1832: Wagner: Two Tragic Entreacts, age 19

1832 Wagner Two Tragic Entreacts

Henk de Vlieger

Henk de Vlieger is someone I’ve never heard of, and his work is amazing. He’s a percussionist. Who would have guessed that?

Apparently Henk de Vlieger orchestrated these “entreacts” from 1832. They are some of Wagner’s earliest music, not really completed by him. Young Wagner experimented with all sorts of ideas, and through his stepfather he was very familiar with popular music of the time, most notably that of Carl Maria von Weber. I’m very impressed with this first piece.


What is an “entreact”? It looks like “between acts”. So let’s go to Wiki:

German: Zwischenspiel and Zwischenakt: That’s pretty clear, literally “between play” and “between act”. It can mean a pause between two parts of a stage production, synonymous to an intermission (this is nowadays the more common meaning in French), but it more often (in English) indicates a piece of music performed between acts of a theatrical production.

OK. But what is this music? I stumbled upon it by accident. I wanted to check out the early music of Wagner just as I did with Tchaikovsky’s music a couple months ago. So, what don’t I know? Apparently just about everything, which is par for the course.

I was looking through a Wiki bio and ran into this gem:

In late 1820, Wagner was enrolled at Pastor Wetzel’s school at Possendorf, near Dresden, where he received some piano instruction from his Latin teacher. He struggled to play a proper scale at the keyboard and preferred playing theatre overtures by ear.

Let’s do the math. Young Geyer was seven in 1820. How many seven year olds do you know who are already playing theatre overtures? Imagine teaching a small boy who has problems playing a scale and who wants to play fully adult music by ear – and perhaps is able to do so.

Why Geyer?

Wagner’s father Carl died of typhus six months after Richard’s birth. Afterwards, his mother Johanna lived with Carl’s friend, the actor and playwright Ludwig Geyer. In August 1814 Johanna and Geyer probably married—although no documentation of this has been found in the Leipzig church registers. She and her family moved to Geyer’s residence in Dresden. Until he was fourteen, Wagner was known as Wilhelm Richard Geyer. Young Richard almost certainly thought that Geyer was his biological father.

What a screwed up childhood!

His life sounds like like one of his operas. We have a young child who thinks his stepfather is his father. He grows up using his stepfather’s name. His real father is dead before he is one year old. He inherits his stepfather’s love of theatre. His stepfather is a painter and a playwright. And it’s possible that his mother and stepfather were never legally married. To top it all off, this stepfather died in 1821, when young Richard was only eight years old. I think I’m starting to have more compassion for the little boy Richard Geyer once was – before he became Richard Wagner.

More music from a teenager…

Wagner turned 19 in May of 1932, so he was at most only nineteen years old. Imagine that his stepfather, with whom he obviously had a very close relationship, never lived long enough to find out that his young stepson was a genius.

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