Thursday, May 26, 2011

Studies for Tristan and "Studies for Tristan"

The Wesendonck Songs are a collection of five songs, or a song cycle, composed by Richard Wagner while he was working on Die Walküre.

The cycle is a setting of poems by Mathilde Wesendonck, the wife of one of Wagner's patrons. Wagner had become acquainted with Otto Wesendonck in Zurich, where he had fled on his escape from Saxony after the May Uprising in Dresden in 1849. For a time Wagner and his wife Minna lived together in the Asyl (German for Asylum), a small cottage on the Wesendonck estate.

It is sometimes claimed that Wagner and Mathilde had a love affair; in any case, the situation and mutual infatuation certainly contributed to the intensity of the first act of Die Walküre which Wagner was working on at the time, and the conceiving of Tristan und Isolde; there is certainly an influence on Mathilde's poems as well.

The poems themselves are in a wistful, pathos-laden style influenced by Wilhelm Müller, the author of the poems used by Schubert earlier in the century. But the language is more rarefied and intense as the Romantic style had developed.

Wagner himself called two of the songs in the cycle "studies" for Tristan und Isolde, using for the first-time musical ideas that are later developed in the opera. In Träume can be heard the roots of the love duet in Act 2, while Im Treibhaus (the last of the five to be composed) uses music later developed extensively for the Prelude to Act 3. The chromatic-harmonic style of Tristan pervades all five songs and pulls the cycle together.

An earlier post in this blog presents a letter dated April 12, 1993 I wrote to my then treating psychiatrist Suzanne M. Pitts, M.D.  The letter discusses employment problems I experienced at the law firm of Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld where I worked from 1988-1991.  The letter is unusual in structure.  A collection of incidents and the writer's subjective impressions of those incidents are discussed from different perspectives.  I will not give a detailed description of the letter in this post; the full flavor of the letter can be obtained by accessing the full text of the letter itself.

What intrigues me is the extent to which the letter dated April 12, 1993 may have been an unintended study for a later letter I submitted to Dr. Pitts about three weeks later, on May 3, 1993.  The document I submitted to Dr. Pitts on May 3 is the first draft of a writing that was subsequently transformed into my book Significant Moments.

The completed version of Significant Moments itself has an unusual structure.  The book presents events (and metaphors for those events) from the perspective of different participants in the events.  The book includes a section about Wagner's composition of the Wesendonk Songs, which is perhaps autobiographical.  Just as, for Wagner, the Wesendonk Songs were a study for Tristan, my letter to Dr. Pitts about my employment problems dated April 12, 1993 was perhaps a study for Significant Moments.  Apparently, I needed to write the April 1993 letter to work out problems of narration and structure before I could tackle the immensely more complex book, Significant Moments.

Going a step further, perhaps my employment problems at Akin Gump during the entirety of my tenure -- as well as the subsequent litigation concerning my job termination -- reflected my need to experience (or re-experience) certain difficulties as a necessary preparation for writing my book Significant Moments.  For the artist, life is simply a study for his later creative transformation: the completed work of art.  One interpretation of George Steiner's novel The Portage to San Cristobal of A.H. is that the Jews needed to experience the Holocaust in order to found the State of Israel.  I needed to experience Akin Gump before I could write Significant Moments.


Gary Freedman said...

And to think I was able to get the federal government to pay for the whole thing!!

Gary Freedman said...

Wagner had his royal patron, King Ludwig II of Bavaria and I have the U.S. Social Security Administration.

Gary Freedman said...

The temporary agency could have sent me anywhere in 1988, but it sent me to Akin Gump.