagner's work. A time of turbulent changes in public and social life, a time of revolutions and defeats, a time that raised ideals of new morals and values. It is no coincidence that Marx says that everywhere he went there is only talk of Wagner. Perhaps because Wagner is also a particular response to the importance of intellectuals, in particular musicians, in this complex time. A time when the struggle to shake off the snobbery of bourgeois society and the thirst for feat erupted with terrible force in the work of European intellectuals. This is the time when new heroes come onto the stage of life. Sentimental outpourings in the theatre no longer excite. Something different is demanded, "instead of amorous sentimental intrigues come the epic, the heroic."

Wagner was fascinated by the changes in the spirit of the times. He became captivated by the imagery of folk tales, something that is already evident in "Der fliegende Holländer". He was drawn to the German epic, "The Song of the Nibelungs" and the legend of Siegfried. In fact, the image of the hero was the centre of attention in pre-revolutionary Germany. Siegfried is like that. He is perceived as a representative of the German youth who yearns for feat, for rebellion against tradition and the limited philistine life.

No wonder Wagner set out to create a work dedicated to Siegfried. Excited by the fire of change, the young Wagner participated in the Dresden Uprising of 1848. After its suppression, he was forced to flee, and with Liszt's help he went to Switzerland. For almost five years he did not write music, searching for his answer to "pass to a new age" in a new way, with new means of expression. The birth of the so-called "Siegfried Beginnings" in his work was a long and complex journey. Of this period he says: "Between the conception of 'Lohengrin' and that of 'Siegfried' stretches a whole element of passion – violent but fruitful."

What are these storms and passions? Wagner was able to write the complete text of "Der Ring des Nibelungen" in late 1852. The element that overwhelmed him gave birth to the first and second parts of the tetralogy, "Das Rheingold" and "Die Walküre" /1852-1856/, in sequence. Something important without any prospect of staging the giant cycle. With the same fire he began "Siegfried", but in 1857 abandoned the score halfway through.

Why did Wagner "say farewell" to his Siegfried? What provoked Wagner the artist and the man? It was not only his ardent love for Mathidlde Wesendonck that caused this. Wagner falls into amorous torment, but he also experiences a deep disillusionment with the reactionary climate that followed the revolution. The changes he dreamed of do not come true. He becomes fascinated by the pessimistic philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer. His work "The World as Will and Representation" captivated the intelligentsia after the defeat of the revolution. Schopenhauer believed that the power of reason cannot change the world because the world is unknowable and it is intuition that gives us knowledge of the world. It is music that reveals the unknowable nature of the world with reason.

Intuition, the ability of music to reveal the unknowable nature of the world to reason, is so close to Wagner at this point in his life. He expressed this different sense of the world in "Tristan und Isolde", an expression not only of impossible love but also of a different sense of life from the "Siegfriedian" beginning. The hero and the feat, give way to the "Tristanesque beginning". Two such essentially contrasting understandings of the world united in one gave birth to the subsequent opuses of one of the most controversial figures of the 19th century, Wilhelm Richard Wagner.

Wagner wrote to Liszt in 1854: "A simple, but full of inspiration, musical conception is dawning in my head. With the black flag that flies in the last act, I will cover myself – and die!"

Wagner in love is entranced by the plot of an ancient legend of love conquering death, the legend of Tristan and Isolde. A legend that comes out of time with different historical colours. He creates a work not about love but about the torment of love, glorifying not life but death, the only solace of suffering. This poem about love is an escape from the surrounding world. It is a journey into the psychological depths of experience, love. Perhaps that is why it is perceived as a vocal symphonic poem.

Wagner creates from the ancient legend an imposing love poem with two main characters and several minor characters. The plot is reduced to minimal action, to events happening, with the different states of the two characters, Tristan and Isolde, as the centre. States under the influence of the magic drink of love. States of ecstasy, of complete alienation from the outside world and immersion in the depths of the love experience in its nuances, feelings of longing, pain, despair, death thirst, enlightenment. That is why the song of the ship's helmsman, the sailors' shouts in Act I, the sounds of hunting horns in Act II, and the lonely whistle of the shepherd in Act III seem to reach the lovers' consciousness from afar.

In his "Tristan und Isolde", the poet and musician Wagner creates a sound image of "the depths of inner soul experiences".

 "I heard within myself the theme of Tristan und Isolde, a most simple but most full-blooded musical idea," Wagner says. The master of Romanticism fulfilled his dream of erecting a monument to his most beautiful of all his dreams, imbued from beginning to end with love.