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The opera-based fantasy for the piano flourished during much of the 19th century. In an era when operatic music had a strong and immediate popular appeal, as well as an aura of glamour, yet was not generally accessible to a large part of the musical public, it is not surprising that alternative means were derived for its dissemination, mostly through the most popular domestic instrument. The repertory of operatic adaptations, of one kind or another, was very large, and used not only for domestic music-making but also at concerts by virtuoso pianists.

The simplest form of piano music derived from opera is seen in the variations composed during the Classical era, for example those by Mozart on opera themes by Salieri, Paisiello, Gluck and others, or by Beethoven on themes by Dittersdorf, Grétry, Salieri and others. Chopin continued this tradition in his variations on ‘Là ci darem la mano’ from ...

Article

Hans Joachim Marx

(bc 1700; d after 1735). German soprano . She is first mentioned as singing in Brunswick in 1717, in G. C. Schürmann’s Telemachus und Calypso. She is noted in Willers’s theatrical register of 8 April 1720: ‘there was no opera, because the Eisentraut would not sing for the year for 300 Reichsthalers’; presumably she was in Hamburg from 1717 to 1720, and refused to sing because of the devaluation of money at the time. In 1730 she sang in Telemann’s Das neu-beglückte Sachsen at the Gänsemarkt Opera. After another refusal to appear on 19 November 1731, she disappears from the records until the beginning of 1733, when she sang in operas by Telemann and Keiser. On 22 November 1733 Willers notes that ‘an infamous lampoon on the Eisentraut’ had been published, which ‘very much distressed her’. She last sang at the Gänsemarkt Opera in 1735; there is no record of her thereafter....

Article

Brian Trowell

The verbal text of an opera. For discussion of the printed wordbook, see Libretto.

The term ‘libretto’ has been extended from its literal meaning of ‘small book’ to denote the literary content of an opera, not merely its separate physical existence. The sung text will also appear in the musical score, though the visual layout of verse forms and poetic lineation will there vanish, and scene descriptions and stage directions will often be omitted or shortened. Score and wordbook together form a blueprint for theatrical performance, where the words will (one hopes) be heard, as song, as recitative, or in some forms of opera as speech, and the other arts prescribed or implicit in the libretto will be realized as acting, movement in space, dance, decor (including machines), lighting and costume. It is evident that ‘literary content’ is an insufficient description, for the libretto, unlike the play text, is only part of the blueprint. With these cautions in mind the libretto, like the play text, may be discussed as literature....

Article

Bryan Gilliam and Charles Youmans

(Georg)

(b Munich, June 11, 1864; d Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Sept 8, 1949). German composer and conductor. He emerged soon after the deaths of Wagner and Brahms as the most important living German composer. During an artistic career which spanned nearly eight decades, he composed in virtually all musical genres, but became best known for his tone poems (composed during the closing years of the 19th century) and his operas (from the early decades of the 20th). Coming of age as a composer at a time when the duality of bourgeois and artist had become increasingly problematic, Strauss negotiated the worlds of art and society with a remarkable combination of candour and irony. Averse to the metaphysics of Wagner and indifferent to Mahler's philosophical intentions in music, Strauss exploited instead the paradoxes, inconsistencies and potential profundities to be found in modern, everyday life. The new possibilities he envisioned for music were exemplified in the eclecticism of the opera ...

Article

Roger Parker

(Fortunino Francesco )

(b Roncole, nr Busseto, 9/Oct 10, 1813; d Milan, Jan 27, 1901). Italian composer. By common consent he is recognized as the greatest Italian musical dramatist.

A month after Verdi's death, a solemn procession through Milan accompanied by hundreds of thousands of mourners assisted the transfer of his remains to their final resting place. The procession was sent on its way by a rendition of ‘Va pensiero’, the chorus of Hebrew slaves from one of Verdi's earliest operas, Nabucco.

It is easy to see why this event has captured the imagination and assumed significance. By the time of his death, Verdi had established a unique position among his fellow countrymen: although many of his operas had disappeared from the repertory, he had nevertheless become a profound artistic symbol of the nation's achievement of statehood. Parts of his operatic legacy had entered into a kind of empyrean, divorced from the checks and balances of context and passing fashion. The fact that ‘Va pensiero’, written some 60 years earlier, could express contemporary Italians' feelings for their departed hero demonstrated the extent to which Verdi's music had been assimilated into the national consciousness....

Article

Jeremy Hayes, Bruce Alan Brown, Max Loppert and Winton Dean

(b Erasbach, nr Berching, Upper Palatinate, July 2, 1714; d Vienna, Nov 15, 1787). Bohemian-Austrian composer of Italian and French opera, a leading figure in opera of the second half of the 18th century, and the person chiefly credited with the ‘reform’ of opera after the age of Metastasian opera seria.

Jeremy Hayes

Gluck’s interest in music was evident from an early age. He studied the violin, the cello and singing, but his father was opposed to his becoming a professional musician and wanted him to follow his own career as a forester. To escape this, Gluck ran away from home at the age of 13 or 14 and went to Prague, earning his living on the way by singing and playing the jew’s harp (as he later told the painter Christian von Mannlich). Although he was involved in a great deal of music-making in the Bohemian capital, and for a time was organist at the Tyn Church, he does not appear to have received any systematic musical education there and was largely self-taught. An early influence must have been the Prague opera house, where Italian opera was popular: Vivaldi, Albinoni and Lolli were among the composers whose works were most often performed there in the first half of the 18th century....

Article

Barry Millington, John Deathridge, Carl Dahlhaus and Robert Bailey

Member of Wagner family

(b Leipzig, May 22, 1813; d Venice, Feb 13, 1883). Composer. One of the key figures in the history of opera, Wagner was largely responsible for altering its orientation in the 19th century. His programme of artistic reform, though not executed to the last detail, accelerated the trend towards organically conceived, through-composed structures, as well as influencing the development of the orchestra, of a new breed of singer, and of various aspects of theatrical practice.

It is both fitting and psychologically congruous that a question mark should hover over the identity of the father and mother of the composer whose works resonate so eloquently with themes of parental anxiety. Richard Wagner’s ‘official’ father was the police actuary Carl Friedrich Wagner, but the boy’s adoptive father, the actor-painter Ludwig Geyer, who took responsibility for the child on Carl Friedrich’s death in November 1813, may possibly have been the real father. Wagner himself was never sure, though any concern he may have had about Geyer’s supposed Jewish origins would have been misplaced: Geyer was of incontrovertibly Protestant stock. Recent research has further established that Wagner’s mother Johanna was not the illegitimate daughter of Prince Constantin of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, as previously believed, but his mistress (Gregor-Dellin, ...