Bard Music Festival 2009
Wagner and His World
August 14-16, 2009 and August 21-23, 2009This year, the 20th annual Bard Music Festival takes stock of “Wagner and His World,” with concerts, panels, and other programs exploring the life and times of Richard Wagner. Leon Botstein leads the American Symphony Orchestra and a stellar assemblage of domestic and international musicians in Wagner’s piano, chamber, orchestral, and operatic works, as well as works by Mendelssohn, Brahms, and Bruckner, and lesser-known figures such as Max Bruch and Heinrich Herzogenberg who interested or were influenced by Wagner.
The Fruits of Ambition
Wagner’s career began inauspiciously. The first weekend of the 20th annual Bard Music Festival explores the transformation of a highly ambitious but obscure young man into a world-famous revolutionary artist. Wagner’s earliest compositional efforts are placed in the context of musical cultural life in German-speaking Europe before 1848 and the Paris of the 1830s and 1840s, Europe’s literary and operatic capital. By the mid-1840s, productions of Rienzi, The Flying Dutchman, and Tannhäuser had taken place. But the years between 1848 and 1850 were decisive in Wagner’s life and career. After struggling with a host of unfinished projects, he published (albeit anonymously) his most polemical essay, “Judaism in Music”; saw Lohengrin produced for the first time; and began working on the text of the Ring. From obscurity, Wagner emerged as the apostle of a new music for a new age and public. He placed himself in opposition to the fashions of the day as the true heir of Beethoven, championing a new aesthetics and politics of music.
Engineering the Triumph of Wagnerism
By the early 1870s, Wagner’s music, poetry, and prose had sparked an open conflict about the nature and future of music that would influence the discussion of art and culture until the outbreak of World War I. During the last three decades of his life, Wagner not only completed the Ring, Tristan, Meistersinger, and Parsifal, but he also engineered the first modern marketing scheme on behalf of an artist and his work (the selling of the Bayreuth festival). By the time of his death, Wagner, his music, and his aesthetics became a near obsession for philosophers, painters, poets, politicians, and, above all, musicians in Europe and America, making him the most famous artist of his time. This weekend looks at the many controversies surrounding Wagner, including his relationship to Nietzsche; the opposition to his innovations, centered around the figure of Brahms; the creation of Bayreuth; the impact of his music on composers from Bruckner to Granados, Wolf, and Debussy; and the connection between the Wagnerian and late 19th-century racism and nationalism.