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5 - Listening for Leitmotifs: Concept, Theory, Practice

from Part II - Aesthetics

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 September 2020

Mark Berry
Affiliation:
Royal Holloway, University of London
Nicholas Vazsonyi
Affiliation:
Clemson University, South Carolina
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Summary

Introduction to Wagner’s use of leitmotifs in the Ring and the discourse that accompanied and shaped the notion of this compositional technique from its beginnings. Special focus on the making of the concept (which Wagner neither initiated nor supported), on the idea of “foreboding and reminiscent melodic moments” he developed in Opera and Drama and on core motifs from the Ring that provide the material for four evenings of music drama and characterize the tetralogy as a whole (renunciation, woe, Rheingold, Ring, Valhalla, and redemption through love motifs). Aesthetic questions about Wagner’s trademark tool of composition are discussed from the listener’s perspective: Are we really supposed to learn leitmotifs like vocabulary and, if so, what did Wagner think about this? Did he anticipate that for the next 140 years nearly everyone who wanted to say something about his music would talk about leitmotifs? How can we dive into the magic web of the Ring’s leitmotifs without simply blindly memorizing dozens of melodies and their supposed meaning?

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2020

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