A renowned conductor shares insights into the powerful works of Richard Wagner (1813-1883).
Currently conductor of the Staatskapelle Dresden and artistic director of the Salzburg Easter Festival, Thielemann recounts his long career in music in an illuminating look at his art, focusing on the composer that he believes represents the most “fundamentally significant experience” of music. The author was a young prodigy, awarded a contract at Berlin’s German Opera House when he was 19. In the following years, he rose through positions that he sees as essential to development of craftsmanship: co-répétiteur, répétiteur with duties as conductor, assistant conductor, second conductor, first conductor, general music director at small opera houses, general music director at first-ranked opera houses, guest conductor, and conductor of recordings, culminating in leadership of prestigious orchestras. There are no short cuts, the author maintains, to becoming a master. Early in his musical training, Thielemann became enraptured with Wagner, whose music, “unashamedly over the top,” cast a spell over him. The author reflects on Wagner’s use of myths “to create an international form of drama describing, on a gigantic scale, what happens when modern man forgets himself in striving for wealth and possessions.” The composer “balances on the line between the Romantics and the modern periods in music, between fairy tale and psychoanalysis.” Acknowledging Wagner’s anti-Semitism and Hitler’s admiration for his works, Thielemann maintains that music itself transcends politics. Much of the book reprises the themes, characters, and music of each Wagner opera, including evaluations of recordings. Tristan and Isolde, the author writes, arouses “feelings in me that I can hardly describe: sensuality, excitement, watchfulness, the wish for enjoyment.” Parsifal, in which Wagner melds German and French influences, shines, “living and shimmering in an almost Impressionist and very Latin way. It can be terrifying.”
Thielemann’s revelations about the complexities of conducting are likely to enhance any music lover’s listening experiences.