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 / Performer Label / Catalog # AllMusic Rating
    2019
    ABC Classic / ABC Classics
    ABC 4818518
    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
    Various Artists
    Deutsche Grammophon
    4791148
    2013
    Masterworks / Sony Classical
    88765435042
    2013
    Masterworks / Sony Classical
    88765427172
    2013
    Brilliant Classics
    99450
    2013
    Glyndebourne
    GFOCD 01909
    2013
    Teldec
    94568
    2013
    Myto Historical
    MCD 00328
    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
    Various Artists
    EMI Classics / Warner Classics
    5099968859
    2009
    Myto Historical Line / Myto Records
    00186
    2009
    Myto Historical Line / Myto Records
    00219
    2009
    Document
    223061
    2009
    Gala / Gala Records
    665
    2009
    Brilliant Classics
    93933
    2009
    EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics
    5099996686
    2008
    EMI Classics
    11973
    2008
    Decca
    4780279
    2008
    Urania
    22365
    2008
    Golden Melodram
    GM10080
    2008
    EMI Classics
    5676212
    2008
    Deutsche Grammophon
    0734439
    2007
    BRV
    9809
    2007
    Andromeda
    9011
    2007
    Deutsche Grammophon
    004400734321
    2007
    Opera D'Oro
    7039
    2007
    Golden Melodram
    10079
    2006
    Leman
    42801
    2006
    Philips
    2006
    Warner Music
    62964
    2006
    EMI Classics
    2006
    Opera D'Oro
    1457
    2005
    EMI Music Distribution
    58006
    2005
    Philips
    4757020
    2005
    DS Classics / Urania
    37502
    2005
    Naxos
    8660152-54
    2005
    Ponto
    1026
    2005
    EMI Classics
    2004
    Walhall
    WLCD 0001
    2004
    Deutsche Grammophon
    000225002
    2004
    Titanic
    261
    2004
    Living Stage
    1107
    2004
    Archipel
    167
    2004
    EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics
    7243585873
    2003
    West Hill Radio Archives
    6001
    2003
    Urania
    218
    2003
    Living Stage
    1052
    2003
    Philips
    438241
    2003
    Myto Records
    32075
    2003
    Living Stage
    1021
    2003
    Naxos
    8 110200/2
    2002
    Various Artists
    The International Music Co.
    205087
    2002
    Myto Records
    21061
    2002
    Archipel
    30
    2002
    Golden Melodram
    10054
    2002
    Gebhardt
    39
    2002
    Myto Records
    21257
    2002
    Ponto Recordings
    1004
    2002
    Decca
    470 814-2
    2002
    Archipel Records
    27
    2001
    Archipel
    21
    2001
    Arkadia
    78075
    2001
    Opera D'Oro
    1297
    2001
    Myto Records
    11239
    2001
    Preiser Records
    90453
    2001
    Archipel
    23
    2000
    Preiser Records
    90383
    2000
    Golden Melodram
    10036
    2000
    Naxos
    110068-70
    1999
    Grammofono 2000
    78925
    1999
    Myto Records
    993208
    1999
    VAI Audio
    VAIA 1178
    1999
    Golden Melodram
    10030
    1999
    Myto Records
    993031
    1998
    Various Artists
    London
    460596
    1998
    Opera D'Oro
    1173
    1998
    Grammofono 2000
    78840
    1998
    Golden Melodram
    10020
    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
    Decca
    430 234-2DM4
    1992
    EMI Music Distribution
    64037
    1992
    VAI Audio
    1004
    1990
    Deutsche Grammophon
    413315
    1988
    EMI Music Distribution
    69319
    1986
    EMI Music Distribution
    47321
    Iron Needle
    1438
    Decca
    470600
    Melodram
    37029
    Myto Records
    981178
    Le Monde de l'Opera
    07
    Philips
    410447
    Pantheon
    6601
    As Disc
    2511/13
    Deutsche Grammophon
    419889
    Deutsche Grammophon
    000403202
    EMI Music Distribution
    67626
    Golden Melodram
    10073
    Grammofono 2000
    78570/72
    Arkadia
    358
    Laudis Records Suite
    4009
    Melodram
    37072
    6w
    54
    6w
    18
    Melodram
    37518
    Gala Records
    100651