Richard Wagner – Trauersinfonie
Richard Wagner (1813-1883), was a German composer and conductor that was born in the Jewish corner of Leipzig. He was the 9th child to Carl Friedrich Wagner, a clerk in the Liepzig police service. Carl died six months after Richard’s birth, causing the family to live with Ludwig Geyer, a playwright. Geyer shared is love of the theater with Richad starting at a young age. Wagner’s first musical lessons began in 1828.
Rochard Wagner was largely known for his “music dramas”, or operas. Unlike many composers of the time, he wrote the music and libretto (words) for every one of his operas. His compositions are widely known for their complex textures, rich harmonies, and orchestration. He was also quite adept at utilizing leitmotifs, or “music themes associated with individual characters, places, ideas, or plot elements.” He also made advances in musical composition, which included using chromaticism and quickly shifting tonal centers. His four-opera cycle Der Ring das Nibelungen was so complex, he felt it was necessary to construct his own opera house, the Bayreuth Festspielhaus, where his stage works are still performed to this day.
Trauersinfonie, based on themes from Weber’s Euryanthe, was first performed on December 14, 1844. This music was written to aid the torchlight procession that carried the ashes of Carl Maria von Weber from the Dresden train station to their final resting place, some eighteen years after his death in London. Wagner had conducted Weber’s music a number of times prior to 1844 and no doubt considered himself the heir to the German opera tradition to which Weber had contributed. This is solemn, contemplative music of which Frederick Fennell said “no apology need be made for this music.”
This piece is listed as a Grade V on the Texas UIL Prescribed Music List. This is a fantastic composition that, although not technically challenging, can really showcase an ensemble’s musical acuity.