Richard Wagner and Opera Essay

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Richard Wagner and Opera

One of the key figures in the history of opera, Wagner was largely responsible for altering its orientation in the nineteenth century. His program of artistic reform accelerated the trend towards organically conceived, through-composed structures, as well as influencing the development of the orchestra, of a new breed of singer, and of various aspects of theatrical practice. As the most influential composer during the second half of the nineteenth century, Richard Wagner's conception of music remains very much with us even a century after his death. He was a remarkable innovator both in harmony and the structure of his work, creating his own version of the Gesamtkunstwerk, dramatic
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For Wagner, the function of music was to serve the ends of dramatic expression, and all of his most important compositions were composed for the theater. Particularly in Tannhauser, Wagner brilliantly adapted the substance of the German Romantic libretto to the framework of grand opera. The music evoked the opposite worlds of sin and blessedness with great emotional fervor and a luxuriant harmony and color. The Pilgrim's Chorus from this opera contains what is perhaps Wagner's most popular and widely known melody. Fatefully, despite his musical successes, things took a bad turn for Wagner when, in 1848, he was caught up in political revolution, and the next year he fled to Weimar where Franz Liszt helped him. Later he fled to Switzerland and France. Lohengrin was first performed under the direction of Franz Liszt at Weimar in 1850, and it is the last of Wagner's works that he ever referred to as an "opera." Lohengrin embodies several changes prophetic of the Music Dramas that were to follow it. The story comes from medieval legend, but Wagner's treatment is generalized and symbolic. The technique of recurring themes was further developed, particularly with respect to the motives associated with Lohengrin and the Grail. Using Weber's Der Freischütz as a model to a certain extent, Wagner used tonality with his characters to help organize both the drama and the
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