A Book, A Bernstein, A Wagner And His Melody

Written By The Wagnerian on Friday, 8 November 2013 | 1:56:00 am

Our editor reads a book,  finds some videos on youtube, becomes reminded of  youth, and then moans about "the state of the "youth" today. Might we suggest you ignore everything here other than the book recommendation and the videos.

Among too many books to name (although I am eagerly awaiting my copy of Terry Quinn's Richard Wagner: The Lighter Side to add to these) I am presently reading David Trippett's Wagner's Melodies: Aesthetics and Materialism in German Musical Identity (its much better than its name would suggest). In this wonderful book,Trippett sets out to explore the difficulties, especially during the nineteenth century, of conceptualising "melody". This is especially so regarding Wagner's music, for ironically, despite the fact that he placed so much prominence on melody (indeed "endless melody") he has been considered by a significant number to lack the ability to compose music that contains any!

To examine this subject, Trippet looks to place Wagner's theories about melody and his music, within the cultural and scientific discourse of his day,  intertwining - and unravelling - the history of science, music theory, music criticism, private correspondence and court reports. In doing so he seems to find that a definition of "melody" was as difficult in Wagner's time as it can be today (Honestly. Spend some time thinking and reading about it,  if you have not - especially explanations of what "it" is).

Anyway, reading this earlier,I was taken back to my youth and Leonard Bernstein's Young People's Concerts. During one of these he attempts, in the simplest of terms, to define some version of  "melody". In part, he used the example of Tristan und Isolde - noting how many people accuse it if being "un-melodic". It came as some surprise, to find that this episode could still be found on youtube. While he  may - if you listen closely enough and in my opinion, - actually never really come to a sound definition of melody, he certainly attempts to explain Wagner's"sound world" and its construction, in the simplistic and most comprehensible manner anyone ever has.  Do yourself a favour, buy Tippets book and watch this video.

As an aside, while playing the "prelude" to Tristan, the camera scans across the audience - mainly of children. Among the less than "scruffy" youth' (why don't children "dress-up" in suits, etc, to  go out nowadays - or worse still,  adults for that matter?) trying to look intellectual, clearly bored, teenagers thinking of how the hell they can get out of there, others fidgeting in their seats; there is one little fellow, mouth open, completely in awe of what he is hearing. This reminds me of myself at the age,  the first time I heard the "prelude" to Tristan. Mind you, I think I had a better haircut.

Have fun.