Morgenstern, Abendstern,

June 7, 2016 at 10:08 am

A couple of weeks ago, I had the distinct pleasure of playing the violin in an orchestra while a friend of mine sang this beautiful aria from Richard Wagner‘s opera, Tannhäuser. This was a joy to me for three reasons:

  1. The violin part was easy enough for me to play without noticeably screwing up.
  2. My friend’s rich bass-baritone voice was like rich gravy on a perfectly roasted Thanksgiving turkey. (I love to compare music to food, by the way.)
  3. Um, it’s WAGNER!

This famous aria is often used to introduce young musicians (singers and instrumentalists alike) to Wagner. Unlike earlier scene-and-aria operas, Wagner’s arias are difficult to extract from the action of the opera. In an 18th century opera, there are very clear beginnings and ends to pieces; by the mid-19th-century, composer like Wagner blurred those lines, which allowed the action and music to flow seamlessly from one scene to the next. So it’s rare to find a piece like “O du mein holder Abendstern” – a complete aria, with a clear beginning and end, with poetic words that can be taken out of the action and not lose its integrity.

Tannhäuser was one of Wagner’s early operas, but the sound of this aria really captures the essence of his musical legacy – at least, the softer side of it.

When I hear the word “Abendstern” (Evening Star), I can’t help but think of the brightness of its opposite, the “Morgenstern” (Morning Star.)

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