The Wagnerian Reviews: "Wagner's Ring Cycle" Ipad App from Naxos

Written By The Wagnerian on Saturday, 25 May 2013 | 8:07:00 pm

Back in 1997 "Media Café" released its now legendary "Ring Disc". A single CD Rom for PC that contained, in admittedly mono sound, the entire Solti Ring cycle, an English/German libretto that ran in time to the audio, a full piano score,  detailed analysis of the work, characters, score and leitmotifs and much more.  The disc remains a marvel of Ring scholarship and the best example of how computer media can be used to to investigate and increase ones appreciation and understanding of work such as Wagner's. Sadly, it has been long "officially" discontinued - despite the fact it still runs well in modern operating systems

Some of us that still own that disc, have long wondered what "modern operating systems" - with their emphasis on multimedia - could do along similar lines. "Wagner - The Ring" Ipad app from Naxos, whilst having nowhere near the range or scope of the "Ring Disc" may provide us with the closest answer we have so far. This is especially so in regard to the development of the leitmotifs throughout the Ring. Indeed, this is central to the app - but more of this in moment.

Running well and without fault on the Ipad, the  rather attractive looking app, provides a general overview to not only the Ring, but to Wagner, Bayreuth and the performance history of the Ring. However, it needs to be noted, with the exception of the Ring, these topics are covered only briefly - or at least maybe considered so to anyone with a knowledge of Wagner and his work. But as the app is really geared to investigate the leitmotifs, this is understandable. Nevertheless, those new to Wagner or who are just discovering his work, will find this background more than useful. A full list of all of the features can be found below, but let us now come to the where this app truly shines: its investigation of the leitmotifs and their use and development within the Ring.

65 leitmotifs are investigated using a total of 130 audio clips (from the Naxos recordings, performed by the Stuttgart State Opera and Orchestra under Lothar Zagrosek.). If you wish, you can simply find a list of the leitmotifs and listen to one - reading a very good explanation of each from app authors Martin and Rachel Walters. However, a reader will get the most out of this app as they use it to investigate each within the context of each drama and note its development within the entire cycle - made easy due to the app's design.

To do so, simply select one of the dramas from the main menu and click on the name of the leitmotif within that drama (they are listed in the order they appear first in each work). This is useful enough in-itself, but two other factors add much to this: Martin and Rachel Walters' commentary and their investigation of each as they follow that leitmotif's development and use throughout the cycle.

As an example, if we turn to Die Walkure, and click on the "Renunciation" leitmotif, we find a brief overview to it, a sound sample of its use and then can, if we wish,  trace its development within each drama. We could, if we wanted for example, listen to it when it is first heard in Die Walkure and then listen to it's first appearance in Das Rheingold. Here noting its use  in both. We can then simply scroll down to note and listen to its use in Gotterdamerung.  And so on for each leitmotif. It is worth mentioning that the authors note each leitmotif's development but also that we should be careful assuming that a particular leitmotif always has a particular emotional value  - such as "good" or bad" - attached to it. So, using this example, in Das Rheingold, when the the Renunciation leitmotif is first used it is with deeply negative connotations - the renunciation of love that must be given by that person that wishes to seek the absolute power of the forging of the Ring. However, in Die Walkure it is used to announce Siegmund's renunciation of his past "woeful life". Thus given its place within the text, its emotional meaning shifts substantially. Nothing in Wagner is as simply or as straight forward as it can first seem.

On the negative side, while a full, detailed synopsis of each drama is included, it is difficult to understand why a full libretto was not. It seems a missed opportunity and would have added much to the apps value. Although those new to the Ring will easily benefit from the synopsis.

Overall, a valuable and worthy addition to material relating to the Ring - and the leitmotifs especially.  While especially useful to those new to the Ring, more seasoned explorers of Wagner's work will also find much to enjoy.

Features:
  • 130 audio clips: 65 different leitmotifs isolated from the operas.
  • Extended audio clips: eight tracks, two from each opera.
  • An explanation of each leitmotif example.
  • Each leitmotif example in musical notation.
  • Biographical text about Richard Wagner.
  • Clear synopses of the operas.
  • Information about the operas in performance.
  • Audio comments from renowned tenor, Simon O’Neill.
  • Further Reading
  • Photographs
    All musical excerpts are taken from the Naxos recordings of the dramas, performed by the Stuttgart State Opera and Orchestra under Lothar Zagrosek. 
Price: £5.99/$8.99


(Reviewed on Ipad Mini)