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ClassicsOnline Home » WAGNER, R.: Walkure (Die), Acts I and II (Ring Cycle 2) (Bruno Walter) (1938)
By Sebastian Spreng
El Nuevo Herald
Richard Wagner (1813-1883)
Richard Wagner began his great tetralogy Der Ring des
Nibelungen in 1848 and did not hear it performed in its entirety until 1876. At
first he envisaged a single music drama named Siegfrieds Tod, which eventually
became Götterdämmerung, but by 1851 he realised that he had the material for a
much larger project. Most of the libretto was written in 1851-52 and the
prologue, Das Rheingold, was composed in the following two years. Wagner then
busied himself with the composition of perhaps the finest segment of his epic,
Die Walküre, in 1854-56. Parts of the first and third acts were heard in
concert in Vienna on 26th December 1862, at the Theater an der Wien, and the
whole opera was performed for the first time on stage in Munich on 26th June
1870. Finally it was heard in its proper place, as the second evening of The
Ring, at the Festspielhaus in Bayreuth on 14th August 1876. It reached New York
in 1877 and London in 1882.
While it is occasionally possible to wince at the
pretentious quality of Wagner’s dialogue, and to wish that the poet in him had
been more self-critical and less long-winded, the musical and dramatic
importance of Die Walküre is so self-evident that it needs no justification
today. Drawing on the old Nordic and Teutonic myths, Wagner fashioned gods and
heroes who are all too human, so that it is impossible not to feel sympathy
with their dilemmas. Die Walküre deals with one of the deepest-seated social
taboos, incest, and presents us with one of the greatest tragic characters in
all Western drama, in the shape of the tortured god Wotan. As always with
Wagner, there are purple patches – the love duet of Act 1, Brünnhilde’s Battle
Cry, the Ride of the Valkyries, Wotan’s Farewell and the Magic Fire Music – and
yet the heart of Die Walküre is the most conversational and least sensational
section, Act 2. And the key to it is the impassioned argument between Wotan and
his wife Fricka. Not the least merit of this historic recording is that it
takes the second act so seriously. In addition the first act, almost a full
drama in itself, here receives by far its finest representation on record.
Even in acoustic days, HMV did its best to bring Die Walküre
to gramophone listeners. Extensive excerpts were recorded with such illustrious
Wagnerians as the conductor Albert Coates, the bass-baritone Clarence Whitehill
and the bass Robert Radford. With the coming of electrical recording in 1925,
more than two hours of the opera was recorded piecemeal in London and Berlin
with Göta Ljungberg as Sieglinde, Frida Leider as Brünnhilde, Emmi Leisner as
Fricka, Walter Widdop as Siegmund and Friedrich Schorr as Wotan. Some of those
excerpts, mostly conducted by Coates and Leo Blech, have still not been
surpassed. Nevertheless, by the early 1930s the electrical recording technique
had been further refined and it was hoped to record the whole of Die Walküre in
Berlin, with Bruno Walter conducting the State Opera Orchestra. We can guess at
the probable cast: Lotte Lehmann, Leider, Leisner, Lauritz Melchior, Schorr and
Emanuel List. But these plans were overtaken by political events. Early in 1933
the Nazis took power in Germany and Jewish artists such as Walter, Schorr and
List were immediately under threat. Walter was virtually railroaded out of
Berlin, his birthplace and the city where he had been educated; Schorr, already
a favourite in Britain and America, cut Germany from his schedule; and List was
dismissed from the Berlin State Opera. The location for the recordings was
shifted to Vienna, where Walter now had his main European base, and the Vienna
Philharmonic – then, as now, the world’s greatest orchestra – was retained. In
1935 the whole of Act 1 and parts of Act 2 were taken down.
Melchior and Lehmann managed to sound astonishingly
youthful, even though the soprano was in the 26th year of her operatic career;
and if List did not quite live up to his reputation, he gave a sterling
performance as Hunding, but logistical and budgetary problems made it difficult
to complete Act 2 – even in those days really good Wagner singers were not
numerous – and only in 1938 was the rest of it undertaken in Berlin, under the
vastly experienced leadership of Bruno Seidler-Winkler. We can see his hand in
the casting: he always had his ear to the ground and was able to engage a
first-rate group of young artists who probably cost HMV (through its affiliate
Electrola) relatively little. This was to be the only major studio project
involving Marta Fuchs, whose career was wrecked by the war; Margarete Klose was
an outstanding Fricka; Melchior, the finest Heldentenor of that or any time,
returned as Siegmund; and a controversial choice was made for Wotan. The
reigning exponent in Germany, with Schorr off the scene, was Rudolf Bockelmann,
but Seidler-Winkler chose Hans Hotter, a gentle giant from the Bavarian State
Opera who had not yet sung the rôle on stage. Hotter was to be the leading
Wotan of the next two decades and it is fascinating to hear his interpretation
in embryo. Acts 1 and 2 were made available as separate sets on the premium red
label, whereas the piecemeal abridged 1920s set had been put out on the cheaper
black label. A complete Act 3 was not available until 1945, when American
Columbia issued it with Artur Rodzinski conducting.
Bruno Seidler-Winkler (1880-1960) was born in Berlin,
studied the piano at the Stern Conservatory there with Ernst Jedliczka and
became a child prodigy. He was also a member of the Domchor and played the
violin well enough to lead a theatre orchestra. He was recording for Deutsche
Grammophon by the turn of the century and was the company’s pioneering musical
director, making sets of Die Fledermaus and Carmen in 1908. He conducted in
Chicago from 1923 to 1925 and was in charge of the Berlin Radio Orchestra from
1925 to 1933. After that he taught at the Berlin Hochschule. From 1935 to 1944
Seidler-Winkler recorded extensively for Electrola as conductor and accompanist
– his series of Lieder with Karl Erb was particularly successful. He can also
be heard on record accompanying the violinists Adolf Busch and Ginette Neveu.
Lotte Lehmann (1888-1976) was born in Perleberg and studied
in Berlin with a variety of teachers including Mathilde Mallinger. From 1909
she sang at the Stadttheater in Hamburg and from 1914 she was associated with
the Vienna Court/State Opera, where she won particular acclaim in the operas of
Richard Strauss, taking part in the premières of Ariadne auf Naxos (revised
version, 1916) and Die Frau ohne Schatten (1919). In 1924 she was in the
première of Intermezzo in Dresden, and from that year she was a regular guest
at Covent Garden, famed for her Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier. In 1930 she
made her American début in Chicago and from 1934 she was at the Metropolitan in
New York. After the Anschluss in 1938 she moved to America. Her operatic repertoire
was wide, taking in both lyric and dramatic rôles, and in later years she
acquired a reputation as a Lieder singer, continuing as a recitalist for six
years after her last appearance at the Met in 1945. She wrote a number of
books, including a novel, and after her retirement was famed as a teacher. Her
warm, distinctive tone can be heard on a myriad of records, including an
abridged set of Der Rosenkavalier.
Marta Fuchs (1898-1974) was born in Stuttgart and studied
there as well as in Munich and Milan. She started as a mezzo-soprano and sang
in the concert hall until 1928, when she made her operatic début at Aachen. In
1930 Fritz Busch engaged her for the Saxon State Opera in Dresden, where she
moved up to become one of Germany’s leading dramatic sopranos, singing at
Bayreuth from 1933 to 1942. From 1935 she also sang at the Berlin State Opera.
In 1936 she visited London with the Dresden company and she made guest
appearances in Amsterdam and Paris. After the war she returned to Stuttgart to
live, making occasional operatic appearances there until 1952. She made
relatively few records but can be heard on some radio recordings.
Margarete Klose (1899-1968), whose real first name was
Frida, studied in her native Berlin, first at the Klindworth-Scharwenka
Conservatory and then with her future husband Walter Bültemann. She made a late
début at Ulm in 1927 and progressed through Kassel and Mannheim to reach the
Berlin State Opera in 1931, remaining there until 1961 apart from the years
1949-55 when she was at the Municipal Opera. She made guest appearances in
Paris, London, Vienna, Rome and Milan but did not sing in America until the
1950s. She sang at Bayreuth from 1936 to 1942. Regarded as one of the foremost
mezzo-sopranos of her time, she recorded for a variety of labels and appeared
on a number of complete opera sets.
Lauritz Melchior (1890-1973) was a boy chorister and made
his adult début in his native Copenhagen in 1913, as a baritone. Madame Charles
Cahier later suggested that he was really a tenor and in 1917 he began to study
again with the tenor Vilhelm Herold, making a new début as Tannhäuser the
following year. Further studies with various teachers followed before he made a
sensational Covent Garden début in 1924. From then on he appeared virtually
every year in London and was regarded as the finest Wagnerian tenor of his era,
although he also sang Italian rôles such as Radames and Otello. From 1924 to
1931 he sang at Bayreuth and from 1926 at the Metropolitan in New York, where
he remained until 1950. A huge, jolly man, he was in demand all over Europe up
to World War II but then settled in America. He appeared in films and musicals
as well as opera and made a vast number of records.
Hans Hotter (born 1909) comes from Offenbach. He studied at
the Hochschule in Munich with a view to becoming an organist and choirmaster,
but from 1929 he pursued a career as a concert singer and from 1930 combined it
with an operatic career, progressing through Troppau (now Opava), Prague and
Hamburg to reach the Bavarian State Opera in Munich in 1937. He was to be a
valued member of the company for 35 years but after the war he had a truly
international career, especially in the great Wagnerian bass-baritone rôles,
appearing many times at Bayreuth. From 1961 he worked as an opera producer,
while continuing his singing career until 1985. He has a large number of
recordings to his credit, including the first complete studio Ring under Solti
and many superb Lieder performances, as well as a memorable account of Bach’s Cantata
Emanuel List (1888-1967), whose real name was Fleissig, was
Viennese. He trained as a tailor but sang in choirs and in a vocal quartet
which toured as far as Australasia. In 1914, after appearing in a variety show
in London, he moved to New York, gaining experience in the Yiddish theatres
there. In 1921 he returned to Vienna and began singing in opera at the
Volksoper, but from 1923 he made his career in Berlin, first at the Municipal
Opera and then at the State Opera. In the 1930s he commuted between Europe and
America, and from 1933 to 1950 was a member of the Metropolitan company in New
York. He then returned to the Municipal Opera in Berlin until 1952, when he
retired to his native city.
Bruno Walter (1876-1962) was a Berliner, trained at the
Stern Conservatory. Equally at home in the opera house, in the concert hall or
at the piano, he was a protégé of Gustav Mahler and a propagandist for Mahler’s
works. In his heyday this great humanist was second only to Toscanini as a
box-office draw. He spent his last years in America. His Walküre performance is
especially valued because he left so few opera recordings.
the Prelude thunder is heard and through it occasional horn-calls. The storm is
coming to an end as the curtain rises.
scene is Hunding’s house, built around an ash-tree. Siegmund, the son of Wotan,
comes in, exhausted and drops down by the hearth. Sieglinde enters from an
inner room and is surprised to see a stranger. He does not answer her question
but asks for water. He drinks and looks fixedly at her, seeking to know who she
is. She tells him that she is the wife of Hunding and soon he forgets the
battle from which he has escaped, weary and weaponless, but unscathed. He
drinks the mead she offers him and soon he finds himself strangely attracted by
himself the bearer of ill-fortune, he makes to leave, but Sieglinde prevents
him, telling him of her own unhappy life.
they gaze at each other, Hunding returns. Sieglinde explains the stranger’s
presence and Hunding offers the stranger the traditional hospitality. As they
sit down to eat, Hunding notices the likeness between Siegmund and Sieglinde.
reply to Hunding’s questions Siegmund tells him that his name is Woeful
(Wehwalt) and explains how he used to wander through the woods with his father,
whom he calls Wolfe: his mother had been killed, his twin sister abducted and
finally his father had gone away.
tells of his continuing misfortune and how his recent attempt to help a maiden
had ended in disaster.
tells him that the battle in which he has been involved was one that his own
kinsmen were concerned in and that he will avenge them the following day. He
sends Sieglinde to prepare his drink, but as she goes she directs Siegmund’s
gaze towards the ash-tree. Hunding follows his wife, taking his weapons.
has no weapon, but his father had promised him one in time of need. He cries
out ‘Wälse’, his father’s name, as far as he knows it, and sees light shining
from the ash-tree. The fire dies down and Siegmund is left in darkness.
returns. She has drugged her husband and shows Siegmund a sword, embedded in
the ash-tree. She tells him how the kinsmen had gathered there for a feast,
when an old man had come in. He looked angrily, with his one eye, at the men
there, but smiled at her, plunging his sword into the tree for the use of the
one who could remove it. No-one succeeded, and Sieglinde realised who the old
man was, and now hopes that Siegmund will be the one to take the sword and
avenge her. They embrace.
door opens and they are seen in the moonlight: winter has gone and spring has
come, to join with love.
Sieglinde Siegmund is spring and light and love. They declare their love for
each other, and Sieglinde notices that Siegmund seems like her own reflection,
his voice an echo of hers and his eyes like her father’s. She asks him his real
name and that of his father.
tells her his real name and that of his father. To prove his identity he grasps
the sword, which he names Nothung (Need) and pulls it out from the tree. With
the sword as a bridal gift, he wants to take her away at once, but she now
reveals her own name and tells him that she is his twin sister. Siegmund takes
her in his arms in delight.
of the sword, love and rapture are heard in the Prelude.
standing on a rocky outcrop, commands his daughter Brünnhilde to ensure
Siegmund’s victory over Hunding. As she goes, Brünnhilde tells Wotan of the
approach of his wife, Fricka.
is angry. Hunding has sought her help as the guardian of marriage and this she
has promised him, with vengeance on the Volsungs. Wotan proposes that the
Volsungs, Siegmund and Sieglinde, should be allowed their way, even if they are
brother and sister, a happier union than that of Sieglinde and Hunding.
denounces Wotan, accusing him of setting all divine laws at nothing after
begetting the Volsungs. The Valkyries that he had begotten were bad enough, but
the Volsungs are mere mortals.
tells her that he needs a hero free from the gods and the laws of the gods to
accomplish his ends, which he himself cannot undertake, by the terms of his
oath. Fricka argues that Siegmund is not independent, as Wotan has given him a
insists that he stop trying to protect Siegmund, that he cast aside Brünnhilde
and undo the magic power of the sword.
is forced to agree to the death of Siegmund, to protect Fricka’s honour, as
Brünnhilde is heard returning.
asks Wotan what he wants her to do.
complains of his powerlessness and predicament. Brünnhilde seeks to know the
cause of his sorrow.
tells her how he had wanted power and love and how Alberich, wanting only
power, had made the ring. Wotan had stolen it and used it to pay those who
built Valhalla. Erda had warned him not to keep the ring, and foretold the end
of the gods. He had followed her deep into the earth and compelled her, by
magic, to give him her knowledge. She bore him nine daughters, the Valkyries,
who bring together the bodies of fallen heroes to defend Valhalla. Erda,
however, had foreseen danger, if Alberich were to recover the ring. Wotan,
bound by his oath, cannot take the ring back himself, but needs the help of a
free hero, who, in spite of the gods, can recover the ring for him.
Nevertheless he has proved impotent, as Fricka has shown, with Siegmund
dependent on him for protection but now to be abandoned. He wants an end, when
Alberich has a son. Now a woman is bearing Alberich a child.
let the Nibelung’s son take Valhalla and rule over it. Brünnhilde asks what he
wants her to do. He tells her that, thanks to Fricka, she must see that
Siegmund is defeated. He storms out, leaving Brünnhilde stupefied at his
command. She draws back into a cave, as Siegmund and Sieglinde draw near.
tries to calm Sieglinde, who feels guilt at her conduct. He promises to put an
end to her shame by killing Hunding, whose horn can be heard far off.
urges him to escape, imagining Siegmund’s fate, torn in pieces by Hunding’s
hears the sound of Hunding’s horn and falls, fainting. Siegmund sits,
supporting her head.
emerges from the cave, leading her horse, and tells Siegmund that he will die,
his body to be taken by her to Valhalla, to be with gods and heroes, and with
his father Wotan and his daughters.
will not leave Sieglinde, but Brünnhilde tells him that he will be killed by
Hunding. This he refuses to believe, but she tells him that his sword is now
powerless. He inveighs against the maker of the sword and makes to kill
Sieglinde, but Brünnhilde stops him, promising to change the outcome of the
battle, as she goes.
scene grows dark with thunderclouds. Siegmund looks at Sieglinde, now sleeping
peacefully, kisses her and draws his sword, hurrying away to encounter Hunding.
Sieglinde wakes and calls in fear for Siegmund.
is heard calling for Siegmund, whom he knows as Wehwalt. The men meet in
combat, but Brünnhilde appears, guarding Siegmund with her shield. At this
point Wotan is seen over Hunding, and Siegmund’s sword breaks against Wotan’s
spear. Brünnhilde withdraws in fear and Hunding kills Siegmund. At this
Brünnhilde takes Sieglinde onto her horse and rides away with her.
the command of Wotan Hunding falls dead. In anger Wotan storms out, ready to
deal with Brünnhilde.
The sources for the present transfers were U.S. Victor discs
from the 1930s, the most quiet pressings on which these recordings were
available. The best portions of the best sides from four “Z”-type shellac
pressings were used for Act I, while Act II came from three “Gold” label copies
(its earliest form of issue in America).
The original recordings were quite well engineered for their
time, but their reissue history has had mixed results. A recent, much-acclaimed
restoration of Act I was pitched a semitone sharp and did not join several of
the sides correctly, while EMI’s transfer of Act II cut music from the original
recording in order to squeeze it onto a single CD. For these transfers, I have
taken care to pitch each side accurately (the Vienna sides were recorded at a
notably lower speed than the Berlin sides), and Act II is presented complete as
recorded, with the small cuts in Wotan’s narrative and the Todesverkündingung
scene that were present on the original release.
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WAGNER, R.: Walkure (Die), Acts I and II (Ring Cyc...