Waart, Edo de. 56 Wachmann, Eduard 56

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Wagner societies.

From 1871, when Wagner chose Bayreuth for his festival, a number of subscription schemes came into existence with the aim of supporting the project. In an open letter of 16 June 1882 to Friedrich Schön, Wagner proposed a foundation to assist financially those who would benefit from a visit to the festival but who would otherwise be unable to attend. On 14 May 1883, three months after Wagner’s death, the Allgemeiner Richard-Wagner-Verband was formed to coordinate the enterprise and by 1886 there were over 200 branches in Germany and many other countries. The Bayreuther Blätter (begun in 1878 under the editorship of Hans von Wolzogen) became its newsletter. The Verband was dissolved in December 1938 and re-established in Hanover as the Richard Wagner-Verband in 1947; its primary function is still to subsidize visits to the festival by young musicians, theatre directors and technicians nominated by the affiliated societies. In 1998 110 societies were affiliated, mostly German, but also representing Austria, Britain, France, Sweden, Russia, Ukraine, Spain, North and South America and Australia.

There have been Wagner societies in Britain since 1872; an early one produced the magazine The Meister under the editorship of William Ashton Ellis between 1888 and 1895. The current society, now called the Wagner Society, was founded in 1953 to foster interest in and encourage productions of Wagner’s works. This remains its essential aim, together with nurturing young singers capable of singing Wagner. Its internationally acclaimed magazine Wagner (produced three times a year) has printed new translations of the composer’s prose sketches for Wieland der Schmied and Jesus von Nazareth as well as articles of topical interest. The popular magazine Wagner News is published six times a year and includes articles, interviews, news and reviews of opera productions and recordings. To mark the centenary of the Bayreuth Festival a bilingual yearbook Wagner 1976 was published.

Wagner tuba.

A special kind of tuba devised by Wagner for the Ring with the object of bridging the gap between the horns and trombones. In the Ring Wagner scored for a set of four of these instruments, to be played by an extra quartet of horn players who alternate between the two instruments as the part directs. The quartet consists of two tenor tubas in B, played by the fifth and seventh horn players, and two bass tubas in F, played by the sixth and eighth players. These two pitches are the same as horns in B alto and F.

The main body of the modern instrument is elliptical, like most German tenor horns, with the bell emerging from the top at a slightly oblique angle, while the lower end almost rests on the player's lap (fig.1). In the centre of this ellipse are the four rotary valves which are manipulated by the fingers of the left hand, the fourth valve lowering the pitch by a perfect 4th. The conical bore increases steadily throughout the whole length and terminates in a small bell (thus differing from the horn, whose bore increases very slowly up to the last 30 cm of its length, when it flares out suddenly into a bell, the diameter of which measures over 5 cm more than that of the tuba). The wider bore, though not nearly as large as that of a true tuba, results in a certain lack of incisiveness in the attack and makes the instrument much freer to blow than the horn; thus in performance the chief difficulty is intonation. The ordinary horn mouthpiece is used, and its comparative smallness rounds off the tone while maintaining the correct relationship with the horns. In general the tone may be said to be more sombre and less biting than the ‘white’ tone of the horns, while Wagner's own concept (according to Bayreuth tradition) was that the tubas should be solemn, dignified and heroic as opposed to the lyrical and romantic horns. The compass of the tenor tuba in B (actual sounds) is E to f''; of the bass tuba in F, B' to a'. The fundamental is obtainable on both instruments.

Wagner had begun to compose Das Rheingold before he thought of these tubas. In the 1853 sketch the opening of scene ii (the Valhalla motif) is marked for trombones (‘Pos. dolce’), but in the full score, made the following year, the tubas are specified. Von Westernhagen showed that they must have been inspired by instruments which the composer examined in the workshop of Adolphe Sax in Paris (Die Entstehung des ‘Ring’, Zürich, 1973, p.46). This would have been during Wagner's short visit there in October 1853. In a letter of September 1865 to King Ludwig, Wagner referred to the extra instruments for the Ring including the ‘Sax'schen Instrumenten’. He wrote that he had seen these some time earlier, that they were Sax's invention and that they were proving difficult to match with the instruments used in military bands in Germany. The tubas may thus originally have been saxhorns; the use of a special mouthpiece with which horn players would use their own mouthpieces was evidently a later idea, possibly Richter's. The instruments eventually made for Bayreuth are said no longer to exist, though they were kept in the theatre until at least 1939. It is not known who made them, but the firm of C.W. Moritz, Berlin, claimed to have done so (ZI, xxviii, 1907–8, p.643). The first set was superseded for performances in 1890 by a set made by Gebrüder Alexander, Mainz. The saxhorn type of Wagner tuba, made by Mahillon of Brussels and London (fig.2), was widely used (see J. Webb, GSJ, xlix, 1996, pp.207–12). One set survives in Naples; another, housed at the RAM until the early 1990s, was orginally bought in 1895 by Sir Henry Wood for the formation of the Queen's Hall Orchestra and the introduction of the Promenade Concerts. A third set is owned by the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. These all require mouthpieces of trombone size. Elsewhere, other instruments, such as Besson's cornophones (Paris), were used (see J. Webb, GSJ, li, 1998, pp.193–5). The first set of modern Wager tubas to be used in London was obtained for the LPO by Beecham from Alexander in 1935.

The orchestral parts for the tubas are written in B and F; in the scores the notation varies. In Das Rheingold the B tenor tubas sound a tone lower than written, and the F bass tubas a 5th lower (as in the parts); in the Prelude to Götterdämmerung the B tenors sound a 9th lower; the F basses a 12th lower. Elsewhere the E tenors sound a 6th lower (but in the bass clef, a 3rd higher); B basses a 9th lower (in the bass clef, a tone lower): this last notation was intended by the composer to facilitate score reading.

Other composers who have scored for Wagner tubas are Bruckner in his later symphonies, Stravinsky in The Firebird and The Rite of Spring, and Strauss in Elektra, Die Frau ohne Schatten and the Alpensinfonie. Strauss wrote more advanced parts, with mutes even required. The tubas have been used in America as substitute horns for film and television music.


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