Overture from Opera "The Master-Singers of Nuremberg"

The Master-Singers of Nuremberg is Wagner’s only “light” opera. For the first time in his oevre, the great creator of fantastic stories situated the action behind the city walls and was transported from the magical world of nature to the world of bourgeois attitudes, which laid the foundations for working class relations. Wagner originally conceived the idea of a comic opera in 1845. The idea was prompted by the then just-completed Tannhäuser – it was to be a kind of comedy parallel to the Wartburg singing competition. At the centre of both works – Tannhäuser and Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg – lay a singing tournament with the hand of a beautiful maiden as the prize for the winner. But if in Tannhäuser the love of the beauty is fought for by knights-minesingers, in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg these are the common citizens-craftsmen, “masters of singing”.

The plot of the Meister -Singers remained unused for almost 16 years, during which Wagner completed and staged Das Rheingold, Die Walküre and Tristan und Isolde. It was not until December 1861 that the composer turned to it again and began work on the opera, which was completed in October 1867. The work was premiered on June 21st , 1868 in the hospitable theatre of Munich.

The MasterSingers of Nuremberg is the only one of Wagner’s mature operas written on a historical-biographical subject. The colourful pictures of the medieval city, its peculiar life and customs, occupy a large place in it. The relations between the actors unfold against a broad, picturesque folk background. The choral music is striking for its powerful sound and polyphonic richness. They embody the strength of the people, their optimism and spiritual health. The music of the Meistersingers is close to German folklore: such are the three songs of Walter, the song of Zaks about the shoemaker angel, the song of David and the choir of the sellers.

The small symphonic prelude juxtaposes two sets of musical themes: solemn, stately melodies associated with the image of folk life, and the bright, gusty motifs that paint the world of Walter and Eva’s lyrical experiences. Wagner was clearly being modest in calling his musical thoughts, as set out in the opera’s introduction, simply a Vorspiel (prelude) – equating them, for example, with Chopin’s short, one-dimensional pieces. The very first theme is that of  Die Meistersingers, the 16th -century singers’ guild, and its affiliate in Nuremberg. Following this theme, one after the other, follow the main themes of the opera: the theme of passion, the song of reward, the theme of loving recognition, the art of fraternity, ironic mockery, and others that have received the characteristics of leit-motifs in the construction of the opera. In the course of developing the musical material, Wagner with extraordinary skill joined two, three, and once even four themes. At the recapitulation of the opening theme a grand climax occurs, and the overture moves immediately into the first act. Wagner subsequently made his own revision of the prelude, which was intended for concert performance. It becomes a complete finished work as such.

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