Richard Wagner (1813-1883)
Lohengrin – Selection
(arr: US Military Band Journal)

Richard Wagner is another composer whose 200th birth anniversary is currently being celebrated. The German composer, a rival – if you want – of Verdi, was a dominating figure in the operatic world north of the Alps. His philosophy about music drama coupled with his Nordic, as opposed to Mediterranean, personality resulted in him composing operas which were hugely different from the ubiquitous, albeit highly-popular, Italian operas of the time. Dramatic unity and flow were of absolute importance to him, and hence his through-composed scores and his use of leitmotifs to connote characters, places, ideas, sentiments and plot elements. Similarly, thick orchestration and dense textures as well as extremely chromatic harmonies pervade his works. Very significant and particular are the facts that Wagner wrote the libretto for his operas himself and that his later operas were intended for performance at his own theatre at Bayreuth, which he himself had designed to fit the specific requirements of his operas.

Most of these characteristics are already discernable in the last of his middle-period operas, the 3-act Lohengrin. Premiered in 1850 at the Staatskapelle in Weimar, Germany and conducted by the great Franz Liszt, an avid Wagner supporter and close friend, the opera was an immediate success and became a source of artistic inspiration. Typical of Wagnerian subject matter, the story of this fairy-tale opera is taken from medieval German romance and centres round Lohengrin, a knight of the Holy Grail who was sent in a boat carried by swans to rescue a maiden who can never ask his identity. A few of the opera’s magical and best-known musical moments are included in this selection.