Claudio Abbado, Gerard Mortier, Lohengrin…


Recent weeks have been marked by significant losses for the world of music. Claudio Abbado he obtained from the orchestras he conducted an almost unreal delicacy. Gerard Mortier he was a master at assembling teams to deliver amazing results.

The Royal Theatre premieres 3 April one of the last works of Mortier, Lohengrin from Richard Wagner. We left a text analyzing this work, which he related to the one previously scheduled at the Real, Alceste.

We have allowed ourselves to select the wonderful version of the Lohengrin overture that Claudio Abbado performed at the Lucerne Festival, and incorporate the text on this work by Gerard Mortier. An extraordinary reading with the best of musical backgrounds.
As usual, enjoy.


Gerard Mortier

In 18th century Paris, in the middle of the years 60 and ones 10 years before the French Revolution, a young woman, Pauline R., writes, after attending a performance of Alceste: "I listened to this new work with great concentration. Immediately, the opera captivated me and it moved me in such a way that I fell to my knees in my box and remained that way until the end of the performance ". It is the time when Gluck, one of the most famous composers at that time, celebrate his triumph in Paris. Especially among the members of the new generation. The same ones who had read Werther de Goethe y The young Heloise by Rousseau. It was the generation that would develop the bourgeois ideals of the French Revolution. Gluck gives himself completely to this intellectual movement and writes a preface to Alceste, which was premiered in Vienna in 1767 Y, in Paris, in 1776, in an in-depth revised version, and that achieves enormous success. In the preface he emphasizes that music must return to its true function: serve the expression of drama.

If in the history of art there has been since time immemorial the dispute between "anciens et modernes", The history of opera is also characterized by a permanent pendulum movement between opera conceived as entertainment or as drama for music. This new art form, which is inspired by the Greek tragedy, it would be developed by Claudio Monterverdi, among others.

In Paris, This double dispute is reflected at that time through the confrontation between the piccinnistas, admirers of belcanto, and gluckists, defenders of the lyrical tragedy. It is curious that this controversy involved and divided the encyclopedists as well. On behalf of Gluck are Rousseau and Diderot, on the other are D’Alembert and Baron Grimm, in whose house Mozart lived during his trip to Paris, and with which D’Alembert did not understand either. Mozart then met, in 1778, gluck's music, and it is clear that his Idomeneo, which he wrote two years later for the Munich court, shows his attempt to overcome the gluckian ideal. Iphigenia and Illia are soul sisters.

"Gluck's success is closely related to the development of bourgeois ideals."

The enthusiasm of the young women of the time is best understood in the context of their attempt to emancipate themselves from the rococo atmosphere., time when they were degraded into objects of pleasure through the works of the Marquis de Sade and the Duke of Orléans. Marie Antoinette, sister of the reformist Austrian Emperor Joseph II, belongs to this new generation and is a fan of Gluck, with which she is very far from the interests of her husband Louis XVI, which won't save her from the guillotine.

As it mentioned, Gluck's success is closely related to the development of bourgeois ideals, as shown in the paintings of Jacques-Louis David, Jean-Baptiste Greuze and Jean-Siméon Chardin. Gluck had already composed around 20 operas when he wrote his Orfeo ed Euridice. That he uses the theme of Monteverdi's first opera is no accident. With Iphigenia in Aulide, Iphigenia in Tauris, Alceste Y Armide, These five operas constitute the corpus of his reform of the artistic genre supported by his librettist Calzabigi, who is the one who formulates the preface of Alceste, that develops what would be its ethical and aesthetic program, as did Victor Hugo with Cromwell O Richard Wagner with his theoretical writings.

His success in Paris is more related to this desire for reform than to the renewal of musical expression, for which the Parisians were rather deaf. We know that Mozart was very disappointed in Paris and, as Wagner would later do, complains about his musical misunderstanding. The most important musical innovation is the momentum of the choirs, the sentimental simplicity of the melodies with an obligatory instrument as in "Oh malheureuse Iphigénie", what we will also find in the first sentence of the Moonlight Sonata, Beethoven, and the dramatic expressiveness of the orchestra in “Divinités du Styx” by Alceste. That this radical musical reform now seems pale at times is due to the history of music that lies in the middle.: 50 years later, Beethoven composed the Missa solemnis.

Following the success of Iphigenia in Tauris, Gluck retired, for health reasons, to Vienna, where the last years of his life spent, in which he became a mentor to Salieri. When he passes away, Mozart had already composed The Marriage of Figaro Y Don Giovanni, with what had determined the aesthetics of the opera of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. But Gluck anticipated a lot of it, although he needed a genius like Mozart to transform his ideas on opera into a pinnacle of lyrical art.

In the XIX century, and since Mozart was way ahead of his time, Gluck remains a guiding figure for all those who, once again, They want to rescue the artistic form of the opera from its function of mere entertainment show. Hector Berlioz is in first place, who composes a wonderful reworking of Alceste that he himself directed. And there we naturally find Richard Wagner, who is inspired by him for his theoretical writings on opera and drama, and what he programmed and directed Iphigenia in Aulide.

This is reason enough to dedicate the third project of this season to Alceste of Gluck and Lohengrin Richard Wagner. Both operas, Alceste Y Lohengrin, they contradict the consumerism of the new bourgeoisie brilliantly, taking up again the idea of drama for music by Claudio Monteverdi very talented, each with their respective musical and dramatic stylistic media.

With Lohengrin, Richard Wagner writes the first opera (well Tannhäuser is in debt to the world, as the composer himself says) in which he tries to transfer his ideals on Opera and drama to the musical, which represents a real revolution in the history of music, and whose overture is already a brilliant example of it. As Alceste, Lohengrin arises at an important time of change in Germany. The idea of ​​the French Revolution excited the German bourgeoisie, as Goethe tells us, but the degeneration of the revolution into a reign of terror and the imperialist wars with which Napoleon, after his coronation as emperor, I wanted to conquer Europe, pushed many away from her. With the Vienna Congress of 1815, Germany fell, like no other European territory, under the domination of the Restoration, and it until 1849.

"Intellectuals retreat to an ideal world"

Georg Buechner, like no other, will denounce this feudalism in his work Danton's death, in which he analyzes the French Revolution, and in the first proletarian piece, Woyzeck.

Germany is an agglomeration of many territories ruled by princes based on privileges that allow them to disproportionately exploit the peasants. Intellectuals retreat to an ideal world whose model is inspired by the storm and stress, Weimar, Schiller y Goethe. And they draw an artistic paradise. What in France has caused the revolution, is transformed in Germany into idealized dreams with the Ode to joy Schiller, he Götz von Berlichingen Goethe, and the construction of an ideal philosophy by Hegel. However, at the same time a fascinating exchange between France and Germany arises, when the defenders of bourgeois ideals, but also realists and convinced Catholics, distance themselves from the terror of Robespierre and the imperialism of Napoleon, and seek refuge in the ideals of Germany, although these do not crystallize in the social. Madame de Stael and Chateaubriand testify about this., laying the foundations of French Romanticism, which also includes, among others, to Victor Hugo, Theophile Gautier y Gerard de Nerval, translator of Splendor from Goethe to French. It is curious that the German romantics admired by the French were called "classics" by the Germans themselves..

At the time spanning from the Congress of Vienna to the revolution in Berlin and Dresden of 1848 Y 1849, German intellectuals develop their idea about the meaning of "national status" and the concept of "German people". Some of the most prominent personalities in this field are the brothers Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm, the authors of the short story collections, what in 1835 they publish German mythology in which Wagner will read the stories of Tannhäuser and Lohengrin. Along with five other teachers, the brothers Grimm belong to the university of Gottinga, and all of them will be sent into exile by King Ernst August I of Hanover, for demonstrating in favor of the abolition of the constitutional monarchy that has just been established.

Otherwise, neither do these revolutions triumph, and that will lead to the idea of ​​German imperialism under the aegis of Bismarck, supported by the so successful German industrialization and which is reaffirmed with the victory against Napoleon III in 1870. This hubris German later provoked the declaration of World War I, supported by all the German intellectuals of that time, including Thomas Mann and Arnold Schönberg. To put it briefly, the frustration that the defeat produced and the terms of the victory of the allies in the Pacts of Versailles were the breeding ground of National Socialism. This is the negative of the German ideals of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. And a pristine example of how dreams and utopias can be turned into the opposite if they are not integrated in a concrete way in the social structure.. Richard Wagner talks about it in the Ring of the Nibelungs, from Niebelheim through the Wallhalla to the decline of the world. Y Lohengrin results, precisely, its splendid prelude.

The exile of the Grimm brothers and their colleagues from the University of Gottinga is one of the many events leading up to the so-called rebellions in which Wagner will take part in Dresden., which will force him to suffer an exile for more than 10 years. By then I had already composed Tannhäuser Y Lohengrin, Y, in 1851, Franz Liszt will manage to premiere Lohengrin in Weimar. This fact, widely documented in the extensive correspondence on the matter between the two, it will cause great regret to Wagner, who dreamed of attending said premiere.

“Lohengrin it is an incredibly sad work "

This opera conquers all of Europe in a very short space of time, and even Verdi attend, fascinated and hidden in a box, the premiere in Bologna, directed by his friend Mariani. The reasons are in sight: from a musical point of view, sounds are heard hitherto unknown, both the prelude and the desecration of the gods by Ortrud and narration Grail of Lohengrin, and naturally one of the most complex choruses from Bach with the appearance Swan "ein Wunder, a wonder…". From the dramatic point of view, opera meets all the desires of the bourgeoisie then, Restoration disappointed by Metternich and the "juste milieu" of France; frustrated in his desire for a new world order, convinced of the special place of the artist but also his loneliness (Lohengrin), afflicted by melancholy arising from the frustration of unfulfilled utopia. And all this reflected in oversized forms and also used Meyerbeer, although this will fail to provide them with more than a similar efectismo the current Hollywood productions.

Lohengrin it is an incredibly sad work, because at first it promises the realization of a new world and end, as Elsa, We abandon us to our loneliness, because society could not find the courage to follow the requirement of the artist, Utopian messenger Grail castle: "No I never interrogate". Elsa wants to know instead of believing, and therefore it can not be released, while Lohengrin has to return to his ideal kingdom of the Grail castle alone ... as Wagner in exile.

Gerard Mortier