Richard Wagner

Tristan und Isolde, opera, WWV 90

    Description by Jennifer Hambrick

    Wagner's stated intention to write an opera based on the legend of Tristan and Isold, of whom he had read in the thirteenth century narrative poem by Gottfried von Strassburg, first appears in a letter to Franz Liszt of December 16, 1854. The earliest musical sketches date from December 1856, by which date Wagner had already completed the text for Der Ring des Nibelungen, as well as the music for Das Rheingold and Die Walküre, and through Act Two of Siegfried. Wagner had also completed three of his most important writings on the aesthetics of drama.

    The composition of Tristan und Isolde is entwined in a nexus of Wagner's personal and theoretical concerns. In August 1857, Wagner stopped work on the music for Siegfried, in order to set to work full time on Tristan because, as stated in his 1860 essay The Music of the Future, he wanted to compose an opera of more modest scale with a chance of being produced. The music-drama was completed in Lucerne in March 1859. Wagner's had also composed five songs to poems by Mathilde Wesendonck, his patron's wife, with whom he had become deeply infatuated, two of which he designated as studies for Tristan und Isolde.

    Wagner himself acknowledged that with the composition of Tristan, he transcended the musical and dramaturgical theories he set out in his earlier treatises. Indeed, the musical language of Tristan has long been acknowledged as the beginning of musical modernism. The harmonic language of Tristan, heaving as it does with prolonged courses of unresolved dissonances, not only enacts musically the sexual tension between the opera's two central characters, but also points to the liberation of dissonance from the constraints of tonality that Arnold Schoenberg and others in the twentieth century would champion. The Prelude to Tristan fully exemplifies Wagner's forward-looking approach to both harmony and the issue of musical form -- or, some would say, formlessness -- that operates centrally in his music-dramas. Alfred Lorenz argued in his 1924 study, The Musical Form of Richard Wagner's "Tristan und Isolde", that the opera's prelude and three acts consist of large-scale Bogen ("arch," e.g., ABA; Prelude-Act I, and Act Two) and Bar (e.g., AAB; Act Three) forms, and that the entire opera-prelude and all acts combined falls into a giant Bogen form. In 2000, Robert Bailey argued that the form of the Prelude to Tristan can be understood to unfold in cycles of repeating phrase units. The Prelude also unfolds Wagner's Leitmotif technique, in which instrumental music introduces central motives which correspond with characters and ideas. Wagner seems to have explored the implications of one of Tristan's central Leitmotif -- that consisting of four ascending chromatic pitches and introduced by the oboe in the opening measures of the Prelude -- in his song "Im Treibhaus," which was one of the five Wesendonck songs. Additionally, a strong connection exists between the music of the Act Two love scene of Tristan and that of another study for Tristan, Wagner's earlier Wesendonck song, "Träume."

    Parts/Movements

    1. No. 1, Prelude
    2. No. 2, Hab acht, Tristan!
    3. No. 3, Doch nun von Tristan!
    4. No. 4, Wie lachend sie mir Lieer singen
    5. No. 5, So reihte sie die Mutter
    6. No. 6, Begehrt, Herrin was ihr wünscht
    7. No. 7, Prelude
    8. No. 8a, Isolde! Geliebte! Tristan! geliebter
    9. No. 8b, O eitler Tagesknecht!
    10. No. 8c, O sink hernieder
    11. No. 9a, Einsam wachend
    12. No. 9b, Lausch Geliebter!
    13. No. 9c, So stürben wir
    14. No. 9d, Lass' mich sterben!
    15. No. 10, Tatest du's wirklich?
    16. No. 11, Konig... Wohin nun Tristan scheidet
    17. No. 12, Prelude
    18. No. 13, Die alte Weise - was weckt sie mich?
    19. No. 14, Dunkt dich das?
    20. No. 15, Wie sie selig
    21. No. 16, O diese Sonne!
    22. No. 17, Ha! Ich bin's, ich bin's
    23. No. 18, Mild und leise
    24. No. 19, Prelude und Liebestod (Concert version, arr. Humperdinck)

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2018 Decca / Deutsche Grammophon 4798418
    2018 Opus Arte OACD 9033D
    2017 Deutsche Grammophon 4797291
    2016 Deutsche Grammophon 4795553
    2016 Decca
    2016 Decca
    2015 Walhall WLCD 0213
    2014 Andromeda ANDRCD 5164
    2014 Myto Historical MTYO 181
    2013 Deutsche Grammophon 4791148
    2013 Masterworks / Sony Classical 88765435042
    2013 Masterworks / Sony Classical 88765427172
    2013 Brilliant Classics 99450
    2013 Glyndebourne GFOCD 01909
    2013 Myto Historical MCD 00328
    2013 Teldec 94568
    2012 Rewind REW 501
    2012 Andromeda ANDRCD 9108
    2012 Andromeda 9059
    2012 Decca
    2012 PentaTone Classics PTC 5186404
    2011 ZYX Classics CLA101132
    2010 Deutsche Grammophon 4779111
    2010 Deutsche Grammophon / Universal 477 882-6
    2010 Avi / Avi-Music 8553169
    2010 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099968859
    2009 Myto Historical Line / Myto Records 00219
    2009 Myto Historical Line / Myto Records 00186
    2009 Document 223061
    2009 Gala / Gala Records 665
    2009 EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics 5099996686
    2009 Brilliant Classics 93933
    2008 EMI Classics 11973
    2008 Decca 4780279
    2008 Urania 22365
    2008 Golden Melodram GM10080
    2008 EMI Classics / EMI Music Distribution 5676212
    2008 Deutsche Grammophon 0734439
    2007 BRV 9809
    2007 Andromeda 9011
    2007 Deutsche Grammophon 004400734321
    2007 Golden Melodram 10079
    2007 Opera D'Oro 7039
    2006 Leman 42801
    2006 EMI Classics
    2006 Warner Music 62964
    2006 Philips
    2006 Opera D'Oro 1457
    2005 Naxos 8660152-54
    2005 DS Classics / Urania 37502
    2005 Philips 4757020
    2005 Ponto 1026
    2005 EMI Music Distribution 58006
    2005 EMI Classics
    2004 Walhall WLCD 0001
    2004 Living Stage 1107
    2004 EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics 7243585873
    2004 Titanic 261
    2004 Deutsche Grammophon 000225002
    2004 Archipel 167
    2003 West Hill Radio Archives 6001
    2003 Urania 218
    2003 Living Stage 1052
    2003 Philips 438241
    2003 Myto Records 32075
    2003 Naxos 8 110200/2
    2003 Living Stage 1021
    2002 The International Music Co. 205087
    2002 Myto Records 21061
    2002 Archipel 30
    2002 Archipel Records 27
    2002 Golden Melodram 10054
    2002 Ponto Recordings 1004
    2002 Gebhardt 39
    2002 Myto Records 21257
    2002 Decca 470 814-2
    2001 Archipel 21
    2001 Myto Records 11239
    2001 Opera D'Oro 1297
    2001 Preiser Records 90453
    2001 Arkadia 78075
    2001 Archipel 23
    2000 Preiser Records 90383
    2000 Naxos 110068-70
    2000 Golden Melodram 10036
    1999 Grammofono 2000 78925
    1999 Myto Records 993208
    1999 Golden Melodram 10030
    1999 VAI Audio VAIA 1178
    1999 Myto Records 993031
    1998 London 460596
    1998 Opera D'Oro 1173
    1998 Golden Melodram 10020
    1998 Grammofono 2000 78840
    1997 Gala Records GL 100651
    1997 Deutsche Grammophon / PolyGram 449772
    1997 EMI Music Distribution 56254
    1996 Myto Records 962149
    1996 The Radio Years 39
    1995 Teldec 94568
    1995 Preiser Records 90243
    1994 Biddulph Recordings 0067
    1994 Orfeo 355943
    1993 Philips 434425
    1992 Music & Arts CD-730
    1992 EMI Music Distribution 64037
    1992 Decca 430 234-2DM4
    1992 VAI Audio 1004
    1990 Deutsche Grammophon 413315
    1988 EMI Music Distribution 69319
    1986 EMI Music Distribution 47321
    Iron Needle 1438
    Decca 470600
    Myto Records 981178
    Melodram 37029
    Le Monde de l'Opera 07
    Philips 410447
    Golden Melodram 10073
    EMI Music Distribution 67626
    Pantheon 6601
    Deutsche Grammophon 419889
    Grammofono 2000 78570/72
    As Disc 2511/13
    Deutsche Grammophon 000403202
    Arkadia 358
    Laudis Records Suite 4009
    6w 54
    Melodram 37072
    Melodram 37518
    6w 18
    Gala Records 100651