Over the winter of 1831-1832 -- from October to March -- 18-year-old Wagner studied composition with the cantor of Leipzig's Thomaskirche, Christian Theodor Weinlig, who wisely tailored his instruction in form, harmony, counterpoint, and canon to enable the hotheaded youngster to compose immediately. Among the works Wagner completed under Weinlig's tutelage -- two piano sonatas, a Polonaise, and a piano Fantasia -- the Fantasia is the most interesting and the least satisfactory. The conclusion of the manuscript is dated "Leipzig the 27th of November 1831" and is, thus, the first piece submitted to his teacher. Unlike the well-behaved sonatas and the prim Polonaise, the Fantasia is a self-indulgently extensive ramble playing around 24 minutes, a Sturm und Drang effusion, big with portent and passable ideas that fail to coalesce. The initially striking contrast between a brooding rising and falling motif, heard first in bass octaves beneath a throbbing accompaniment and a nervously stentorian recitative, loses effect through repetition. A central Allegro agitato, with coruscating octaves whipping Beethoven-like in lyrical abandon, promises a revelation that all too soon is forgotten in a maundering Adagio molto e cantabile remarkable mainly for its fulsome use of grupetti, foreshadowing the mature Wagner's fondness for this Italianate device that becomes part of the melodic contours associated with Isolde and Brunnhilde. Alternations of the foregoing produce a specious wrapping up without effecting a genuine, or persuasive, conclusion. Wagner almost lost his teacher when he balked, initially, at exercises in counterpoint and canon, but mutual respect developed once he settled down to serious work. The Fantasia is very likely representative of the many works the industrious but musically illiterate boy had steadily been producing through his teens. It is greatly to Weinlig's credit that he recognized the creative fire in these inchoate essays and determined to help Wagner make it tellingly articulate. Counterpoint and canon sparked awareness of voice leading how, bar-by-bar, music moves coherently, even elegantly, without lurching from one chord or oddment to the next. Weinlig next inculcated the knack for giving point and concentration to one's ideas through the cultivation of the sonata form. The piano sonatas of Pleyel -- formally regular and predictable -- were set as models. Wagner's workmanlike Sonata in B flat goes dutifully but competently through the motions. But as Wagner was a quick study and a genius in the "Grosse Sonate," in A, that followed, the lessons of the master were realized with power and charm. Weinlig declared his instruction at an end, refusing to accept a fee.
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Description by Adrian Corleonis
|2014||La Dolce Volta||LDV 16|
|2014||Signum Classics||SIGCD 388|
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