|About this Recording
8.111056-58 - WAGNER: Walkure (Die) (Modl, Rysanek, Furtwangler) (1954)
Great Opera Recordings
First Day of the Stage Festival Play, The Ring of the Nibelung
Brünnhilde - Martha Mödl (soprano)
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
It was in June 1837 that a German publication entitled Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, edited at that time by the composer Robert Schumann, published an article on the suitability of German folk-lore and mythology as a possible source for the operatic stage. Seven years later the theorist Vischer went further to recommend the Nibelungen legend as the basis for a libretto for an opera. Wagner himself possessed over two dozen books on the Nibelungen legends in his library at his Dresden home and he drew heavily on these sources when putting together his text for the Ring cycle. The whole undertaking for this cycle would occupy him for a period of 26 years.
The text for Die Walküre, the second work in Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen, covered the years 1851-53, with the earliest musical sketches dating from the summer of 1852. The first completed draft was undertaken from June to December 1854. Unlike Das Rheingold Wagner made no revised draft but went into full score in January 1855. The whole opera was finished by mid-March the following year. The first performance of Die Walküre eventually took place at he Court opera in Munich on 28 June 1870 and it was at the newly constructed Bayreuth Festspielhaus that the whole cycle was given in August 1876. The American première was at the Academy of Music in New York on 2 April 1877 and the British one at Her Majesty's Theatre in London on 6 May 1882.
The principal characters in the opera are Brünnhilde, a Valkyrie, daughter of Wotan and Erda, the Earth goddess, and eventually the wife of Siegfried; Sieglinde, a Volsung, twin sister and lover of Siegmund, daughter of Wotan, mother of Siegfried; Fricka, a goddess, the guardian of wedlock and wife of Wotan; Siegmund, twin brother and lover of Sieglinde, son of Wotan, and father of Siegfried; Wotan, the ruler of the gods, father of Brünnhilde, Sieglinde and Siegmund, grandfather of Siegfried; Hunding, a descendant of the giants and husband of Sieglinde, and the Valkyries, who are daughters of Wotan and Erda.
The pre-opera background concerns Wotan who, believing that the power of the gods can only be protected from eventual annihilation, senses that only a hero (Siegfried) can win back the ring, lost in Das Rheingold, and return it to the Rhinemaidens. Thus he has raised twins, Sieglinde and Siegmund, born of an earthly mother Erda. Returning home one day father and son discover their home burnt down, the mother slain, and Sieglinde abducted by Hunding who forces her into a loveless marriage. At their wedding a stranger, Wotan in disguise, thrusts a sword called Nothung into an ash-tree. By the time of the opening of Die Walküre no one has been able to remove the weapon.
This recording of Die Walküre proved a landmark for a number of reasons. It was the last studio recording made by the conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler, who would die less than two months later. It was also the last EMI recording to be made in Vienna by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra for over three years in addition to being the final Viennese recording to be supervised by Lawrence Collingwood before his retirement in 1957. It was the last mono-only recording to be made by EMI in Vienna before the introduction of parallel stereo system in 1955. From the musical point of view it was the first complete studio recording of the opera, originally planned as part of a projected Ring cycle. Sadly Furtwängler never heard the edited master tapes before his death. There is, however, an extant letter from David Bicknell of the EMI International Artistes Department to the conductor dated 1 November 1954 which states: "Mr Collingwood and I heard a large part of the First Act of Die Walküre and the end of the Third Act and found the recording even better than I expected. In fact, in every way it was quite outstanding. We were both greatly moved by your unique interpretation". Thus the absurd rumour that Karajan had finished Act 3 of the recording after Furtwängler's death is proved total nonsense.
The German soprano Martha Mödl (born 1913) began her career as a mezzo-soprano to which she returned later in her career. Born in Nuremberg, she originally worked for a local transport company and later became a book-keeper. It was not until 1935 that she began vocal studies, first at the Nuremberg Conservatorium and later in Milan. In 1942 she made her début in the contralto rôle of Hänsel at Remscheid. Between the years 1945-49 she worked in Düsseldorf as a mezzo. She also sang in Hamburg from 1947 to 1955 where she changed to become a dramatic soprano, singing the rôles of Kundry, Venus, Isolde and Brünnhilde. She scored a particular success as Lady Macbeth in Verdi's opera in Berlin in 1950. With the reopening of the Bayreuth Festival in 1951 Mödl appeared as Kundry in Parsifal and Gutrune in the Ring cycle. She would later sing Brünnhilde and Isolde, continuing to be a valued member during the 1950s and 1960s. She also sang in Vienna (début 1952), and visited the Edinburgh Festival with the Hamburg and Stuttgart companies in 1952 and 1958. She first appeared at Covent Garden as Carmen in 1949 and sang in that house regularly until 1966. She also appeared in Paris, Milan and at the Salzburg Festival. In 1955 she sang Leonore in Fidelio at the reopening of the Staatsoper in Vienna and made her Metropolitan début in 1957 as Brünnhilde in Götterdämmerung. Her voice, whilst warm and lustrous in its lower regions, always displayed some sense of strain in its topmost register. A superb actress, Mödl was a highly individual and intense artist on stage.
The Austrian soprano Leonie Rysanek (1926-1998) was born in Vienna, where she studied with Alfred Jerger and Rudolf Grossmann, whom she later married. Making her début as Agathe in Der Freischütz in Innsbruck in 1949, she joined the Saarbrücken Opera the following year for a three-year period, singing Arabella, Donna Anna, Senta, Leonora (La forza del destino) and Sieglinde. She sang the last rôle at the 1951 Bayreuth Festival, to where she would return in 1958 as Elsa, in 1964 as Elisabeth and 1982 as Kundry. In 1952 she joined the Munich Company for a period of three years and sang at Covent Garden as a member of this company in 1953. Her first American appearance was as Senta in September 1956 in San Francisco. Her New York début was in February 1959 as Lady Macbeth, replacing an ailing Maria Callas. She would eventually sing over 200 performances with this company over a period of 35 years. She also appeared in Paris, Milan, Berlin, at the Salzburg Festival, and in 1984 appeared in Japan. She continued to sing until the mid-1990s. Although her repertoire embraced a vast range of Italian rôles, Rysanek was hugely admired in the operas of Richard Strauss and Wagner. Her voice, which in its prime had an alluring tonal bloom and size, was allied to a striking stage presence and vivid acting ability.
The German mezzo-soprano Margarete Klose (1902-1968) was born and died in Berlin. Originally she had decided on a career away from music but then studied at the Klindworth-Scharwenka Conservatorium in her native city with Marschalk and Bültemann, whom she later married. She made her début as Manja in Kálmán's Gräfin Maritza in Ulm in 1927. This was followed by seasons in Kassel (1928-29), Mannheim (1929-31), the Berlin State Opera (1931-1949 and 1955- 61), and the Berlin Städtische Oper (1949-1959) in addition to appearances in East Berlin (1958-61). She also appeared at Bayreuth (1936-42), Covent Garden (1935 and 1937) singing Ortrud, Fricka, Waltraute and Brangäne, and Buenos Aires (1950). She sang widely throughout Germany and in Vienna and Milan, in addition to appearances in San Francisco (1953). Klose was greatly esteemed in Wagner as well as being a much admired Verdian. In its prime her voice was a wide-ranging, verdantly textured voice capable of many shades of expressiveness. Her rôles included Carmen, Delilah, Klytemnestra, Orfeo and Ulrica.
The German tenor Ludwig Suthaus (1906-1971) was born in Cologne, later studying at that city's Musikhochschule before making his début in 1928 as Walther von Stolzing in Aachen, where he would remain until 1931. He then sang regularly in Stuttgart between 1932 and 1941, when he moved to Berlin. There he was based until his retirement in 1965. His international career blossomed in postwar Europe with appearances in Wagnerian rôles in Vienna (1948), Paris (1949), Buenos Aires (1949), London and San Francisco (both 1953) and Milan (1954). His other rôles included Samson, Rienzi, Otello, Florestan, Hermann (The Queen of Spades), Bacchus (Ariadne auf Naxos) and Sadko. His voice was one of marked baritonal quality but Suthaus was greatly admired in Wagnerian Heldentenor repertoire. He also appeared in Furtwängler's famous 1952 Tristan und Isolde recording (Naxos 8.110321-24).
The German bass-baritone Ferdinand Frantz (1906-1959) was born in Kassel. Originally he sang in a church choir and studied privately before making his début as a bass as Ortel in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg in his native city in 1927. Then followed periods in Halle (1930-32), Chemnitz (1932-37) and Hamburg (1937-43) before Munich, where he remained until his death. It was during this latter period that he moved up into the baritone repertoire. He appeared in Vienna and Dresden as a guest and during the post-war years sang at the Teatro alla Scala, Milan, the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, the Salzburg Festival, the Paris Opéra, and at Covent Garden, first as a member of Munich Opera (1953) and then with the resident company as Wotan the following year. His American début had taken place at the Metropolitan Opera in New York as Wotan in Die Walküre in December 1949, singing twenty performances over three seasons in that house. Although remembered primarily for his Wagner interpretations, Frantz also sang Galitzky (Prince Igor) and Pizarro (Fidelio). He was married to the German soprano Helena Braun.
The German bass Gottlob Frick (1908-1994) was born in Ölbrön and died in Mühlacker, near Pforzheim. He was the youngest of thirteen children in the home of a Swabian forester. He joined the chorus of the Stuttgart Opera as a chorister in 1927 to pay for his singing studies at the conservatorium under Neudörfer-Optiz. He made his début as a soloist as Daland at Coburg in 1934, later singing in Freiburg im Breisgau and Königsberg. In 1938 he first appeared in Dresden, becoming a member of the company between 1942 and 1950. There his rôles included Rocco, Nicolai's Falstaff, Prince Gremin and various Wagnerian parts. He appeared at the 1951 Bayreuth Festival, the same year in which he first sang at Covent Garden in London where he appeared regularly between 1957 and 1967 and finally 1971. He sang with the Berlin Städtische Oper between 1950 and 1953, the latter the year in which he made his Viennese and Munich débuts. He first appeared at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in December 1961 as Fafner, later singing Hunding and Hagen. His début at the Salzburg Festival was as Sarastro in 1955. Although he officially retired in 1970, Frick could still be found singing in Vienna, Munich and Stuttgart a number of years later. Blessed with a large, rich and dark bass voice, which he used with an impressive intelligence, he excelled in all the Wagnerian bass rôles but was a splendid buffo in parts like Osmin and the operas of Lortzing.
A conductor who invariably courted controversy during his lifetime and whose interpretation still arouse discussion, Wilhelm Furtwängler (1886-1954) is generally considered the most significant German-born music director of his time. Born in Berlin, he studied composition with Josef Rheinberger and Max von Schillings, having written his first works at the age of seven. In 1906 he made his conducting début in Munich and later that year became a répétiteur at the Stadttheater in Breslau. Following appointments in Zürich (1906-07), Munich (1908-10) and Strasbourg (1910-11), he became General Music Director of the Opera in Lübeck in 1911, followed by five years in Mannheim from 1915. His Viennese début took place in 1919. After the death of Artur Nikisch in 1922 Furtwängler succeeded him at the Berlin Philharmonic and Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestras. He made his first visit to London in 1924 and to the United States the following year. His international reputation grew with further American and European engagements. His appointment as Toscanini's successor to the Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York in 1936, however, was blocked for political reasons. Controversially Furtwängler had chosen to remain in Germany during the Nazi period (1933-45) but resigned all his official German posts. After being cleared at a 'de- Nazification' court in 1946, he resumed his European career with continued success. Another American appointment, this time with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1947, was again blocked for political reasons. In addition to his annual appearances at the Salzburg Festival, however, he also conducted the opening concert at the Bayreuth Festival in 1951. Increasing ill health, problems with his hearing and a bout of pneumonia brought about his early death in November 1954. His lasting reputation is best illustrated by his superb 1952 studio recording of Tristan und Isolde (Naxos 8.110321-24), the 1953 Fidelio (Naxos 8.111020-21) and this memorable 1954 recording of Die Walküre, which remain his only studio recordings of complete operas.
The first review of this recording in The Gramophone in September 1955 brought forth the following: "a nobly and grandly conceived performance of the great work". It felt that there was "a splendid Wotan, an excellent Siegmund and Hunding, a very good group of Valkyries, and a Sieglinde and Brünnhilde whose intentions are always admirable and often realised, but sometimes flawed in execution". Klose was deemed "still magnificent in the part and able to rise to the full height of the great outburst at the end of her scene with Wotan [in Act 2]". Of the orchestra "every department [is] of the finest quality… so [the opera] shines and glows with light and warmth under Furtwängler's inspired direction. One feels that the conductor carries all Wagner's directions in his head and visualises each scene in the composer's terms".
[CD 1 / Track 1] In the Prelude thunder is heard and through it occasional horn-calls. The storm is coming to an end as the curtain rises.
[1/2] The scene is Hunding's house, built around an ash-tree. Siegmund, the son of Wotan, comes in, exhausted and drops down by the hearth. Sieglinde enters from an inner room and is surprised to see a stranger. He does not answer her question but asks for water. He drinks and looks fixedly at her, seeking to know who she is. She tells him that she is the wife of Hunding and soon he forgets the battle from which he has escaped, weary and weaponless, but unscathed. He drinks the mead she offers him and finds himself strangely attracted by her.
[1/3] Knowing himself the bearer of ill-fortune, he makes to leave, but Sieglinde prevents him, telling him of her own unhappy life.
[1/4] As they gaze at each other, Hunding returns, carrying his shield and spear. He stops, when he sees Siegmund. Sieglinde explains the stranger's presence and Hunding offers him the traditional hospitality. As they sit down to eat, Hunding notices the likeness between Siegmund and Sieglinde.
[1/5] In reply to Hunding's questions Siegmund tells him that his name is Woeful (Wehwalt) and explains how he used to wander through the woods with his father, whom he calls Wolfe: his mother had been killed, his twin sister abducted and finally his father had gone away.
[1/6] He tells of his continuing misfortune and how his recent attempt to help a maiden had ended in disaster.
[1/7] Hunding tells him that the battle in which he has been involved was one that his own kinsmen were concerned in and that he will avenge them the following day. He sends Sieglinde to prepare his drink, but as she goes she directs Siegmund's gaze towards the ash-tree. Hunding follows his wife, taking his weapons.
[1/8] Siegmund has no weapon, but his father had promised him one in time of need. He cries out 'Wälse', his father's name, as far as he knows it, and sees light shining from the ash-tree. The fire dies down and Siegmund is left in darkness. Sieglinde returns. She has drugged her husband and shows Siegmund a sword, embedded in the ash-tree.
[1/9] She tells him how the kinsmen had gathered there for a feast, when an old man had come in. He looked angrily, with his one eye, at the men there, but smiled at her, plunging his sword into the tree for the use of the one who could remove it. No-one succeeded, and Sieglinde realised who the old man was, and now hopes that Siegmund will be the one to take the sword and avenge her. They embrace.
[1/10] The door opens and they are seen in the moonlight: winter has gone and spring has come, to join with love.
[1/11] For Sieglinde Siegmund is spring and light and love. They declare their love for each other, and Sieglinde notices that Siegmund seems like her own reflection, his voice an echo of hers and his eyes like her father's. She asks him his real name and that of his father. Siegmund tells her his father's real name. Sieglinde, then, will call him Siegmund.
[1/12] To prove his identity he grasps the sword, which he names Nothung (Need) and pulls it out from the tree. With the sword as a bridal gift, he wants to take her away at once, but she now reveals her own name and tells him that she is his twin sister. Siegmund takes her in his arms in delight.
[1/13] Motifs of the sword, love and rapture are heard in the Prelude.
[1/14] Wotan, standing on a rocky outcrop, commands his daughter Brünnhilde to ensure Siegmund's victory over Hunding. She goes, singing out in exultation as she leaps from rock to rock, but tells Wotan of the approach of his wife, Fricka.
[2/1] Fricka is angry. Hunding has sought her help as the guardian of marriage and this she has promised him, with vengeance on the Volsungs. Wotan proposes that the Volsungs, Siegmund and Sieglinde, should be allowed their way, even if they are brother and sister, a happier union than that of Sieglinde and Hunding.
[2/2] Fricka denounces Wotan, accusing him of setting all divine laws at nothing after begetting the Volsungs. The Valkyries that he had begotten were bad enough, but the Volsungs are mere mortals.
[2/3] Wotan tells her that he needs a hero free from the gods and the laws of the gods to accomplish his ends, which he himself cannot undertake, by the terms of his oath. Fricka argues that Siegmund is not independent, as Wotan has given him a sword. She insists that he stop trying to protect Siegmund, that he cast aside Brünnhilde and undo the magic power of the sword.
[2/4] Wotan is forced to agree to the death of Siegmund, as Brünnhilde is heard returning.
[2/5] He must swear to abandon the Volsungs and respect her, his wife.
[2/6] Brünnhilde asks Wotan what he wants her to do. He is despondent at the turn of events, and complains of his powerlessness and predicament. Brünnhilde seeks to know the cause of his sorrow.
[2/7] Wotan tells her how he had wanted power and love.
[2/8] Alberich, wanting only power, had made the ring. Wotan had stolen it and used it to pay those who built Valhalla. Erda had warned him not to keep the ring, and foretold the end of the gods. He had followed her deep into the earth and compelled her, by magic, to give him her knowledge. She bore him nine daughters, the Valkyries, who bring together the bodies of fallen heroes to defend Valhalla. Erda, however, had foreseen danger, if Alberich were to recover the ring, from the hoard guarded by the giant Fafner, who had killed his own brother. Wotan, bound by his oath, cannot take the ring back himself, but needs the help of a free hero, who, in spite of the gods, can recover the ring for him. Nevertheless he has proved impotent, as Fricka has shown, with Siegmund dependent on him for protection but now to be abandoned.
[2/9] Brünnhilde asks what he wants her to do. He tells her that he has touched the ring, and is under its curse; he must abandon what he loves. He wants an end; if Alberich has a son, the gods will come to an end.
[2/10] Siegmund tries to calm Sieglinde, who feels guilt at her conduct. He promises to put an end to her shame by killing Hunding, whose horn-call can be heard far off.
[2/11] Sieglinde urges him to escape, imagining Siegmund's fate, torn in pieces by Hunding's dogs.
[2/12] She hears the sound of Hunding's horn and falls, fainting. Siegmund sits, supporting her head.
[2/13] Brünnhilde emerges from the cave, leading her horse, and tells Siegmund that he will die, his body to be taken by her to Valhalla, to be with gods and heroes, and with his father Wotan and his daughters.
[2/14] Siegmund will not leave Sieglinde, but Brünnhilde tells him that he will be killed by Hunding. This he refuses to believe, but she tells him that his sword is now powerless. He inveighs against the maker of the sword and makes to kill Sieglinde, but Brünnhilde stops him, promising to change the outcome of the battle, as she goes.
[3/1] The scene grows dark with thunderclouds. Siegmund looks at Sieglinde, now sleeping peacefully, kisses her and draws his sword, ready to encounter Hunding. Siegmund hears Hunding's horn-call. Sieglinde wakes and calls in fear for Siegmund.
[3/2] Hunding is heard calling for Siegmund, whom he knows as Wehwalt. The men meet in combat, but Brünnhilde appears, guarding Siegmund with her shield. At this point Wotan is seen over Hunding, and Siegmund's sword breaks against Wotan's spear. Brünnhilde withdraws in fear and Hunding kills Siegmund. At this Brünnhilde takes Sieglinde onto her horse and rides away with her.
[3/3] At the command of Wotan, Hunding falls dead. In anger Wotan storms out, ready to deal with Brünnhilde.
Scene 1 (The Valkyries)
[3/4] The Valkyries return from battle, to meet at Brünnhilde's rock. They greet each other, as they arrive, bearing the bodies of slain heroes. They see Brünnhilde bringing not a hero but a woman with her.
[3/5] Brünnhilde calls for their help, pursued as she is by Wotan. They will not help her, but she explains that the woman with her is Sieglinde, the sister and bride of Siegmund, telling them about the death of the latter and Wotan's intervention. The other Valkyries find her behaviour rash.
[3/6] Sieglinde, coming to herself, wants to die, now that Siegmund is dead, but Brünnhilde tells her she must live to bear Siegmund's child. They urge Sieglinde to take refuge from the anger of Wotan, who is drawing near; she must escape into the woods where Alberich's treasure lies, shielded from their father's wrath. She gives Sieglinde the pieces of Siegmund's broken sword, for the son she will bear, Siegfried. The storm clouds gather over the rocky peaks and the voice of Wotan is heard through the thunder, calling for Brünnhilde, while the others try to hide her.
[3/7] Wotan, enraged, seeks Brünnhilde, his favourite daughter, who has broken her word to him. He tells the Valkyries that he knows they are shielding their sister, one whom he had trusted and who has now broken the sacred bond between them.
[3/8] Brünnhilde comes forward, ready for her punishment, which, as Wotan says, she has brought on herself; now she must lose all her power, no longer a Valkyrie, no longer to bear the bodies of heroes to Valhalla, an exile from the gods, banished from his sight. She is to lie asleep on the rock there, until a man finds and wakes her. Brünnhilde kneels before Wotan, while Sieglinde wakes and calls in fear for Siegmund. The other Valkyries are in consternation at this harsh penalty. Wotan is inexorable. Brünnhilde is no longer of their band and will no longer ride through the air; they must leave her, otherwise they will share her fate. To the sound of a storm they take their flight.
[3/9] The storm has died down and Wotan and Brünnilde are left alone. They remain silent, as she lies at his feet. Brünnhilde pleads with Wotan, asking whether her offence was so great; surely she did as he had told her, or at least done what he wished. He tells her that he had countermanded his first order, but she accuses him of being his own enemy, at Fricka's persuasion. Brünnhilde, however, knew of Wotan's love for the Volsung and what was in his heart.
[3/10] He understands the reason for her action, following her heart, while he has had to have his whole world and his dreams come to an end; he must now be parted from her. She has put love before her duty to him. She tells him that, although she may not be wise, she understood what he really wanted. He tells her she must follow love and the one she is fated to love. She begs that she may not be subject to some braggart. He will not intervene, but she tells him that a great hero will spring from the Volsungs, from Sieglinde, who now has the pieces of Siegmund's sword.
[3/11] Wotan tells her not to try to change his mind; her fate must be whatever it is. Her punishment is to lie in deep sleep, until a man wakes her, destined to be her husband. Brünnhilde asks that her sleep be so protected that only a brave hero may reach her; let there be fire about the rock on which she lies.
[3/12] Wotan raises Brünnhilde from her knees, and bids her farewell, sadly rejecting her, but promising her the fire she has asked for.
[3/13] He seeks a farewell kiss from a daughter in whom he had taken delight. He kisses her on the eyes, and she sinks down in sleep, her eyes closed, as he lays her on a mossy rock.
[3/14] Striking a rock with his spear, he summons Loge calling on him to surround the rock with fire. He strikes the rock three times, calling again on Loge.
[3/15] Fire appears, surrounding the rock, and Wotan declares that none who fear shall pass through the fire. He stretches out his spear, looks sadly back at Brünnhilde and goes slowly away, vanishing through the fire.
The original master tapes of this recording of Die Walküre contain some noises and distortion which can also be heard in EMI's CD release and are not a function of the LP pressings used for this transfer. Also in the master tape is the rather crude insertion of blank tape to lengthen the pause when Wotan sings "das Ende… das Ende" (CD 2, Track 8). I have left some tape hiss untouched in order for the wide frequency range of the original recording to be better heard.
Richard Wagner: Die Walküre
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