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The 20th Annual Bard Music Festival: Wagner and His World

Mark Primoff
The 20th Annual Bard Music Festival: Wagner and His World

Excerpts From All 13 Wagner Operas Are Scheduled, Alongside Works
by Nearly 50 Composers Associated With “Wagner and His World”

Part boot camp for the brain, part spa for the spirit” – New York Times

Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y. – Described by the Los Angeles Times as “uniquely stimulating,” the world-renowned Bard Music Festival, returning for its 20th annual season, fills the last two weekends of Bard SummerScape 2009 with a thrilling and illuminating exploration of “Wagner and His World.” Twelve concert programs over the two mid-August weekends, complemented by preconcert lectures, panel discussions, and a symposium, make up Bard’s examination of the composer more discussed and disputed than any other in history. The programs of Weekend One—“The Fruits of Ambition” (August 14–16)—delve into Wagner’s beginnings, the musical world he set out to conquer, and his crowning musical achievements. Weekend Two—“Engineering the Triumph of Wagnerism” (August 21–23)—takes stock of Wagner’s outstanding self-marketing ability as well as of the more disturbing aspects of his character, including his well-documented obsessiveness, competitiveness, and venomous anti-Semitism.

Leon Botstein, co-artistic director of the Bard Music Festival and music director of the resident American Symphony Orchestra, leads the ASO and a select group of singers in four concerts of operatic and orchestral works by Wagner.  Mendelssohn, Brahms, Bruckner, and such lesser-known figures as Hermann Goetz, Heinrich von Herzogenberg, and Heinrich Marschner are only a few of the many composers whose works have been selected to illuminate the context of Wagner’s achievements and the impact he had on the musical culture of his day. Love him or hate him, it was difficult for any composer of the time not to fall under his influence.

Many of the 19th century’s preeminent composers are represented in the Festival. Some names are all but forgotten, but others still grace European street signs or are engraved on the walls of the opera houses, conservatories, and concert halls of the world. The composers are: Auber, Bellini, Berlioz, Brahms, Bruch, Bruckner, Chabrier, Chausson, Cherubini, Chopin, Czerny, Debussy, Duparc, Dvořák, Flotow, Robert Franz, Goldmark, Hermann Goetz, Granados, Griffes, Halévy, Hérold, Hiller, Herzogenberg, Humperdinck, Joachim, Liszt, Loewe, Marschner, Mendelssohn, Messager, Meyerbeer, Nietzsche, Offenbach, Palestrina, Alexander Ritter, Rossini, Clara Schumann, Robert Schumann, Spohr, Spontini, Johann Strauss Jr., Richard Strauss, Arthur Sullivan, Suppé, Weber, and Wolf.

Creative programming

During the festival, Leon Botstein leads the American Symphony Orchestra and guest artists in excerpts from each of the 13 operas Richard Wagner completed. The concept behind most of the selections chosen is to present those parts of his operas that the composer himself excerpted in concert, often well in advance of the premiere of the complete work. This offers an unusual opportunity to appreciate Wagner’s own self-representation and understand the way he so effectively marketed his music. The opening concert on August 14 (one of the Festival’s three all-Wagner programs) demonstrates aspects of the composer’s remarkable artistic development: Botstein has programmed parts of Die Feen, Das Liebesverbot, and Rienzi (Wagner’s first three operas), alongside selections from his later masterpieces Tristan und Isolde and Parsifal. This first concert will also feature a performance of Wagner’s lone completed symphony, which he wrote at age 19. It was lost for decades, and then performed one final time shortly before the composer’s death—the last time he conducted his music. The first version of Wagner’s Faust Overture, originally envisioned as a symphony, rounds out the program.

At the second orchestral concert, on August 15, The Flying Dutchman, Tannhäuser, and Lohengrin—all from the composer’s “middle period”—are excerpted together with virtually unknown early Wagner compositions, including an 1840 chorus for “La descente de la courtille” —an obscure Parisian carnival parade— and a substitute aria written for Vincenzo Bellini’s opera Norma. On August 22, scenes from the four “Ring” operas are represented in a single program. The final concert, under the heading “Music and German National Identity,” presents three large-scale patriotic choral works. Bruckner’s Germanenzug hails a multitude of Teutonic tribesmen “striding through the forest primeval, onward to holy battle.” Wagner’s grandiose and celebratory Kaisermarsch (Emperor March) celebrated German victory in the Franco-Prussian war. Johannes Brahms’s Triumphlied for eight-part chorus and full orchestra draws its texts from the Book of Revelation, and also commemorates German military triumph. The concert—and the Festival—will conclude with the grand final scene of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.

Besides the music of Wagner, some of the other popular works to be performed are Schumann’s Piano Quintet in E-flat major, Brahms’s Sonata for Two Pianos in F minor, Chopin’s Polonaise-fantaisie, Wolf’s Italian Serenade, and excerpts from Dvořák’s Cypresses. Songs and piano music by Wagner, rarely to be heard anywhere but Bard, appear on many of the chamber music programs. The Wagnerian aesthetic agenda is contrasted with opposing positions, the so-called “War of the Romantics” that pitted Wagner, Berlioz, Liszt, and their followers against Mendelssohn, Schumann, Brahms, and theirs.

Before the era of recordings and other electronic “home entertainment,” arrangements of operas and orchestral works disseminated music and made it available for domestic consumption. To make money as a struggling young composer in Paris, Wagner made many such arrangements of popular operas, of which a sample will be presented. In the hands of a virtuoso like Franz Liszt, arrangements could become spectacular showpieces. “Wagner in Paris,” a concert on August 16 at 5:30 pm, is devoted to several such blockbusters, including his dazzling transcription of Berlioz’s “March to the Scaffold” from the Symphonie fantastique and, for those Festival visitors who also take in one of the Bard SummerScape performances of Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots earlier in August, the pièce de résistance—Liszt’s Réminiscences des Huguenots.

Wagner’s position within the great German choral tradition is demonstrated in a program that includes works by Palestrina, Bruckner, Liszt, and Brahms (August 15). A notable program entitled “Bearable Lightness: The Comic Alternative” (August 22) offers some lighter fare to offset the Wagnerian gravitas. Excerpts from Johann Strauss Jr.’s Eine Nacht in Venedig, Gilbert and Sullivan’s Iolanthe, Offenbach’s Le roi Carotte and Rheinnixen, and Suppé’s Lohengelb, among others, will show the humorous side of music theater in the latter half of the 19th century. 

Talks, illustrated lectures, panel discussions, and films

The Bard Music Festival will open, as is the tradition, with a preconcert lecture by Leon Botstein, followed by an orchestral concert. The next day begins with an illustrated lecture by John Deathridge, on the subject of “Reality and Image: Wagner in Film,” before the midday concert. (Bard SummerScape is screening no fewer than ten films with links to Wagner, between July 16 and August 20). Further preconcert talks will be given by Byron Adams, Walter Frisch, Dana Gooley, Michael Musgrave, Jann Pasler, Alexander Rehding, R. Larry Todd, and Christopher H. Gibbs, co-artistic director of the Festival. The two panel discussions will be moderated by Thomas S. Grey (“Warring Aesthetics,” August 16) and Mr. Botstein (“Wagner and the Jewish Question,” August 23).

The final segments of the Bard Film Festival—“Politics, Theater, and Wagner”—will take place during “Wagner and His World.” The two parts of Fritz Lang’s Nibelungen—Siegfried’s Death and Kriemhild’s Revenge—will be screened with piano accompaniment by Ben Model on August 16 and August 20, respectively.

Round-trip coach transportation from Columbus Circle in New York City to Bard’s Fisher Center will be provided for Program Six on Sunday, August 16. Reservations are required. Call the Box Office at (845) 758-7900 for more information.

Bard’s delightful destination-spot, the Spiegeltent, will be open for lunch and dinner throughout “Wagner and His World,” and there will be special opening and closing parties in the tent on August 14 and 23, respectively.

Bard Music Festival Books

Since the first Bard Music Festival—“Brahms and His World”—in 1990, Princeton University Press has published a companion book of scholarly essays written especially for the volume. This year’s Wagner and His World is edited by Thomas S. Grey and will be issued in time for Bard SummerScape. A new and expanded edition of Brahms and His World—edited by Walter Frisch and Kevin Karnes—will be published by Princeton this summer.


Bard Music Festival presents “Wagner and His World”

August 14–16 and August 21–23, 2009

WEEKEND ONE: The Fruits of Ambition (August 14–16)

The first weekend of the Festival explores the transformation of the highly ambitious but obscure young composer from his thoroughly inauspicious origin 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 in Paris, Europe’s literary and operatic capital during the 1830s and 1840s. By the mid-1840s, Rienzi, The Flying Dutchman, and Tannhäuser had been produced. The years between 1848 and 1850 were decisive in Wagner’s life and career: after struggling with several unfinished projects, he published his book-length explorations on music and drama and thoughts on the future of music, as well as his most polemical essay, “Judaism in Music”; Lohengrin was produced for the first time; and he started work on the text of what would become The Ring of the Nibelung. Wagner emerged from obscurity 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 aesthetic and politics of music.



PROGRAM ONE – Genius Unanticipated
Fisher Center, Sosnoff Theater

7:00 pm        Preconcert Talk: Leon Botstein

8:00 pm        Performance: Christine Goerke, soprano; Daniel Mobbs, bass-baritone; American Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Leon Botstein, music director

Richard Wagner (1813–83)

   Symphony in C major (1832)

   Overture to Rienzi, the Last of the Tribunes (1840)

   Faust Symphony, First Movement WWV 59 (Faust Overture, First Version) (1840)

   Excerpts from Die Feen (1834); Das Liebesverbot (1836); Tristan und Isolde (1859); and Parsifal (1882)

Tickets: $25, $40, $55



ILLUSTRATED TALK – Reality and Image
Olin Hall

10:00 am      Reality and Image: Wagner in Film

                       John Deathridge

Free and open to the public


PROGRAM TWO – In the Shadow of Beethoven
Olin Hall

1:00 pm        Preconcert Talk: Alexander Rehding

1:30 pm        Performance: Corey Bix, tenor; Danny Driver, piano; Erin Morley, soprano; Marjorie Owens, soprano; Pei-Yao Wang, piano; Bard Festival Chamber Players

 Richard Wagner (1813–83)

 Fantasy in F-sharp minor, for piano (1831)

   Der Tannenbaum (1838)

   From Seven Compositions from Goethe’s Faust (1831)

Louis Spohr (1784–1859)

   Nonet, Op. 31, for strings and winds (1813)

Carl Maria von Weber (1786–1826)

   Arias from Der Freischütz (1821) and Oberon (1826)

Carl Czerny (1791–1857)

   Variations brillantes, Op. 14 (1821)

Arias and songs by Carl Loewe (1796–1869); Heinrich Marschner (1795–1861); Robert Franz (1815–92); Friedrich von Flotow (1812–83); Ferdinand Hiller (1811–85); and Carl Maria von Weber (1786–1826)

Tickets: $35


PROGRAM THREE – Wagner and the Choral Tradition
Olin Hall

5:00 pm        Performance: Bard Festival Chamber Players; Bard Festival Chorale, conducted by James Bagwell, choral director

Works by Richard Wagner (1813–83); Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (c. 1525–94); Anton Bruckner (1824–96); Johannes Brahms (1833–97); and Franz Liszt (1811–86)

Tickets: $30


PROGRAM FOUR – The Triumphant Revolutionary
Fisher Center, Sosnoff Theater

7:00 pm        Preconcert Talk: Dana Gooley

8:00 pm        Performance: Richard Brunner, tenor; Teresa Buchholz, mezzo-soprano; Christine Goerke, soprano; John Hancock, baritone; Daniel Mobbs, bass-baritone; Scott Williamson, tenor; Bard Festival Chorale, with James Bagwell, choral director; American Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Leon Botstein, music director; and others


Richard Wagner (1813–83)

   Excerpts from The Flying Dutchman (1841), Tannhäuser (1845), and Lohengrin (1848)

   Supplemental materials for La descente de la courtille (1841) by Th. Marion Dumersan and Ch.-Désiré

     Dupeuty, Norma (1831) by Vincenzo Bellini, and Der Vampyr (1828) by Heinrich Marschner

Tickets: $25, $40, $55


PANEL ONE – Warring Aesthetics
Olin Hall

10:00 am – 12:00 pm

Thomas S. Grey, moderator; Kevin Karnes; Lawrence Kramer; and others

Free and open to the public


PROGRAM FIVE – Wagner’s Destructive Obsession: Mendelssohn and Friends
Olin Hall

1:00 pm        Preconcert Talk: R. Larry Todd

1:30 pm        Performance: Borromeo String Quartet; Edward Arron, cello; Bernadine Blaha, piano; Jeremy Denk, piano; John Hancock, baritone; Stefan Jackiw, violin; Piers Lane, piano; Jeffrey Lang, horn; Sophie Shao, cello

Richard Wagner (1813–83)

   Les deux grenadiers (1839–40)

Felix Mendelssohn (1809–47)

   From Songs Without Words, Opp. 19b, 38, and 67 (1829–45)

   Hebrides Overture, Op. 26, arr. piano duet (1830, arr. 1832)

   Piano Trio No. 2 in C minor, Op. 66 (1845)

Robert Schumann (1810–56)

   “Die beiden Grenadiere,” Op. 49, No. 1 (1840)

   Piano Quintet in E-flat major, Op. 44 (1842)

   Andante and Variations, WoO 10 (1843)

Clara Schumann (1819–96)

   “Die stille Lotosblume,” Op. 13, No. 6 (1840–43)

Tickets: $35


PROGRAM SIX – Wagner in Paris
Fisher Center, Sosnoff Theater

5:00 pm        Preconcert Talk: Jann Pasler

5:30 pm        Performance: Borromeo String Quartet; Randolph Bowman, flute; Jeremy Denk, piano; Danny Driver, piano; Laura Flax, clarinet; Angela Meade, soprano; Erin Morley, soprano; Pei-Yao Wang, piano; Scott Williamson, tenor

Richard Wagner (1813–83)

   “Adieux de Marie Stuart,” for voice and piano (1840)

   “Attente,” for voice and piano (1839)

Luigi Cherubini (1760–1842)

   String Quartet No. 4 in E major (1835)

Daniel-François-Esprit Auber (1782–1871)

   From “Zanetta,” arr. for flute and string trio (1840; arr. Wagner)

Giacomo Meyerbeer (1791–1864)

   “Hirtenlied,” for voice, clarinet, and piano (1842)

Ferdinand Hérold (1791–1833)

   Overture to Zampa, arr. for piano four hands (1831)

Fromental Halévy (1799–1862)

   From Le Guitarrero, arr. for flute and string trio (1841, arr. Wagner)

Hector Berlioz (1803–69)

   “March to the Scaffold,” from Symphonie fantastique, Op. 14 (1830; arr. Liszt)

Fryderyk Chopin (1810–49)

   Polonaise-fantaisie, Op. 61 (1846)

Franz Liszt (1811–86)

   Réminiscences des Huguenots (1836–42)

Arias by Gaspare Spontini (1774–1851); Gioachino Rossini (1792–1868); and Vincenzo Bellini (1801–35)

Tickets: $20, $35, $45

 Round-trip transportation by coach from Columbus Circle in NYC to the Fisher Center will be provided for the August 16 performance of Bard Music Festival Program Six. Reservations are required. Call the Box Office for more information.


WEEKEND TWO: Engineering the Triumph of Wagnerism (August 21–23)

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 beyond the outbreak of World War I. During the last three decades of his life, Wagner not only completed the Ring cycle, Tristan, Meistersinger, and Parsifal, but also engineered the first modern marketing scheme on behalf of an artist and his work. By the time of his death in 1883, Wagner, his music, and his aesthetics had become a near obsession for philosophers, painters, poets, politicians, and—above all—musicians in Europe and America, and had made him the most famous artist of his time. This weekend looks at many of the 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 Wagner’s music on composers from Bruckner to Granados, Wolf, and Debussy; and the relationship between Wagnerian and late 19th-century racism and nationalism.



SYMPOSIUM – Wagner and the Transformation of European CultureCampus Center, Multipurpose Room

10:00 am–12:00 pm

1:30 pm–3:30 pm

Marina van Zuylen, moderator; and others

Free and open to the public


PROGRAM SEVEN – Wagner Pro and Contra
Fisher Center, Sosnoff Theater

7:30 pm        Preconcert Talk: Walter Frisch

8:00 pm        Performance: Bernadine Blaha, piano; Teresa Buchholz, mezzo-soprano; Catherine Foster, soprano; Devon Guthrie, soprano; Ieva Jokubaviciute, piano; Soovin Kim, violin; Piers Lane, piano; Blair McMillen, piano; Raman Ramakrishnan, cello


Richard Wagner (1813–83)

   “Wesendonck Lieder” (1857–58)

   Eine Sonate für das Album von Frau M. W. (1853)

Franz Liszt (1811–86)

   “Die Lorelei” (1841)

   Orpheus, arr. for piano trio (1853–54; arr. Saint-Saëns)

Johannes Brahms (1833–97)

   Vocal Duets, Opp. 20 (1858–60) and 61 (1852–74)

   Sonata for Two Pianos in F minor, Op. 34b (1864)

Joseph Joachim (1831–1907)

   Overture to Hamlet, arr. for two pianos, Op. 4 (c. 1855, arr. Brahms)

Tickets: $20, $35, $45



PROGRAM EIGHT – Bearable Lightness: The Comic Alternative

Olin Hall

10:00 am      Performance

                       With commentary by Richard Wilson

Gabriel Fauré (1845–1924) and Andre Messager (1853-29)

   Souvenirs de Bayreuth (1888)

Jacques Offenbach (1819–80)

   From Le roi Carotte (1872) and Die Rheinnixen (1864)

Franz von Suppé (1819–95)

   From Lohengelb, oder Die Jungfrau von Dragan (1870)

Arthur Sullivan (1842–1900) and W. S. Gilbert (1836–1911)

   From Iolanthe (1882)

Johann Strauss Jr. (1825–99)

   From Eine Nacht in Venedig (1883)

Piano works and songs by Emmanuel Chabrier (1841–94)

Tickets: $30


PROGRAM NINE – Competing Romanticisms
Olin Hall

1:00 pm        Preconcert Talk: Michael Musgrave

1:30 pm        Performance: Bard Festival String Quartet; Laura Flax, clarinet; Ieva Jokubaviciute, piano; Soovin Kim, violin; Noreen Polera, piano; Raman Ramakrishnan, cello


Karl Goldmark (1830–1915)

   Romance, for violin and piano (1913)

Johannes Brahms (1833–97)

   Six Choral Preludes, Op. 122 (1896; arr. Busoni)

Hermann Goetz (1840–76)

   Piano Quintet in C minor, Op. 16 (1874)

Heinrich von Herzogenberg (1843–1900)

   Piano Trio in C minor, Op. 24 (1877)

Max Bruch (1838–1920)

   From Eight Pieces for clarinet, viola, and piano, Op. 83 (1910)

Antonín Dvořák (1841–1904)

   From Cypresses (1865)

Tickets: $35


PROGRAM TEN – The Selling of the Ring
Fisher Center, Sosnoff Theater

7:00 pm        Preconcert Talk: John Deathridge

8:00 pm        Performance: Catherine Foster, soprano; James Johnson, bass-baritone; Gary Lehman, tenor; American Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Leon Botstein, music director; and others

 Richard Wagner (1813–83)

   Excerpts from: Das Rheingold (1854), Die Walküre (1856), Siegfried (1871), and Götterdämmerung (1874)

Tickets: $25, $40, $55



PANEL TWO – Wagner and the Jewish Question
Olin Hall

12:00 pm      Leon Botstein, moderator; Paul Lawrence Rose; and others

Free and open to the public


Olin Hall

1:00 pm        Preconcert Talk: Byron Adams

1:30 pm        Performance: Bard Festival String Quartet; Melvin Chen, piano; Devon Guthrie, soprano; Piers Lane, piano; Scott Williamson, tenor; students of The Bard College Conservatory of Music

Richard Wagner (1813–83)

   Siegfried Idyll (1870)

Henri Duparc (1848–1933)

   L’invitation au voyage (1870)

Enrique Granados (1867–1916)

   From Goyescas, Op. 11 (1909–12)

Ernest Chausson (1855–99)

   Concert, Op. 21 (1889-91)

Charles T. Griffes (1884–1920)

   De profundis (1915)

Hugo Wolf (1860–1903)

   Italian Serenade (1887)

Songs by Richard Strauss (1864–1949); Engelbert Humperdinck (1854–1921); Alexander Ritter (1833–96); Claude Debussy (1862–1918); Emmanuel Chabrier (1841–94); and Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900)

Tickets: $35


PROGRAM TWELVE – Music and German National Identity
Fisher Center, Sosnoff Theater

4:30 pm        Preconcert Talk: Christopher H. Gibbs

5:30 pm        Performance: Corey Bix, tenor; Devon Guthrie, soprano; John Hancock, baritone; James Johnson, bass-baritone; Scott Williamson, tenor; Bard Festival Chorale, with James Bagwell, choral director; American Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Leon Botstein, music director; and others

Richard Wagner (1813–83)

   Kaisermarsch (1871)

   Excerpts from Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (1867)

Anton Bruckner (1824–96)

   Germanenzug (1863)

Johannes Brahms (1833–97)

   Triumphlied, Op. 55 (1870–71)

Tickets: $25, $40, $55


Ticket Information

For tickets and further information on all Bard SummerScape 2009 and Bard Music Festival events, call the Fisher Center box office at (845) 758-7900 or visit


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– April 21, 2009


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This event was last updated on 06-25-2009