The Romantic Era “Before” and “After Wagner”
Richard Wagner, being as remarkable as he was, made such an impact during the Romantic Era that historians divide the period into “before” and “after Wagner”. Before Wagner, theater and music had been separate from operas. It would only make sense to put arias, duets, ensembles, choruses, and ballets together, a music drama, to make an intense watching and listening experience for a “endless melody”.
To Wagner, the opera was “Gesamtkunstwerk,” a total work of art, and should tell a story through the orchestra and the performances on stage. He developed the use of leitmotifs to carry meaning for different characters and to be a theme of the story being told, changing when there were variations in the opera. Today, the soundtrack in movies contains leitmotifs. In the famous movie Star Wars, the character Darth Vader has a theme song, “The Imperial March,” which notifies the audience he is going to appear on the screen with his troops. In the movie Jaws, the shark has a well-known leitmotif to scare us with the suspense-building, irregular minor chords heard from the song.
Since Wagner was a prominent personage of the Romantic period, it was he who established the music drama which combined the theater with music. The creation of the song “The Ride of the Valkyries” came from Der Ring des Nibelungen, a set of four operas at a total of fifteen hours. In this music drama, he abstained from the traditional opera scene by having dramatic and emotional melodies. The second opera, Die Walküre, and Wagner’s most famous drama, is on the Valkyries, the nine warrior-maidens who ride through the air on a winged horse, bringing soldiers killed in battle to Valhalla, the home of the gods (Rodda).
The “Ride,” taking place at the beginning of Act III, occurs to reveal the Valkyries, making it leitmotif to vividly contribute to and express the essence of the powerful women. Those who have listened to the opera at the Bayreuth Festival in 1876, with the full experience of its entirety, were immensely astonished. These are some of the comments people have made about the opera. “It’s so rich and deep….it really drags you into a mysterious world,”; “His music is like nobody else’s, emotionally,”; “…he somehow manages to encompass everybody’s feelings.”; and “I love Donizetti, Mozart, and Verdi, of course, and Puccini…but Wagner picks you up and slams you against the wall…He’s the grand sorcerer.”
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