In a January 1841 essay, Richard Wagner set forth his conception of the opera overture. He described this orchestral curtain-raiser as creating “a musical art work complete in itself and offering a way of the opera’s argument via the interweaving of thematic supplies drawn from the opera to comply with.”
Wagner’s Overture to the opera, Tannhäuser, accomplished 4 years later, follows this mannequin. Within the story, based mostly on German medieval legend, the knight, Tannhäuser, is pulled between the pleasures of earthly love and lust (represented by the goddess Venus) and the redemptive love of sacred devotion (represented by the princess Elisabeth). In program notes for a live performance in Might of 1873, Wagner described the best way this drama is encapsulated within the Overture:
At first the orchestra introduces us to the ‘Pilgrims’ Refrain’ alone. It approaches, swells to a mighty outpouring, and eventually passes into the space.—Twilight: dying echoes of the refrain.—As evening falls, magic visions present themselves. A rosy mist swirls upward, sensuously exultant sounds attain our ears, and the blurred motions of a fearsomely voluptuous dance are revealed.
That is the seductive magic of the Venusberg, which seems by evening to these whose souls are fired by daring, sensuous longings. Lured by the tempting visions, the slender determine of a person attracts close to: it’s Tannhäuser, the minstrel of affection. Proudly he sings his jubilant chant of affection, exultantly and challengingly, as if to drive the voluptuous magic to come back to him…
The Overture leads instantly into the opera’s first scene, the place Tannhäuser is surrounded by the naiads, sirens, and nymphs of Venusberg. Within the live performance model, we’re left with a remaining assertion of the majestic “Pilgrims’ Refrain” chorale within the trombones.
This live performance recording from April 2022 options the Frankfurt Radio Symphony and conductor Alain Altinoglu:
Featured Picture: a set design for Act III of Tannhäuser by Max and Otthold Brückner