Wednesday, January 12, 2011

finding wagner in berlin

So as the rest of the world explodes over the madness that is the New York Times re-affirming all the bad stereotypes of classical music, I thought I would finally get around to posting some pictures that I took in October. I recently unsuccessfully concluded a fifteen week attempt to get internet hooked up in my apartment , finally caving and buying a mobile surf stick -- something I should have done months ago. Anyway, it will make blogging easier, especially since I won't have to sit next to terrifying crazy people at the library while Seated Ovating.

Strolling around any German city, it is impossible to ignore the overwhelming presence of classical music. Berlin is not Bayreuth, or Leipzig, or Weimar. Bach never lived here, Liszt never lived here, Wagner never lived here, Beethoven never lived here, Mozart never lived here. But that doesn't keep them from naming streets after Schubert, U-Bahn stops after Wagner, and parks after Mendelssohn (okay, he did live here). Exploring the massive Tiergarden last year, I stumbled upon a gigantic statue of Mr. Wagner himself, one of the most epic memorials I have ever witnessed, so big it was impossible to get a single good picture of the whole thing at once.

The statue was created by Gustav Eberlein from 1901 to 1903, a time during which Wagner's spirit loomed over the still-young imperial Germany. It was commissioned by Ludwig Leichner, an opera singer turned cosmetic entrepreneur (you can still buy his stuff!).

The best part of the statue, though, is that it's not just Wagner up there: we get his entire mythos. It's a fun little game to walk around the statue and see if you can name all his creations (well, not really his creations). I thought I did quite well, but I actually failed pretty miserably.
I was positive this was Wotan, what with him holding his hand over his eye. But Wikipedia says (the only source I could find on this) that it's actually Tannhäuser.
I initially thought this was Walther from Die Meistersinger, but it is actually Tannhäuser's Wolfram von Eschenbach.
Is it that crazy to think that this would be Act 3 Tristan and Isolde? I guess, because it's dead Siegfried and Brünnhilde. Nobody tell AC Douglas that young people can't properly identify Gesamtkunstwerk characters on sight.
Finally, I got one right: Alberich stealing the Rheingold from a Rheinmaiden.

A stroll over to Museum Island and the Alte Nationalgalerie turns up some more Wagner.
Lorenz Gedon's 1883 Wagner bust.
Franz von Lenbach painted a few Wagner portraits, as well as one of Cosima.

Filled with all of Wagner's favorite candy shops.

Finally, Wagner's own subway station and Platz. The composer's final words, according to his wife Cosima, were, "When they build an U-Bahn station for me, make sure it looks like a cross between Tron and a dead bumblebee."


  1. Hello Will,

    For me, Wagner's real failing was an inability to edit, to cut down to the essential. It's self-indulgent. I mean, how many hours do you really need to explore a musical (or dramatic) idea? How much of a "distillation process" do composers undertake before they reach the point when "no more should be cut, and no more should be added"? Of course, there is no answer: it's all part of the subjective creative (and editorial) genius that drives each composer.

    But what makes a work of art great, in my book, is the ability to distill the wheat from the chaff. This requires a critical eye, indeed a 'self-critical' eye -- something Wagner lacked.

    Don't get me wrong. For me, Wagner delivers plenty of wheat, and there are moments here and there that are among the most beautiful ever written, but he also leaves in far too much chaff. If his ego had been less great, perhaps he wouldn't have been as prominent an artist, true. But he also might have been a greater one

  2. Hey, at least the subway used an appropriate Jugendstil text style.

    Cities all over the Germany and Austria have German(ic)-composer place names. Even little Innsbruck has a Richard-Wagner-Strasse, right next to Schumannstrasse.

    Also Goethe and Schiller, in virtually every town.