Tristan und Isolde
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
"I dislike grand opera as a miserable mishmash of styles, compromises, and arrant ugliness. The moment the human voice intrudes in an orchestral work, my dream-world of music vanishes. Mother Church is right in banishing, from within the walls of her temples the female voice. The world, the flesh, and the devil lurk in the larynx of the soprano or alto, and her place is before the footlights, not as a vocal staircase to paradise. I say this, knowing in my heart that nothing is so thrilling as Tristan and Isolde, and my memory-cells hold marvellous pictures of Lilli Lehmann, Milka Ternina, and Olive Fremstad. So, I'm neither logical nor sincere; nevertheless, I maintain the opinion that absolute music, not programme, not music-drama, is the apogee of the art. A Beethoven string quartet holds more genuine music for me than the entire works of Wagner. There's a prejudiced -statement for you!" --Ivory, Apes, and Peacocks (1915) by James Huneker
Tristan und Isolde (Tristan and Isolde) is an opera in three acts by Richard Wagner to a German libretto by the composer, based largely on the romance by Gottfried von Straßburg, which in turn was based on the story of Tristan and Iseult as told in French by Thomas of Britain. It was composed between 1857 and 1859 and received its first performance in Munich on 10 June 1865.
The story of Tristan and Isolde was one of the quintessential romances of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Several versions exist, the earliest dating to the middle of the 12th century. Gottfried's version was of the so called "courtly" branch of the tradition, and had a huge influence on later German literature. Gottfried's emphasis on themes of courtly love and chivalry informed Wagner's retelling.
The tonality of Tristan was to prove immensely influential in western Classical music. Wagner's use of musical colour also influenced the development of film music. Bernard Herrmann's score for Alfred Hitchcock's classic, Vertigo, is heavily reminiscent of the Liebestod, most evidently in the resurrection scene. The Liebestod was incorporated in Luis Buñuel's Surrealist film L'Age d'Or. Not all composers, however, reacted favourably: Claude Debussy's piano piece "Golliwog's Cakewalk" mockingly quotes the opening of the opera in a distorted form, instructing the passage to be played 'avec une grande emotion'. However, Debussy was highly influenced by Wagner and was particularly fond of Tristan. Frequent moments of Tristan-inspired tonality mark Debussy's early compositions.