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The Music of Richard Wagner

Examine one of the most controversial artistic figures in Western music with this tell-all tale of Wagner's life and works by Robert Greenberg.

The Music of Richard Wagner is rated 4.0 out of 5 by 75.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful Warts-and-All Portrait of Wagner I checked this course out from the library on DVD, and loved it so much, I'm ordering a physical copy for my library. Wagner superfans may not enjoy hearing an unvarnished portrait of their idol, but the rest of us will learn a lot, and hear some wonderful music written by a not so wonderful man.
Date published: 2024-02-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Beautifully Done, Light and Enjoyable Boy am I glad I ignored the negative reviews of this course though I think I understand them. Wagner was a pig. But his music is incredible. I believe the inordinate amount of material that has been devoted to him over the years is not actually the result of the greatness of his music itself but to the need so many have felt to reconcile these two facts. I see the same thing in these reviews. People seem to polarize into three camps: love him to the point of irrationality, hate him to the point of irrationality or enjoy the music and try to ignore the rest. Those in the first camp seem to need to distort the facts of who he actually was into something more benign. Those in the second are driven by disgust of the man to dismiss his music entirely. I think the body of reviews of this course simply reflect these camps though those in the “disgust” group are underrepresented because they’re unlikely to watch twenty four lectures on Wagner in the first place. Among the negative reviews I read that Greenberg "doesn't like Wagner”. If Greenberg is going to present an accurate biography then almost everything about Wagner - starting with Wagner’s own writings - is going to come off unlikeable. It’s that or dilute the facts. It is what it is and I don’t want diluted facts. Still Greenberg doesn’t dwell on it, he just reports it in context where relevant. But in regards to Wagner’s music nothing could be further from the truth. Greenberg actually goes out of his way to explain Wagner's defective nature in terms of its service to composition. A few reviews claim he isn't knowledgable about Wagner, that the course is biased or superficial and depends only on one or two biased sources. All utterly ridiculous. Greenberg constantly quotes a wide variety of foundational sources which support the lecture as it goes along - ESPECIALLY Wagner himself. And Wagner makes Wagner sound bad, not Greenberg. Again, he was who he was. It makes no sense to shoot the messenger. Greenberg’s task is to balance the size of the course with biographical presentation and musical presentation and explanation. I imagine I’m a typical customer. To me though obviously incredible, Wagner’s music has always been heavy and demanding, long and tiresome. I couldn’t stand the man’s writings and just didn’t feel much motivation to try to “get it” beyond that. I decided to try to expand my understanding after listening to some of the amazing 2022 Decca remasters of Solti’s Ring on the Tidal streaming service (Qobuz and Apple Classical have it too). The music really is amazing and this course did successfully increase and expand my appreciation of it. Greenberg describes the historical, social and political context that gave rise to Wagner then develops that as the course proceeds into his works. He describes each opera with sparse musical examples and explains everything in biographical context. Greenberg hits a perfect balance of playing music examples and explaining things. I can listen to the music myself, properly on a suitable sound system. I want the time taken up by the course (45 minute lectures rather than the usual 30 or so by the way) to provide what I don’t already have which is an understanding of the music and its historic and biographical setting. Greenberg’s sense of humor is another thing some reviews criticize. Such things are a matter of taste and anyone’s taste is as valid as anyone else’s. For me, I love and appreciate his constant wise cracks and ability to keep this potentially extremely heavy subject light and enjoyable through twenty four lectures. The one thing I would have enjoyed more of, sometimes mentioned in the negative reviews, is in-depth musical analyses. I would have enjoyed an entire additional lecture (or more) devoted to just musical analysis for each work. But I accept that most customers probably wouldn’t and if this had to be limited to twenty four lectures to reach the target audience, then Greenberg hit the right balance. Bottom line: despite what the negative reviews suggest, this course greatly expanded my appreciation of Wagner. If it had been more like what the negative reviews suggest I suspect the opposite would have happened.
Date published: 2023-04-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Brings Wagner to life in his historical setting Great course, as usual, for this lecturer. What I particularly liked about this was that Greenberg gave a lot of details about European, and especially Germanic history, at the time of Wagner.
Date published: 2022-11-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very cool! Packed with info. I have several other of the Great Courses, they are all great!
Date published: 2022-09-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Richard Wagner I decided to get this lesson because I just came back from Bavaria, Germany where King Ludwig II built Castle Neuschwanstein and how Ludwig was a big supporter of Wagner. I am glad I got the lessons as a whole and have learned a lot. This is why I like the Great Courses, very educational.
Date published: 2022-09-13
Rated 3 out of 5 by from The music of Wagner? I love professor's Robert Greenberg presentation - he's amusing and has a comprehensive understanding of music and musicians - but very little is devoted to the best part of Wagner's operas - the overtures. German opera singing just doesn't cut it for me. But the overtures are sublime. The course is titled the MUSIC of Wagner, not just the opera signing.
Date published: 2022-06-30
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Too much storytelling. Not happy with this one. We really like Robert Greenbergs ''Life and Music of ..." courses but this one has too much going over the words of the operas. We have watched less than half and will probably not watch any more.
Date published: 2022-06-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Music and History Professor Greenberg is amazing. Informative, rolls right along, humorous and gives not only composer information, but provides background history of the times. Fascinating. I've learned so much. I just keep buying more as soon as I see his name.
Date published: 2021-11-03
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Overview

Join composer and award-winning Professor Robert Greenberg for The Music of Richard Wagner, a highly incisive and in-depth investigation of the life and art of one of the greatest—and most controversial—characters in the pantheon of Western music. These 24 musically rich lectures are an accessible introduction to Wagner's celebrated works, from The Flying Dutchman to Tristan and Isolde to The Ring of the Nibelung. Filled with insights about the man, his music, and his legacy, this course is an extraordinary encounter with art, history, and the dimensions of the human spirit.

About

Robert Greenberg

For thousands of years cultures have celebrated themselves through their music. Let us always be willing and able to join that celebration by listening as carefully as we can to what, through music, we have to say to one another.

INSTITUTION

San Francisco Performances

Dr. Robert Greenberg is Music Historian-in-Residence with San Francisco Performances. A graduate of Princeton University, Professor Greenberg holds a Ph.D. in Music Composition from the University of California, Berkeley. He has seen his compositions-which include more than 45 works for a wide variety of instrumental and vocal ensembles-performed all over the world, including New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles, England, Ireland, Greece, Italy, and the Netherlands.

He has served on the faculties of the University of California, Berkeley; California State University, Hayward; and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and has lectured for some of the most prestigious musical and arts organizations in the United States, including the San Francisco Symphony, the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the Van Cliburn Foundation, and the Chicago Symphony. For The Great Courses, he has recorded more than 500 lectures on a range of composers and classical music genres.

Professor Greenberg is a Steinway Artist. His many other honors include three Nicola de Lorenzo Composition Prizes and a Koussevitzky commission from the Library of Congress. He has been profiled in various major publications, including The Wall Street Journal; Inc. magazine; and the London Times.

You can find more music content from Robert Greenberg on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/RobertGreenbergMusic.

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The Music of Richard Wagner

Trailer

The Escape from Riga

01: The Escape from Riga

Wagner's grandiose, difficult character and massive achievements constitute a fascinating and controversial legacy. First, consider Wagner's outsized egotism, material self-indulgence, and fanatical philosophies as ultimately inseparable from the grandeur, length, and fantasy of his music dramas. Then, enter the events of his life through his early musical career, his volatile marriage, and his debt-ridden struggles as an opera conductor. Finally, conclude with his daring escape by land and sea from Riga, fleeing creditors.

47 min
London, Paris, and

02: London, Paris, and "Rienzi"

Trace the professional disappointments of Wagner's stay in London, followed by the extreme financial hardships of his years in Paris, as he composes, sustained by a dogged belief in his own predestined greatness.

50 min
What to Do about Germany?

03: What to Do about Germany?

Wagner's music and ideals were fired by the German nationalism that emerged from the Napoleonic wars. Chart the dramatic events of Napoleon's continental conquest, his crushing defeat, and the power shifts leading to a united Germany.

44 min
The Rise of German Opera

04: The Rise of German Opera

This lecture explores Wagner's early operatic works in the context of the newly emerging German operatic tradition. Study the elements of Weber's landmark "Der Freischütz," incorporating Germanic folklore and the melodic sensibility of German folk song.

48 min

05: "The Flying Dutchman," Part 1

First, learn about Wagner's voluminous prose writing, used to develop and prioritize his creative agenda, views, and philosophies. Also track the creation and disastrous premiere of his second opera, "The Ban on Love."

45 min

06: "The Flying Dutchman," Part 2

Wagner's deep identification with the displaced, misunderstood figure of the Dutchman gives the opera the quality of a spiritual diary. Follow in detail the unfolding of the narrative and the opera's groundbreaking structure rooted in four main musical events.

48 min
Dresden and

07: Dresden and "Tannhäuser," Part 1

Consider Wagner's working methods and the compositional processes with which he brought a score to life. Then trace his struggles in Dresden following his first success, leading to the creation of "Tannhäuser," based in the legend of a medieval "minnesinger" or poet/minstrel.

47 min

08: "Tannhäuser," Part 2

You continue with a scene-by-scene study of the dramatic and musical events of the opera, depicting the minstrel knight's inner battle between the profane lure of Venus and his earthly love, Elizabeth.

48 min

09: "Lohengrin," Part 1

Wagner began work on "Lohengrin" with his reputation as a trailblazer firmly established. Begin your study with the groundbreaking overture, with its celestial melody evoking the Holy Grail.

48 min

10: "Lohengrin," Part 2

For the conclusion of "Lohengrin," this lecture focuses on the character development and dramatic action that propel the opera. Explore the masterful interchange between the disgraced knight Telramund and his wife, Ortrud; their deception of the heroine Elsa; and Elsa's unwitting betrayal of Lohengrin, as well as the opera's complex denouement, as Wagner brings "real-time" immediacy to the majestic musical narrative. Learn also about Lohengrin's premiere under the auspices of the great pianist/composer Franz Liszt.

47 min
The Escape from Dresden, Exile, and Essays

11: The Escape from Dresden, Exile, and Essays

Focusing on Wagner's five-year hiatus from composing, trace his political activities amid the revolutionary turmoil of 1848–1849, which led to his escape to safety in Switzerland. During his years of exile in Zurich, he wrote a series of seminal essays, expressing currents of thinking that deeply influenced his later works.

44 min

12: "Tristan and Isolde," Part 1

Track Wagner's intense "spiritual communion" with a young married woman in Zurich and how this passion is mirrored in his masterwork, "Tristan and Isolde." Then define Wagner's key innovations with leitmotiv and his use of the orchestra.

46 min

13: "Tristan and Isolde," Part 2

The musical and dramatic conclusion of "Tristan and Isolde" is one of Western art's greatest moments.

49 min
Miracles

14: Miracles

In tracing Wagner's tumultuous personal journey of the 1860s, learn about the disastrous premiere of "Tannhäuser" in Paris and the unraveling of the composer's first marriage, followed by years of hardship spent seeking performances and fleeing creditors.

44 min

15: "The Mastersingers of Nuremberg," Part 1

Now, follow the genesis of "The Mastersingers" as it took shape as an artistic and autobiographical tract amid further personal upheavals for the composer. Enter the culture and history of medieval "mastersinging" and the unfolding plot of the drama, centering on a singing competition for the hand of the heroine Eva. Study the knight Walter's pointedly avant garde aria, as he receives the exact criticism from the mastersingers that Wagner himself had endured over the years.

46 min

16: "The Mastersingers of Nuremberg," Part 2

Wagner's self-identification with the characters of mastersinger Hans Sachs and the knight Walter drives the narrative of "The Mastersingers."

49 min

17: "The Ring," Part 1

This lecture charts the creation of the monumental "Ring" cycle and the extraordinary story of Wagner's struggles to build a unique theater for its presentation in Bayreuth.

48 min

18: "The Ring," Part 2

Now follow the unfolding action of "The Rhinegold" as the devious god Wotan pays the builders of his castle Valhalla by seizing the stolen gold of Alberich—and the power-granting ring Alberich made from it. Explore the key musical episodes, including the fire god Loge's "Narration," the comic sequence in which Wotan and Loge outwit Alberich, and Alberich's bitter curse on the coveted ring that Wotan takes from him.

47 min

19: "The Ring," Part 3

"The Valkyrie," second drama of "The Ring," introduces Wagner's iconic warrior princess, Brünnhilde. Track the narrative scene by scene, focusing on numerous examples of Wagner's musical storytelling, as Brünnhilde determines to help illicit lovers Siegmund and Sieglinde, crossing her father, Wotan.

47 min

20: "The Ring," Part 4

As a prelude to "Siegfried," the third drama, reflect on the integral role of myth and symbol in Wagner's works. In the drama's opening, encounter the uncouth figure of Siegfried, orphaned son of Siegmund and Sieglinde, as he discovers his true identity.

45 min

21: "The Ring," Part 5

In the compelling conclusion of "Siegfried," the hero faces trials leading him to destroy the old world order of his predecessors. Encounter musical highlights, including Siegfried's highly charged confrontation with Wotan and the exquisite duet of Siegfried and Brünnhilde.

47 min

22: "The Ring," Part 6

Concluding "The Ring," this lecture investigates the complex resolution of the drama, as the deception of Siegfried sets in motion the ultimate undoing of Hagen, the house of Gibichung, Siegfried himself, and finally the kingdom of the gods.

47 min

23: "Parsifal," Part 1

Wagner's final music drama combines some of Western art's greatest music with a text representing a seething tract on Aryan racial purity. First, learn about Wagner's deranged and irrational late writings, as related to the genesis of "Parsifal." Then, study the complex narrative—as the young innocent Parsifal enters the corrupt kingdom of the wounded Amfortas, guardian of the Holy Grail—highlighting the thematically rich prelude and Amfortas's dramatically beautiful "Blood Solo."

47 min

24: "Parsifal," Part 2

In the resolution of "Parsifal," discover the dramatic action and sublime musical highpoints of the work. Delve into the critical scene between Parsifal and the seductress Kundry, focusing on her glowing, lyric aria. In the final act, witness the return of Parsifal as a Christ-like figure and hear the musical "passion" of Amfortas and the otherworldly orchestral postlude.

50 min

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