No Wagner without Beethoven
Without Beethoven, there would be no Richard Wagner. Beethoven’s influence on the century after him is so comprehensive that it cannot be measured. Beethoven’s music was a reaction to 1789; he set the ideas of the French Revolution to music – liberty, equality, fraternity. When the young Richard Wagner mounted the barricades in Dresden in 1848, about sixty years later, he was fighting for the same ideas, and had long discovered Beethoven as his musical role model.
Many theatres like to draw imaginary boundaries between symphonic music and musical theatre. I refuse to acknowledge that boundary; every orchestra, every piece of music sings – whether there is a singer involved or not. People always perceive a vocal element in music. Music breathes, the audience breathes with us, as a conductor I breathe with a singer, with a pianist, and I always try to make the orchestra sing, whether we are playing a symphony or an opera. In this regard, I approach a Wagner opera exactly as I would a Ninth Symphony.
»Every orchestra, every piece of music sings. It doesn’t matter whether there is a singer involved or not.«
While working on the Ninth, it dawned upon Beethoven that what he wanted to express required human voices, a chorus. So he incorporated Schiller’s »Ode to Joy« into his composition. And in this manner, he opened the symphonic genre – or tore it wide open, in a positive sense. FIDELIO contains worlds upon worlds. This is where ideas were developed, paths forged, enabling later composers, careers and entire genres to crystallize. FIDELIO begins as an opera buffa, then turns into a melodrama and a tone poem, long before Franz Liszt or Richard Strauss came along.
I encounter Beethoven’s ideas all the time, whether in Gustav Mahler or Johannes Brahms. There is a reason why Brahms’ first symphony, which he wrote at the age of 44, is sometimes jestingly called Beethoven’s Tenth. Ludwig van Beethoven, like Johann Sebastian Bach, created musical watersheds. You can divide time into before and after the St. Matthew Passion, before and after the Fifth, before and after FIDELIO. These are all works which were so new at their time that they changed everything that followed in a universal and profound way.