Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde

On June 10, 1865, Richard Wagner’s “plot in three acts” Tristan und Isolde was premiered at the National Theatre in Munich. After previous attempts to stage the work failed at several opera houses – including the Vienna Court Opera after nearly 80 rehearsals – the unconditional support of Ludwig II in Munich finally made the project possible. The myth about the unperformability of this opera was nevertheless perpetuated after the premiere Tristan Ludwig Schnorr von Carolsfeld died at the age of 29 only a few weeks after the first performances. Conductors Felix Mottl and Josef Keilberth also suffered breakdowns while conducting Tristan in Munich, leading to the deaths of both. To this day, Tristan und Isolde is a risk for every theatre – because of the immense musical demands on the performers (especially in the title roles), but also because of the outward lack of action with all the more existential themes that are dealt with in the opera. The longing for death of the two lovers pervades all three acts, until the ambivalent harmonic course of the music is resolved with Isolde’s transfiguration at the end. The “Tristan chord” with which the musical prelude begins advanced in music history to become a tonal cipher for a modern tonal language that would culminate in the atonality of the 20th century.

Photo credit: Joseph Albert: Ludwig and Malwine Schnorr von Carolsfeld as “Tristan und Isolde” in the Munich premiere, 1865, Munich, State Administration of Palaces.,_1865e.jpg#/media/Datei:Joseph_Albert_-_Ludwig_und_Malwine_Schnorr_von_Carolsfeld_-_Tristan_und_Isolde,_1865e.jpg