“The Passion of Rachmaninoff” Concert Preview No. 1

This “Concert Preview” will provide background information on the pieces the BSO will perform next. Each Concert Preview is written by the BSO’s Artistic Director and Conductor, Manny Laureano. Look for the next Concert Preview on February 6.

Richard Wagner (1813-1883) Richard Wagner

While it can be argued that the music of Richard Wagner should be “blamed” for the direction 19th century music took toward a lack of tonality, the truth of the matter is that Wagner started off in a rather traditional fashion. In fact, it’s interesting to note that, unlike many of his musical predecessors, his first love was writing the written word rather than music itself. He was so moved by the works of Shakespeare and Goethe, for example, that he was compelled to try his hand at writing at the age of fourteen. It was at that time that he went about the task of attempting to write music for his tragedy, Leubald. He spent the next many years perfecting his musical craft for the sake of accompanying the great stories that stirred his heart, at first, alone, and then with help from teachers such as Christian Weinlig, of the Thomaskirche in Leipzig.

Rienzi was Wagner’s first successful opera. He already had a few junior works to his credit from piano sonatas to a Symphony in C major. He had already written operas (Die Hochzeit and also Die Feen) but it was not until he completed Rienzi that he took his foothold into prominence during a time of nationalistic musical fervor in Germany. Wagner’s use of chromaticism continued a natural transition in music history that started with Hector Berlioz in Paris and continued with him. It was that use of chromaticism that opened the gates for new modalities in subsequent composers.

The Overture to Rienzi

Normally, one would think of a trumpet calling soldiers to war to be involved in a complex set of flourishes. But in this immensely popular overture, Wagner decides that a single note, swelling and fading, should be the signal to battle for the Collonas, a family featured in the opera. But the call to action gives way to a solemn prayer from the fifth act of the opera rather than an act of miltarism. This foray into grand opera in the French tradition of the time is wonderfully tuneful yet it offers a glimpse into the ascending chromaticism that would mark the unique quality of Wagner’s subsequent work (if you think you hear a bit of The Flying Dutchman in various transitory and developmental passages it is for good reason for it would be the opera that followed Rienzi by a year!). All the ingredients for a 19th century grand opera on Italian themes are present: corrupt government officials, forbidden love, dueling families, a burning city, and, of course, vendettas accompanied by mobs thirsting for blood. But none of this seems quite so horrific when people are singing at the top of their lungs!

Please join us for this concert, “The Passion of Rachmaninoff,” on Sunday, February 16 at 3 p.m. at St. Michael’s Lutheran Church in Bloomington. To purchase tickets in advance, please visit our online box office here. Tickets are always available at the door.

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