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ClassicsOnline Home » WAGNER, R.: Polonia / Rule Britannia / Marches
Centennial March (Grosser Festmarsch)
was born in Leipzig in 1813, the acknowledged son of a Government official Carl
Friedrich Wagner, and his wife Joanna, but apparently fathered in fact by the
actor Ludwig Geyer, who was to marry Joanna after Carl Friedrich's death.
education was an intermittent one, much of it in Dresden, where he fell under
the spell of Weber and Der Freischütz, the first great German romantic opera.
Returning to Leipzig he was to profit more from contact with his uncle Adolf, a
widely read scholar, with a knowledge of Greek tragedy, as well as of the
classics of Italy, the works of Shakespeare, and, of course, of the literature
of his own country.
Wagner took the opportunity of furthering his own interests in music,
stimulated by the performances of the famous Gewandhaus Orchestra and
Beethoven's opera Fidelio, which he heard in 1829. He borrowed books from the
music lending-library of Robert Schumann's future teacher and father-in-law,
Friedrich Wieck, and to ok private music lessons at the Thomasschule, where
J.S. Bach had been employed a century earlier.
The later career
of Wagner was a turbulent one. His income never matched his ambitions, and he
was driven on by an aggressive and ruthless urge to create a new form of music,
the music of the future, particularly in the conjunction of all arts in a
series of great music dramas. He worked first as conductor at the
undistinguished opera-house in Magdeburg, married a singer, Minna Planer, moved
to Königsberg and later to Riga. From there, pursued by creditors, he sailed
for England, and thence, a week later, to Paris, where success continued to
finally to come from his native Saxony, with a production of the opera Rienzi
in Dresden and an official appointment to the royal court. His own tactless
espousal of revolutionary notions led to his flight from Saxony in 1849, at
first to Liszt in Weimar, and then to Switzerland. Further troubles were to
follow as the result of the political suspicions he had aroused, the constant
attention of creditors and his selfish unscrupulousness in his relations with
later afforded by King Ludwig II of Bavaria allowed some respite from
difficulties, but his liaison with Liszt's daughter Cosima, wife of the
Bavarian court conductor Hans von Bülow, and his unpopularity in Munich led to
a further period of exile in Switzerland. His final relative triumph in the
establishment of a Festival devoted to his work in Bayreuth was accomplished
again with the encouragement of King Ludwig. The first Festival took place in
1876, but did nothing to reduce his increasing personal debts.
during the course of a visit to Venice in 1883. In his life-time he had
inspired equally fanatical devotion and hatred, both of which continued after
his death. His principal achievement must be seen in the creation of massive
and stupendous masterpieces for the theatre, such as his German epic cycle The
Ring of the Nibelungen, and his expansion of traditional harmonic and
constructional devices in music.
Overtures and Marches recorded here, Rule Britannia, the American Centennial
March, the Imperial March and Polonia are not, of course among his greatest
works. Their interest must lie in good part in their rarity, the occasional
compositions of a musician whose principal achievements lay elsewhere.
was written in 1836, when Wagner was in Königsberg, awaiting the departure of
the opera-house conductor Ludwig Schuberth, who had been appointed to a
position at Riga, but was reluctant to leave. Wagner's position in the town was
due to the agency of his newly married wife, Minna, who enjoyed some reputation
as a singer and actress, yet Königsberg brought no security. His debts
increased, while creditors from Magdeburg, where he had been working, were to
pursue him. With his usual optimism, Wagner sent the Overture to Sir George
Smart, president of the Royal Philharmonic Society in London, an important
conductor and promoter of contemporary music, but with no apparent result.
Arne's original composition, described in a hand-bill as "a favourable Ode
in honour of Great Britain", was written as part of his masque Alfred,
devised in 1740 to celebrate the accession of George I to the English throne 25
years before. Wagner arranges the relatively simple patriotic melody for a
large orchestra, piccolos, flutes, oboes, clarinets in F and C, bassoons,
double bassoon, four horns, four trumpets, three trombones, ophicleide,
percussion and strings. These enormous forces embark at first on a grandiose
opening, based on the first bar of the original song. The melody is later
treated more fully, accompanied by the excitement of the kind of scale passages
later found in overtures such as that to The Mastersingers, all leading to a
final re-statement of the patriotic theme.
Centennial March was written forty years later, in 1876, commissioned by
Philadelphia, for a generous fee of five thousand dollars. Its composition
coincided with work on his last music drama, Parsifal, and Wagner remarked that
his Teutonic Flower Maidens seemed to want to become American. Once again a
large orchestra is called for, and the composer shows his mastery of scoring,
even in a work of such an occasional nature, the relatively simple thematic
material manipulated to the greatest effect.
Polonia was written by Wagner earlier in the year that saw the Overture Rule
Britannia. His opera Liebesverbot, based on Shakespeare's Measure for Measure,
had proved a disaster in Magdeburg, and he had resolved to follow his mistress
Minna Planer, the singer who was to become his first wife, to Königsberg.
Staying in Berlin, under the protection of Heinrich Laube, he made use of
material conceived after a night of drinking with exiles from Poland in his
native Leipzig some years before.
a large orchestra. A slow introduction, interrupted by hints of what is to
come, leads to the faster section, an extended sequence introducing a patriotic
Polish song. The Overture follows the general tripartite construction of sonata
form, with the unexpected interpolation of a Polish dance before the concluding
The project of
the Kaisermarsch might have seemed much nearer Wagner's heart, although its
composition might have been regarded by some as political opportunism. In
January 1871 Wilhelm of Prussia became Emperor of the united German Reich, and
it was time for Wagner to make clear his loyalty to the new power, while
wasting as little time as possible on his patron, King Ludwig of Bavaria, whose
star was waning. Wagner's original intention had been to write a Symphony of
Mourning for the Fallen, but this did not accord with the designs of the Berlin
government, which were to emphasise the triumphs of victory rather than any
such loss. His Kaisermarsch was finally intended as a march for the imperial
coronation, and possibly as the source of a national anthem, with its closing
choral praise of the Emperor, Heil, Heil dem Kaiser! König Wilhelm! Aller
Deutschen Hort und Freiheitswehr! The March brought Wagner national tame, but
circumstances later induced a further sudden shift of principle, when he had
resort once again to his old patron Ludwig of Bavaria for opportune financial
forces are employed, offering music that must chiefly be of interest for its
political purpose, although generally superior to the earlier King Ludwig
March. Much ado is made about relatively few musical ideas, the final anthem
setting forming the basis of the whole work.
The Hong Kong
The Hong Kong
Philharmonic Orchestra, the successor to a long series of amateur orchestras in
the territory, became professional in 1974, and now employs some 90 full-time
musicians recruited from various parts of the world. Its activities centre on
an annual subscription series in the new Cultural Centre Concert Hall in Hong Kong.
Its concerts feature soloists and guest conductors of great distinction.
The Hong Kong
Philharmonic Orchestra has toured abroad, playing at the Osaka Festival, in
Malaysia, in China, at the 1986 Asian Games in South Korea, and most recently
in Tokyo and elsewhere in Japan.
was born in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1945 as the son of a professional jazz
clarinettist, and began to study the violin at the age of eight. After seven
months of study, he gave a recital that came to the attention of the President
of Lebanon, who decided to send the talented youngster to Paris to study at
distinguished himself at a very young age as an outstanding violinist and not
long thereafter as a conductor. Graduating from the Paris Conservatoire at the
age of thirteen with a first prize in violin, he went to the United States to
study with Ivan Galamian at the Curtis Institute of Music. Later, as one of 280
violin students to audition for Jascha Heifetz's master classes, he was one of
After four years
of study with Heifetz, Zubin Mehta offered the 19-year-ofd Kojian the post of
assistant concert-master of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. While serving in this
capacity, he became interested in conducting and began the serious study of the
baton. For practical experience, he formed an orchestra of his own, later
becoming musical director of the Beverly Hills Orchestra. In 1970, w hen the
Los Angeles Philharmonic was searching for an assistant conductor, Zubin Mehta
asked for Varujan Kojian.
year he moved to Vienna to study with Hans Swarowsky. Four months later, he was
appointed Swarowsky's assistant, going on to complete the maestro's four-year
course in nine months of intensive study.
added to his growing reputation by capturing first prize at the International
Competition for Conductors in Sorrento, Italy in 1972, a success followed by
concerts throughout Europe, and appointment in 1980 as conductor of the Utah
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WAGNER, R.: Polonia / Rule Britannia / Marches