A+ a-
Wagnerheim Logo
Wagnerheim Bookmark System
The Ring of the Nibelung
Go back a page
95
Go forward a page

Washington, DC classical radio stations, WETA, was broadcasting what was the most curious and novel piece of classical music I’d ever heard. It consisted of a series of orchestral vibrations and oscillations interspersed with what sounded like bird-songs (#11/#2)  (#38) (#24a/#11) (#128) (#129). I became acutely alert and hypersensitive, as if I had woken up for the first time. I ran for paper and pencil as the host proclaimed the piece’s author, Richard Wagner, and the piece’s name, “Siegfried’s Forest Murmurs,” from Wagner’s Ring. I quickly jotted this information down, and afterwards the host advertised a sale of Angel Records at a book and record store on Connecticut Ave., to begin the following day. I had thirty dollars to spend, and planned to drive over to Washington, DC in the morning to secure an anthology of Wagner’s orchestral highlights which would include my chosen piece. As I went to bed, reflecting on my revelatory experience, my basic impression was that this music was striving to give birth to words.

By 9:00 AM I arrived at the store, just opening, and told the manager my request. He noted that I must have been very moved by this piece of music to come all the way over to Washington just to obtain it, and asked me what I knew about Wagner. I told him I knew little or nothing. He offered to fill me in. “Siegfried’s Forest Murmurs,” he said, is an eight minute long excerpt from The Ring of the Nibelung. This four-part music-drama, requiring in excess of 15 hours to perform, was the most ambitious work in the entire history of musical theater, which includes musicals (a la Rodgers and Hammerstein), operetta, opera, and the revolutionary Wagnerian Music-Drama. Wagner had taken approximately five years, from 1848 to 1853, to complete the libretto, and took from 1853 through 1874 to complete the music, a total of 26 years from gestation to completion. Among opera composers, in writing his own libretto he was almost unique, and the librettos of his mature music-dramas were surely the best, considered as dramas, ever penned. In order to perform this grand work he had designed a special theater unlike any seen before in Europe (though it was patterned roughly after the amphitheaters in which ancient Greek tragedy had been performed). I was mightily intrigued.

Then he made an astounding offer: he asked me how much money I had in my pocket. I told him I had $30.00 (which in those days could buy perhaps 5 or 6 Angel records). He suggested I climb up a ladder or stool (I can’t remember which) and take down a heavy burgundy colored box-set from the topmost shelf, which had evidently been gathering dust for months. It was the Seraphim (a subsidiary of Angel Records, for old classic recordings, available at a lower price) 1951 mono recording of the entire Ring, including English/German libretto, with Wilhelm Furtwaengler conducting the Italian Radio Orchestra. It had, I believe, some 19 albums in it. He offered it to me for my $30.00, saying it would normally retail for about $100.00 or so. But since it had sat for so long without attracting any interest he would just more or less give it away to me in honor of my profound initiation into Wagner’s world.

I gave him my $30.00, took it home, and immediately fell into the bad habit of listening to a short, never-changing list of favorite orchestral passages. After some months of wallowing in these few selections from the whole, mostly orchestral preludes to acts and interludes between scenes, my parents went away again for a weekend. So, having the house to myself for several days, I decided to do the experiment, for the first time, and sit down, libretto in hand, to follow along in English to at least a part of The Rhinegold, the first of the four Ring dramas. I had no intention of sitting for more than an hour at my first try, but then I hadn’t anticipated the life-altering event I was about to embark on. From the opening E flat major chord, my world changed. Oblivious to everything else, I

Go back a page
95
Go forward a page
© 2011 Paul Heise. All rights reserved. Website by Mindvision.