Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Tristan after Wagner

By Katie Smither

Prelude and Liebestod, Richard Wagner, orchestral arrangement of the Prelude and Mild und Leise from Act III of Tristan und Isolde, 1859

Introduced at the beginning of Wagner’s Prelude for Tristan und Isolde, the “Tristan chord” was a progressive use of tonality in the history of western music.  Wagner used the chord thematically to develop a sense of tension in Tristan’s character that does not musically resolve until the final moments of the five-hour production.  At the time of the opera’s debut, its challenge to familiar harmony combined with the extravagant nature of Wagnerian opera left many critical of Tristan und Isolde.  Despite, the opera and the use of the chord quickly gained the attention and acclaim of artists and public alike, becoming what is now a staple of western repertoire.  Modern music at the turn of the century accepted explorations in tonality and Wager’s Tristan has since been inherited, quoted, modified, ridiculed and hailed by composers as early as Liszt or Debussy and as recently as Radiohead.

Liebestod, translation to piano by Franz Liszt, 1867, performed by Vladimir Horowitz, 1989

Un Chien Andalou (An Andalusian Dog), Luis Buñuel, written by Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí, 1929

Mild und Leise, Paul Lansky, 1973, sampled by Radiohead, 2000

Idioteque, Radiohead, 2000