Richard Wagner

Polonia, overture for orchestra in C major, WWV 39

    Description by Adrian Corleonis

    Having become aware of his vocation as a composer in his teens, the young Wagner pursued it with more ambition and energy than skill or inspiration. He continued to fall back without self-consciousness upon the sort of crudities with which his Polonia overture is stitched together right through the composition of Rienzi (completed in 1840), while the scintillant exuberance of the overture to Die Feen (1833-1834) remains the exception that proves the rule. Snaredrum salvos, banal sequences repeated up and down the scale, literal repetition extending thin material, sudden pointless pauses, and spicy melodramatics cribbed from Italian opera (which Offenbach's opéras bouffes skewered with frothy gusto) make uproarious listening today -- or would but for Wagner's failure to grasp not only how more is less but how the upshot of his obstreperous hurly-burly makes at length for an odd inertness. Long before the legalistic quibbling of the Ring operas was allowed to mechanically anaesthetize musical interest for full quarters-of-an-hour, Wagner was a steady purveyor of longueurs. Polonia's coarse-grained excitement, which may at first seem audacious, looms as merely clumsy and a weariness to the flesh well before its run halfway through its dozen-minute course, the curious compulsion to revisit lame material having something about it of the boorish, drunken frat boy imagining that he's the life of the party. Indeed, the overture was sketched after a night of drinking with Polish refugees during his Leipzig student days. A hearing of Spontini's Fernand Cortez in Berlin prompted him to take up Polonia again in the spring of 1836 and lard it with similar fulsome effects that became fully, if crudely, effective only in Rienzi. Polonia is even more garish than the bulk of Wagner's second opera, Das Liebesverbot, composed immediately before. "Premiered" in Magdeburg on March 29, 1836, by the straggling troupe he'd joined as conductor the year before -- to pursue its leading lady, Minna Planer -- Das Liebesverbot was given as a poorly rehearsed favor to Wagner, thrown together on a week's notice and delivered to an audience bewildered as much by its tortuous dramaturgy as by the performer's histrionic gaffes. Wagner thought this vehicle just the thing to make his fame and fortune -- the latter becoming a necessity as he ran up debts for fine clothes, expensive dining, and luxurious furnishings -- and he attempted to peddle it in Berlin and Königsberg. Minna was performing with the Köigsberg theater when he arrived. They were married on November 24, 1836.

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2016 British Military Music Archive BMMACG 1607
    2001 Naxos 555386
    1992 Marco Polo 220114
    Marco Polo 8220114