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8.225349 - WAGNER, S.: Lieder (Complete) (Wahnfried-Idyll) (Broberg, Grabner)
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Siegfried Wagner (1869–1930)
Wahnfried-Idyll: The Complete Songs


In the official catalogues of works produced during the lifetime of Siegfried Wagner no mention is to be found of chamber music. In the catalogues of works which appeared shortly after his death, however, mention is made of the posthumously published song Weihnacht (Christmas). Siegfried Wagner once told his Viennese friend and first biographer, Ludwig Karpath, that he had written songs on his trip to the Far East in 1892 but that he had destroyed them ‘because there were already enough songs’.

It is a pity that these works have not survived, since they mark that decisive turning-point in Siegfried Wagner’s life when he resolved to ‘say farewell to architecture’ and to devote himself entirely to music. His first song, and at the same time Siegfried Wagner’s first completely valid composition, however, pre-dates his visit to the Far East. In June 1890, as a final graduation piece of his composition studies with Engelbert Humperdinck, he wrote a song in G major, Abend auf dem Meere (Evening at Sea) [13] to a poem by his brother-in-law and close friend Henry Thode. Siegfried dedicated the song, embellished with its own title-vignette, ‘in reverence, to Antonie Speyer’. Frau Speyer, a professional singer, was the wife of the banker and patron of the arts William Speyer, in whose house Brahms was also a regular visitor. It was at a soirée in the Speyer household in Frankfurt that Siegfried Wagner first got to know the friend from his youth Clement Harris. To general delight Siegfried frequently used to dress up as a prima ballerina at the Speyers’ and dance to the music played there.

In setting Ludwig Uhland’s poem Frühlingsglaube (Belief in Spring) [10], in the same year, Siegfried Wagner was placing himself boldly in competition with Schubert’s setting of this same poem. Yet in his individual, very elegaic setting in D major, with a middle section in E flat major, Siegfried Wagner was really able to hold his own against Schubert’s famous setting. In the first act of his opera Rainulf und Adelasia, Op. 14, Osmund sings the words ‘Es muss Alles, Alles anders werden!’/‘Everything, everything must be different!’ at which the composer harks back to the melody of his setting of the early song at the words ‘Es muss sich alles, alles wenden’/‘Everything, everything must change’.

Abend am Meere (Evening at the Shore) [14], a poem by the lyric poet and writer Alfred Meissner, who died in 1872, acts as a pendant to the Thode poem Abend auf dem Meere. Siegfried Wagner wrote his A flat major setting of the Meissner poem in Berlin in October 1890 and dedicated it to ‘our dear shepherd’. (It is not known who this dedicatee is.)

During his architecture studies in Berlin-Charlottenburg Siegfried also composed two songs to poems by Nikolaus Lenau: Frühlingsblick (Spring’s Glance) [9] ‘anmutig bewegt’/‘moving gracefully’ in A flat major and Frühlings Tod (Spring’s Death) [11] in B flat major. Frühlings Tod, which was dedicated to his half-sister Daniela Thode, anticipates the main theme of the symphonic poem Sehnsucht (Yearning) (after Friedrich Schiller); it is that theme which depicts the bearing of the sad tidings and the notion of paradise. This theme, slightly altered, appears later as that of the magic stone in Siegfried Wagner’s favourite opera Der Kobold (The Goblin), Op. 3. The miraculous emerald in Op. 14, stolen by Rainulf from the convent, sounds the same.

Like the two songs about the sea, the three spring songs constitute a small cycle. There also exists an orchestral version, albeit incomplete, made by the composer, of Abend am Meere. This song can be regarded as the earliest study for Siegfried Wagner’s first opera Der Bärenhäuter, Op. 1 (The Man in a Bear’s Skin), just as Frühlingsblick acts as a kind of paraphrase of the opera’s plot. In the opera Luise sings: ‘Whoever is granted a pure heart will also make mistakes and has to err / an honest person down here on earth can never lose that benedictory protection.’ For Siegfried Wagner the musician, the sad tidings in Frühlingsblick sound like the workings of the benevolent spirits and guardian-angel in his first opera. By the same token the principal theme of this song anticipates the tonal sequence of the theme of Friedrich’s love-song ‘Weh’, Lüftchen, weh’!’ from Der Kobold, Op. 3.

In 1903 the Berlin newspaper Die Woche (The Week) promoted a competition for ‘modern folksongs’. In the first special edition, entitled Im Volkston (In folk style), ‘thirty works by first-rate German composers’ were gathered together and performed in a charity concert in Berlin’s New Royal Opera House. But most of the works performed in the concert sounded more like pure art songs and did not fulfill the aim of the competition which was to produce folk-like songs for the ‘strengthening of domestic music’. For this competition Siegfried Wagner submitted his song in A major Schäfer und Schäferin (Shepherd and Shepherdess) [4] which he had already composed, in 1897. Through Die Woche forty thousand copies of the song were put into circulation, but Siegfried Wagner’s song must be considered an art song, even though the text was derived from a traditional folk-song. Anyhow, the musical codification of the shepherd is already so idiomatic that Siegfried Wagner took up the theme again at the beginning of the second act of his opera Banadietrich, Op. 6, when shepherds and their herds of sheep file past Frau Ute’s house.

After that, Siegfried Wagner wrote only operas for more than twenty years. Admittedly song- and ballad-like passages were an important feature of the operas of his first creative periods. Only one song from Siegfried Wagner’s operas appeared separately as a work for voice and piano—Vogellied der Verena aus dem Kobold (Verena’s birdsong from The Goblin) 1. In order to be accepted by the band of comic actors Verena sings this song of the blind bird in the opera. The bird wants to call attention to his plight through his ‘heartrending’ twittering: art as compensation for suffering.

At Christmas 1918 Villa Wahnfried, Siegfried Wagner’s home, witnessed the domestic première of a witty pendant to Richard Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll. This composition, written in F major and in a leisurely tempo, and dedicated to ‘Little Goldshovel (i.e. Winifred), Christmas 1918’, bears the title Wahnfried-Idyll [6]. Apart from the nanny, Emma Bär, and Siegfried’s sister Eva (‘Tata Efe’), the cast consists of his two children who, with their different nicknames (‘Huschele’ and ‘Wilfi’ for Wieland, ‘Maus’ and ‘Mo’ for Friedelind), put in an appearance. The song is about the tirelessly playful rage of the barely-twelve-year-old boy and the morning activities of the daughter. The figure of the German Michel is taken from ‘Simplizissimus’, who is taken in by everything, and who takes ‘empty flim-flam’ to be true freedom. The fact that the composer quotes here a theme sung by Frieder in his opera An allem ist Hütchen schuld! (Blame it all on Hütchen), Op. 11, can be interpreted as evidence that even he had wished awhile for freedom for himself through the Revolution and the abrogation of princely privileges; now he also belongs to the “pure fallen ones.”

In 1919 Siegfried Wagner prepared a most unusual wedding present for his friend, the legal scholar Dr Günther Holstein (1892–1931), with whom, during the war, he had repeatedly discussed the political situation. He set Holstein’s bloodthirsty poem Nacht am Narocz (Night at Lake Narach) [12], which the amateur poet had evidently specially wanted to write. When the Saviour appears over the dead fighters on the battlefield, the theme of faith from his opera Heidenkönig, Op. 9, is heard in the piano accompaniment. In contrast to the very questionable text, this composition, musically of high quality, begins in E minor and ends, after countless changes of key, in G major. Written originally for tenor, it was arranged two years later as an orchestral song by Siegfried Wagner’s collaborator Carl Kittel and received its first performance with the tenor Josef Heller in the margravial opera house in Bayreuth. The orchestral version was revised sixteen years later and presented as a new work at its première in Berlin.

In the summer of 1922 Siegfried Wagner wrote a genial piece, Ein Hochzeitslied für unseren Erich und seine liebe ,Dusi‘ (A Wedding Song for our Erich and his dear ‘Dusi’) [5] to his own text. This work, in A flat major and in 2/4 time, far superior in inspiration to other ‘occasional’ compositions, quotes Wittich’s sun song from Banadietrich, Op. 6, and contrasts Luise’s trust in her guardian-angel from Der Bärenhäuter, Op. 1, with the driving along of the goblin’s little hat in Op. 11. In Die heilige Linde, Op. 15, Siegfried Wagner evinces, in his principal theme, the spiritual kinship between Hildegard and Fritigern. In the next opera Rainulf und Adelasia, Op. 14, written after this song, this theme is alluded to when Adelasia invokes her guardian-angel. Implicit in the song is the realisation—in Siegfried’s proverbial seven-year itch—that love can often be particularly beautiful after an argument.

Richard Strauss has been quoted as saying that he could set a menu to music. In December 1922 Siegfried Wagner actually composed a complete “food parcel”, which arrived at the inflation-ravaged house of Wahnfried as a “care packet” from his new friends the Hildisches, who lived in the Norwegian mountains. This riotous composition of gratitude, in 6/8 time and in the key of B flat major, bears the interminable title: A Hildisch Hymn, inspired by the recently-arrived Christmas packages (sic!), and set to music by Siegfried Wagner, Bayreuth, 26. 12. 1922 [3].

The Dryaden-Lied (Dryad Song) [8] in F major, from the year 1927, has references, both musical and textual, to Siegfried Wagner’s opera An Allem ist Hütchen Schuld!, Op. 12. The actual event, in the Hamburg-Donndorf Dryade House, where Siegfried Wagner was to be married, appears to be a bourgeois satyr play on the third act of his fairy-tale collage: at a reception after a concert in Hamburg, all the guests appeared dressed up as characters from fairy-tales. Each guest was given a laurel leaf which was to be bound into a garland, but someone—and this was not scheduled—moved the throne from its appointed position, thus spoiling the hostess’s mise-en-scène and incurring her wrath.

In 1927 the newspaper the Hamburger Nachrichten invited Siegfried Wagner to write a song for its Christmas supplement. Siegfried relinquished the choice of the text to his wife and she chose for it a south German poem from the seventeenth century. The composition, written in F major and for a high voice, shows Siegfried Wagner’s skill at conjuring up atmosphere through interesting abrupt harmonic modulations. At the words ‘Ein schönes Kind liegt dort in der Krippe’/‘A beautiful child lies there in the crib’ the composer takes up the theme of the message of peace from his opera Der Friedensengel (The Angel of Peace), Op. 10, a theme which is also to be heard in the fourth movement of his Symphony in C. The song, called simply Weihnacht (Christmas) [2] then appeared, as planned, as a facsimile in the Christmas edition of the paper. In its lower version (D major) and in its original, higher, setting, it was the first song to be published posthumously by the firm of Max Brockhaus.

Das Bales-Tänzchen (The Little Dance of Bales) [7] depicts a bourgeois operatic scene à la Faust in miniature, “A Waltz-Vision: ‘How Heinrich danced for the first time with Gretchen!’ If it was in Godesberg, I don’t know! A clairvoyant inspiration from Siegfried Wagner, Bayreuth 1929.” This composition in B flat major, which is hardly sung but rather danced primarily, is a gift of the composer to the Cologne married couple and manufacturers Heinrich and Grete Bales, with whom Siegfried Wagner had undertaken several Rhine journeys. Wagner stipulated that the Bales’ daughter, who was to perform this work on the piano during Christmas 1929 (it had been written in November), play with a ‘cosy, gently rocking waltztempo.’ According to a biographical reference, this composition turns out to be at the same time a homage to Johann Strauss, a fact which Siegfried Wagner acknowledged: ‘When I hear a melody by Johann Strauss all my limbs twitch, not from gout or rheumatism but from joie de vivre.’

The orchestral ballad Das Märchen vom dicken fetten Pfannekuchen (The Tale of the Thick, Fat Pancake) [15], written in 1913, should justifiably be considered among Siegfried Wagner’s extended song output and not only because of the version, authorised by the composer, for voice and piano. A pancake runs away from three old women, who had cooked him, and goes into the woods. After some picaresque encounters with a young hare, a stupid cow, a shy deer, the hungry wolf and the uncouth sow, all of whom wanted to monopolise him, the pancake returned to the wood. Then three half-starved children come across him. They stand for the future, but represent a newer variant of the three goddesses, between whom Paris, in Greek mythology, had to choose. The pancake makes no choice; instead he decides to choose all three and breaks himself into three pieces—so that each piece accomplishes its purpose.

Siegfried Wagner must have been particularly fond of this fairy-tale which appeared in Neue Märchen nach Grimm (New Grimm Fairy-tales) (Jena 1912). He seemed to be Germany’s most eligible bachelor and was perceived as an object of desire. Just as the pancake rolls away from the old women ‘kantapper-kantapper’, so the composer had broken free from the domination of his mother and elder sisters. Just like the pancake he had allowed no-one to monopolise him, had tied himself to neither man nor woman, and had finally divided himself into three self-contained parts: into the stage-directing and conducting festival director, into the poet-composer and into the private person. By means of this playful self-analysis Siegfried Wagner managed to straighten himself out following a serious mid-life crisis and was intent on maintaining this three-fold division: to carry on running the Festivals—even if their increasing politicization* caused him constant unease, to continue writing operas—even if the opera houses did not put on his stage works as frequently as they did those of Richard Strauss or of Franz Schreker, and to carry on living. This piece, in E flat major, with its alternation of bars between 2/4 and 6/8, and with its characteristically trundling semiquaver tread of the Kantapper is rich in variations of the principal theme which finally, at the episode of the three children, rings out in C major and also brings the composition to its end. The première of the Ballad for baritone or alto solo with orchestral accompaniment took place with a baritone soloist: Bennet Challis performed the work on 3 February 1914 in the Great Hall of the Musikhalle in Hamburg under the direction of the composer.

Siegfried Wagner’s song output only really entered the consciousness of the music-loving public when Hanne Lore Kuhse presented an evening of Lieder at the margravial opera house in Bayreuth in August 1966, and included the songs Schäfer und Schäferin, Abend am Meer and Frühlingsblick. For a concert in London, which was broadcast by the BBC, she expanded her repertoire further with the inclusion of Weihnacht and Das Märchen vom dicken fetten Pfannekuchen. Since then Siegfried Wagner’s songs have become increasingly popular and were also staged for the first time, in 1986 in Berlin. This theatrical performance, together with the first complete performance of the songs with piano, were presented in the same year at the Hoftheater of the piano manufacturer Steingraeber in Bayreuth.

Peter P. Pachl
English version by David Stevens


* Franz Stassen: Erinnerungen an Siegfried Wagner. Detmold 1949, p. 70: “Siegfried felt this deeply and, completely pale and enraged, said: ‘After The Twilight of the Gods they will doubtless sing The Watch on the Rhine’.”

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