It’s that time again to put The Spin your hands! The topic this round: The Greatest Piece of Richard Wagner Music.
As Sam Juliano from Wonders in the Dark so eloquently mused, “Richard Wagner was a racist, an anti-Semite and a bigamist, yet he wrote some of the most extraordinarily beautiful music in the history of Western civilization.” And it was Sam’s chatter on the facebook that spurred this post.
It got me wondering, not only about all that great music (that lends itself so eerily well to cinema) but also, “What the hell was going on in Wagner’s head?” His music has spawned men like Adolph Hitler to score their epic and vile plans for world domination, while it left others rapt and spellbound with fevered dreams of those pearly gates. What did Wagner see when he composed? What inspired him? And what lead him to spew hate while also birthing so much aural beauty, bequeathing to us an unrivaled output of operatic art that will last as long as human beings have ears to listen to his work. There’s something both ominous and serene about his best pieces, moods that swoon to an emotional climax before bringing the listener back down from heaven (or up from hell) to solid ground where the world lays itself out before us in all its mysterious glory. His is the stuff of both the calm and the storm, the worldly and otherworldly.
But back to the music. I’ve left out his most recognizable pieces to the layman…The Lohengrin Bridal March – yes, the wedding march used at almost every wedding – and Ride of the Valkyries – used so devilishly in D. W. Griffin’s hate mongering Birth of a Nation and overused since then to death. And, yes, I’m trying to bias the vote by putting my pick at the top. But without further adieu…the nominees:
- Tristan und Isolde Overture – my personal pick – and used in utterly devastating fashion in Lars Von Trier’s film Melancholia.
- Tannhauser Overture – Jason Marshall’s pick (from Movies over Matter) and used in unforgettable fashion as background music in Elem Klimov’s antiwar tragedy Come and See.
- Parsival Prelude – Sam Juliano’s pick (from Wonders in the Dark)
- Das Rheingold Vorspiel – one of the most versatile and cinematic pieces (starts so quietly and builds to an otherworldly crescendo) used ominously in Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu and majestically in Terrence Malick’s The New World.
- Die Walkurie Prelude (Act 1: Scene 1) – used so brilliantly by Jonathan Glazer to highlight one of the most fascinating close-ups in cinematic history since Dreyer’s Passion of Joan of Arc in the criminally underrated Birth – I dare you not to be unnerved.
Now that you’ve listened to the nominees, it’s time to vote!
Wow, you are something David!! I am deeply flattered to have bee included in this glorious post as a longtime admirer of this classical music titan. I have had the great fortune of having seen all these piece performed at the Metropolitan Opera several times over the years, experiencing the complete Ring Cycle two times and PARSIFAL, MEISTERSINGER and TRISTAN on four occasions. I have also negotiated LOHENGRIN multiple times and like all Wagner fans adore the bridal march and the spectacular aria “In Fernem Land” that appear in it. This post is enough for any Wagner fan to embark on another period of complete submission!!! 🙂
Well, obviously I have to vote for Tannhauser, though I tried to be fair and listen to all of them again. But even after doing that, the Tannhauser Overture still wins out for me.
I have to say the Tannhauser has been growing on me. But, man, all of these sound great with the volume waaaaaaaay up.