Richard Wagner – Tannhauser: Overture
Tannhäuser is an 1845 opera in three acts, music and text by Richard Wagner, (WWV 70 in the catalogue of the composer’s works) based on two German legends: Tannhäuser, the mythologized medieval German Minnesänger and poet, and the tale of the Wartburg Song Contest. The story centers on the struggle between sacred and profane love, and redemption through love, a theme running through much of Wagner’s mature work.
The opera remains a staple of major opera house repertoire in the 21st century.
Wagner began composing the music during a vacation in Teplitz in the summer of 1843 and completed the full score on 13 April 1845; the opera’s famous overture, often played separately as a concert piece, was written last. While composing the music for the Venusberg grotto, Wagner grew so impassioned that he made himself ill; in his autobiography, he wrote, “With much pain and toil I sketched the first outlines of my music for the Venusberg…. Meanwhile I was very much troubled by excitability and rushes of blood to the brain. I imagined I was ill and lay for whole days in bed….” The instrumentation also shows signs of borrowing from French operatic style. The score includes parts for on-stage brass; however, rather than using French brass instruments, Wagner uses twelve German waldhorns. Wagner also makes use of the harp, another commonplace of French opera. Wagner made a number of revisions of the opera throughout his life, and was still unsatisfied with its format when he died. The most significant revision was made for the opera’s premiere in Paris in 1861.