Klemperer: Complete Wagner Album

WEDNESDAY, July 29, 2020

Wagner: Orchestral Music (CD review)

Otto Klemperer, Philharmonia Orchestra. EMI 7243 5 67896-2 (2-disc set).

I totally agree with this reviewer. If I had more money I would buy this two CD set in a heartbeat. I have owned at least one of the original recordings from which this more complete list was assembled. The whole recording is a bit more than 158 minutes long. That’s more than two and a half hours of music, and it’s all spectacular. There is hardly any really famous orchestral music by Wagner that is left off this recording.

The complete recording is here…

All you have to do is to link any of the time stamps I’ve put in here, wind it back to the beginning, and you can play the whole thing.


The CDs have tracks, and you can look to see what is playing. Since there are 16 selections, you won’t know what you are hearing unless you already know all the music and the names of each track.

And so:

I did two things. First, I set it up so that you can play each selection, starting at the right place, which will tell you what you are hearing.

But I changed the order:

CDs of this sort always attempt to arrange the music in what the editors think is the best “dramatic” order. It really never works because these are mostly from entirely different operas. In a couple cases you get two in a row from the same opera. So why not present it all as Wagner wrote it, from beginning to end? That’s what I did. First you get Rienzi Overture, which was his earliest orchestra selection that has remained extremely popular with audiences. Next is The Flying Dutchman (Der Fliegende Hollander), which is really kind of a ghost and love story combined. All the rest is in order, so Parcival, his last and perhaps greatest orchestral work, is at the end where it belongs.

1840 Rienzi Overture

Wagner considered this an immature opera and wanted nothing to do with it later in his life. His wife continued his wishes and blocked its performance. The opera is very long, and there are all sorts of other problems with it, so it is seldom staged in its complete form. But the overture is very good and remains an audience favorite.

1842 The Flying Dutchman (Der Fliegende Hollander) Overture

It’s a love story and a ghost story. The Flying Dutchman  is a legendary ghost ship that can never make port and is doomed to sail the oceans forever. Wagner’s story is both a love story and a ghost story.

1842 Tannhäuser Overture

Tannhäuser is just too silly for me to take the plot seriously, but you can read about it if you wish. This is one of the most popular and famous of all Wagner’s orchestral works.

1847 Tannhäuser, Act III Prelude

This is beautiful music, and I don’t know it. But it must come just before Act III because of the name, “prelude”.

1847 Lohengrin, Act I Prelude

This is really famous, and it is unusual in that it starts up very high in the strings, then gradually gets louder and louder as the music descends. It just sets a mood. It intensifies then gradually ebs away at the end. This is called a prelude because it starts the whole opera, but I don’t know why it is not called an overture.

1845 Lohengrin, Act III Prelude

Strangely, I can barely remember this name, and I most surely do not not that it is from act III. I’d rather be hanged from the neck than forced to endure several hours of a Wagner opera, but love the music, and I’ve known it all my life. It’s fantastic brass music. I’d love to know how Wagner learned to write such incredible brass parts.

1859 Tristan und Isolde Prelude  

This music is so famous that it is marked as a turning point in musical harmony. Generation after generation of musicians have analyzed what Wagner did at the beginning of the composition, and it’s most definitely of very strong interest to anyone who is trying to figure out the history of harmony.

1862 Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg Prelude

This is yet another opera I could never sit through, but this prelude is amazing, and it is often called an overture. The exact difference between and overture and a prelude is pretty murky, although generally an overture starts at the very beginning. There can be a prelude before any act.

1862 Die Meistersinger, Act III, Tanz der Lehrbuben & Einzug der Meister

Why this is not called a prelude I do not know, but probably because it is not at the beginning of act III. If you think you have heard this before, you are mostly right. It’s the same music from the Prelude, but it’s arranged and structured a bit differently.

1854 Das Rheingold, Scene 4, Einzug der Götter in Walhalla

The Ring is really four different operas, each leading to the next. This is not called an overture or a prelude because it is in scene 4. What that means is that there is no overture to Das Reingold. But you’d have to listen to the whole opera to find out why. I’d ask Wagner, but he’s dead…

1856  Die Walküre, Act III Prelude, Walkürenritt

This is from the second opera of The Ring. We have heard the music everywhere, even in Apocalypses Now. There is probably not a person on the planet who has not heard this music. But most do not know the name of the music, or where it came from.

1871 Siegfried-Idyll

This was written as a present to Cosima, Wagner’s second wife, who was Liszt’s daughter. Wagner was only two years younger than Liszt, so we can figure Liszt was not exactly happy about the marriage, but apparently he made peace with the situation. Cosima was almost 25 years younger than Wagner. Later this theme became part of the opera, the 2nd part of The Ring. The original version was scored for only 13 instruments, but in most modern performances the are several players on each string part. In it’s original form the music is very intimate. Played this way it sounds a lot like a string quartet with with the addition of winds. I have usually heard the more complete version, but I like both.

1871 Siegfried, Act II Waldweben

I don’t know this music, and when I heard it I could not even guess what opera it is from, but it’s from Act II of the same opera, and it’s very good.

1874 Götterdämmerung Zwischenspiel

Zwischenspiel is literally German for “between play”, and it means “interlude. So this music goes between two parts of the opera. Why is it not a prelude? I don’t know.

1874 Götterdämmerung, Act III Siegfrieds Trauermarsch

A “Trauermarsch”is literally “grief march”. It means “funeral march”. I’ve heard this in countless movies, and John Williams wrote something with very much the same feeling for Star Wars. You hear it when important, tragic characters die.

1878  Parsifal, Act I Prelude

This has to do with the Holy Grail. It’s long and complicated, true of all Wagner operas, and so far I’ve never made it through a synopsis. As is true of every opera Wagner wrote, you could not pay me to sit through this, the whole opera, but the music is magnificent. This time the music is actually called “prelude”. I’ve given up trying to figure out why the names for the same kind of music keep changing.

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