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1.9.06

Thielemann's Secret Work at Bayreuth

Christian Thielemann, conductorManuela Hoelterhoff's article yesterday (The Mysterious Wagner Archive in Hitler's Bayreuth Residence, September 1) for Bloomberg News is trying to make something "mysterious" that is not all that mysterious -- a public archive that happens to be in the so-called Führer Annex, a little house near the Wahnfried, where Adolf Hitler stayed when he visited Bayreuth. However, there is an interesting insight in it about whether conductors and opera directors are using all the resources they can to prepare for their work:

Hoelterhoff: Do stage directors tend to come and use the archives when they are preparing a production?

Friedrich: Normally not. They should, probably. I have the impression that many of the stage directors really don't want to come into the stuff deeply. They have their impression, they read the work, they have an idea. Sometimes musicians come here. Christian Thielemann was here very often because he is somebody who deals very seriously with the musicological world. He sometimes looks into the handwritten scores to compare the printed score he uses for conducting, to check that it is correct. For example, when he conducted "Tannhauser," I suggested to him that he could include a special English horn solo which has never been performed before, because Wagner eliminated it from the score before the printing. Thielemann was fascinated by this solo, and he used it.
I already admired Christian Thielemann as a conductor, but now that I know that he thinks like a musicologist, I like him even more. I am guessing that this is the Tannhäuser that Thielemann conducted at Bayreuth first in 2002 (and then every summer through 2005). Does anyone know about this? A. C. Douglas, I am counting on you. It's news to me. I would not be surprised if he told no one about it, just to see if any of the reviewers would notice the change.

12 comments:

A.C. Douglas said...

News to me as well, Charles. And to be perfectly blunt about it, I'm more than merely surprised Thielemann used that English horn solo at Bayreuth of all places, if he in fact did (no, I didn't hear any of his performances of that opera; it's a work I find to be an embarrassment more than anything else, the Dresden (1845) version of the overture alone excepted). If Wagner removed that solo from the score, it means -- surprise! -- he didn't want it included in the opera. I hate it when latter-day geniuses second-guess original creators, especially in the case of an original creator of transcendent genius.

ACD

Charles T. Downey said...

ACD, does that include errors, which invariably end up in published scores? Or changes that are made because of performance concerns? As I said, I do not know the details of this particular change that Wagner made, but the reason for it could be any number of things other than "transcendent genius." In fact, a 19th-century published score can be quite unreliable. It would be unwise to regard such a score as the only word.

A.C. Douglas said...

According to Friedrich's comment (and we must assume he knows whereof he speaks), Wagner himself eliminated the English horn solo from the score, prior to sending the score to the publisher. There's nothing ambiguous about such an action. Wagner eliminated the solo because he didn't want the solo in the score, and therefore not in the opera.

Period. Full stop.

That Wagner was unquestionably a transcendent genius is beside the point in this case. He was the creator of the work, and as the work's creator his wishes should be honored -- to the letter.

Again, Period. Full stop.

As a principle, why is that so difficult to grasp?

ACD

Charles T. Downey said...

It is not that the principle is difficult to grasp. It is that it may be too simplistic. The idea that a single published score is the sole authority on an opera, to be slavishly obeyed, is anachronistic, even at this point in history. An opera especially tended to be fluid in a composer's mind, clay that was remolded to a specific set of performing demands.

As I said, I do not know what caused Wagner to exclude this solo. It could be something as basic as that he did not have an English horn player or that he did not like the way the player he had played it. Even if Wagner's decision was made on purely compositional grounds, at one arbitrary point in his life (when he prepared the score for the publisher), he composed the solo and placed it in the score. For that reason alone, it is of musical interest, and I am glad that someone of Thielemann's intelligence put himself in the situation to learn about it and give it life again.

I understand what you are saying. I do not agree with it.

A.C. Douglas said...

We really do have to get on the same page here, Charles.

My comments are NOT based on "a single published score." They're not based on any score at all. They're based solely on Friedrich's statement that, "Wagner eliminated [the solo] from the score before the printing." That says to me the solo was in Wagner's ms, but when it came to putting that ms into finished published form, Wagner decided the solo was better removed. Makes NO difference why he wanted the solo out as we can be absolutely certain he didn't want it out because of a local or transient condition, for in that case he would have left it in with a note in the score dealing with that local or transient condition as was his normal practice. That means he eliminated the solo because he thought better about including it when it came time to release the score to the world.

There's nothing ambiguous about such an action. Wagner wanted the solo out because he didn't want it in — ever!

Yet once again, Period. Full stop.

ACD

Charles T. Downey said...

ACD, I wish you would comment on more of our posts. I appreciate the rigor of your views, although we obviously do not agree on this issue.

However, I am surprised that you of all people have not yet commented on the other remark that Friedrich made, about whether opera directors ever use the archive to prepare a Wagner staging. "Many of the stage directors really don't want to come into the stuff deeply. They have their impression, they read the work, they have an idea." Does that not ring a few bells in terms of some opera staging these days?

A.C. Douglas said...

I didn't comment on that particular remark of Friedrich's simply because he said, in substance, nothing other or more than what I've said repeatedly and at some length and, for some, perhaps even ad nauseam on my blog over the years. You can bet your last bippy that had he said something about these willful vandals that I either missed saying, or said but didn't give enough weight to, I would have had a blog post up about it within the span of time it would have taken me to write the piece plus a heartbeat.

ACD

(BTW, Charles, I, for one, would really appreciate it if you upped the density of the font color of your comments text just a smidge. I confess these old eyes are finding that text just a tad difficult to read at the gray density you've set for it.)

Charles T. Downey said...

The settings are the defaults chosen by Blogger. I'll see if I can change that. I assume that you mean the comments as they are printed at the bottom of the individual post page. The comments are easier to read in the pop-up box. I'll fiddle with the setting. Thanks for the suggestion.

Charles T. Downey said...

I well know of your past comments on opera staging that seems to work against the opera itself. I thought you would be interested to see that a music archivist has some anecdotal information that backs that up. Thanks again!

jfl said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
jfl said...

"Wagner eliminated the solo because he didn't want the solo in the score, and therefore not in the opera."

Lot's of periods and full stops in this debate. He also threw the Dresden Vorspiel to the four winds when it came to making a version that was performed. Did he introduce all that glitter-orgiastic Venusmountain bonanza because he didn't want the Dresden Version anymore? Period? Full Stop?

Transcendent Genius making a genial decision (yet I hear you - gasp - prefer the Dresden version [So do I; although I like -double-gasp- compound versions better, still]) or just a poverty-ridden composer making a pragmatic decision? And we are to decide? Is Wagner on Tuesday (English Horn goes INTO the score) a greater Genius than Wagner on Thursday (English Horn OUT)? Is Solshenyzin a greater Genius when he propagates Putin, and - in essence - a new totalitarianism for the Russian people (to protect them from the "trash" that is Western Culture and the despondency that is brought by Democracy) or whas he a greater genius when he wrote "A Day in the life of Ivan Denisovich"? Was Kissinger more thoughtful a man when he argued for NATO or when he argued that NATO had outlived itself. What if Wagner had put that solo in and out 7 times? Isn't it all terribly meaningless? And the idea that scores are sacrosanct a little outdated?

A.C. Douglas said...

JFL wrote:

Lot's of periods and full stops in this debate. He [Wagner] also threw the Dresden Vorspiel to the four winds when it came to making a version that was performed. Did he introduce all that glitter-orgiastic Venusmountain bonanza because he didn't want the Dresden Version anymore? Period? Full Stop?

Don't be absurd. It's well documented why he introduced that thoroughly inappropriate music into the Tannhäuser score: to please the French fops, and so transfer their money (or part of it) into his own pockets, just like any theater-savvy opera composer would do.

Is Wagner on Tuesday (English Horn goes INTO the score) a greater Genius than Wagner on Thursday (English Horn OUT)?

There's no suggestion whatsoever nor even so much as a pale implication that Wagner's decision on that English horn solo was anything of the sort. On the contrary, there's the clear statement that "Wagner eliminated it from the score before the printing." Not for a particular production. Not for a local or transient reason. But because he didn't want it in the score — ever.

Period. Full stop.

[Isn't] the idea that scores are sacrosanct a little outdated?

Only for contemptible Eurotrash vandals; aesthetic and creative midgets who want and need to hijack for their own grotesque and pathetic midget uses the work of transcendent aesthetic and creative colossi.

See how that works?

ACD