Siegfried Idyll, a symphonic poem for chamber orchestra

Lucerne in Switzerland is an important place in the life of RICHARD WAGNER. It was at Villa Tribschen on the shores of the lake at the foot of the Alps, where the composer lived between 1866 and 1872, that the most important events in his career took place. There his second child was born and there in 1870 he married Cosima Liszt-Fon Bülow. There he completed The Master-Singers of Nuremberg, wrote the Siegfried-Idyll, which he presented Cosima for her 33rd birthday. The original score of the Ring of the Nibelungs is preserved there, and his essay Das Judenthum in der Musik” was first published under his own name (rather than a pseudonym). His personal Parisian grand piano, the Erar, is preserved in the Villa Tribchen, converted into the composer’s home museum. This period of Wagner’s life was probably the happiest – after he put aside the hardships of the past and devoted himself to creativity and family happiness. The Ring of the Nibelungs tetralogy re-creates ancient Germanic legends of gods and heroes. The opera Siegfried is the third part of the tetralogy and Wagner named his only son after the hero. The premiere of Siegfried-idyll on December 25th  1870 was also dedicated to Cosima. At the beginning of the score, Wagner inscribed his address to her as follows:

When you sacrifice yourself

In the family circle, letting the martyr catch his breath,

Then inspiration to the soul flew,

The world of heroes spread

And became near and dear to us.

All that the dust of ages enveloped with a veil.

And suddenly there was a voice full of happiness:

– A son is born! it must be Siegfried.

You and your son in sounds I have glorified, –

Is there a better reward on earth?

But silent joy, like that in “Idyll”-,

We kept jealously to ourselves.

But now let it sound triumphant

For all friends, treated always with love;

And let him, appreciating the two named Siegfried

Taste the world of sounds, to thee dedicated.

(free translation by M. B.)

The Siegfried-idyll poem was written for chamber orchestra. The main material is from the opera’s finale, namely the love duet of the young hero Siegfried, raised in the most secluded woods and awakened from his magical sleep thanks to Brünnhilde. In the music, Wagner strictly adheres to his leitmotif technique, saturating the texture with various musical signs and symbols: the poem opens with a lullaby whose theme is Brünnhilde’s love song, accompanied by the motif of sleep. Siegfried’s theme appears, conveying the character’s purity of soul, combined with the motif of love. In the texture, the composer encrusts motifs-imitations of birdsong, bell ringing, a forest horn; the lullaby and the dream motif are repeated. In the very finale Siegfried’s gentle theme modulates into Brünnhilde’s theme.

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