Happy birthday, Wagner

It’s very easy to pronounce a hasty dislike for a particular composer. Often, especially in the context of some 20th century composers, where melody seems either absent or well hidden, this is perfectly understandable.

I have less sympathy for people who say they enjoy classical music, while adding, as one did to me recently, “but you can keep Bach, altogether too mathematical, no soul, no fun”, or words to that effect. What a feast awaits him, if he can be persuaded to remove the blinkers. And that is the raison d’ĂȘtre of these posts – to demonstrate there will always be something, whatever views you have formed, that will make you think again.

What, for example, is there not to like in this very brief (just over one and a half minutes!) piece?



Richard Wagner (1813-83), about whom I have written once before, tends to provoke the most extreme opinions, and with good reason (see Ethereal Wagner, October 2016 to read quite how unattractive he was). Today would have been his birthday, the only thing I can detect that he has in common with my wife, so it’s an opportune time to give him another airing.

Now, if you’re not a Wagner fan, you are not alone. Nor am I, especially, but there are passages of this man’s music which transcend bias or preconception. Moments when you just have to give in and admit this is the creation of extraordinary genius. So don’t give up just yet: listen to this overture to one of his operas, TannhĂ€user, and wallow in the glorious tunes. It is the longest overture ever written for an opera, but as a statement of good overcoming evil, the theme of the opera, it has few equals.

Chances are you will recognize this, but if it is your first time, this recording with Georg Solti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is as good as you will hear. The brass section of this orchestra established a reputation which stands head and shoulders above all the others, and it’s not hard to see why.

This deserves volume, and lots of it. I have recently become the proud recipient of an Orbitsound Dock, which has introduced me to a new quality of sound. Beg, steal, do whatever it takes to possess it, I had no idea how much the enjoyment of listening could be improved.

And if you really don’t warm to this, then I concede that Wagner is not for you at all. But try it you must.