Famous Family Fusion of Musical Masters

Quite a mouthful for a title to get off ones chest.

But here am I on May the 22nd musing about this and that when out of the blue I decide to celebrate in words, pictures and, yes, music one of the great collaborations between a giant of opera and stagecraft and an all-time genius of the keyboard and hoopla, both as a performer and prolific composer. Any guesses, dear reader?

I’ll interrupt to spare you the agony of waiting – so here goes! The giant was Richard Wagner, born this day in 1813 in Leipzig, Germany; the genius was Franz Liszt, born a couple of years earlier in Raiding, Hungary. I have marble busts of each gentleman that adorn the bookshelf in my Englewood den, and here they are: Wagner-Liszt B

Wagner, on the left, was the son-in-law of Liszt, on the right.

In 1859, Wagner wrote his mighty love drama, Tristan and Isolde, and while involved in his creative labors he fell in love with Cosima, the daughter of Liszt.  In 1865 a daughter was born to them and was named Isolde. When Ludwig II, king of Bavaria, became Wagner’s patron, a number of his music dramas were performed in Munich, including Tristan and Isolde in 1865 – 150 years ago!

These days, one of the excerpts most often performed at symphony concerts is the Prelude and Love-Death from – you guessed it! – Tristan and Isolde. Wagner’s unique compositional device that he exploited with amazing artistic effect was the Leitmotif, or leading motif – a specific theme, or melodic fragment, identifying a particular character, object, feeling and situation in his dramas.

There was a rift between our two protagonists in 1866, but without going into too many  familial details, suffice it to say that they were finally reconciled in 1872, thereby enabling Liszt to participate in the ceremonies attending the laying of the cornerstone of the Wagner festival theater in Bayreuth. (Below is the inner page copy of my “Wagner-Liszt Album” that includes Liszt’s transcriptions for the piano from Wagner’s operas.)


With all of the above background information, you’re better fortified to hear the performance by my late Russian friend and competitor, Lazar Berman, in this YouTube video of Isolde’s Love-Death (Liebestod) – the closing scene from Tristan and Isolde.

I’m sure you’ll enjoy the sheer sweep of Lazar’s Romantic interpretation of that moving work – in the music drama the Liebestod is sung by Isolde over the dead body of Tristan just before her own death.

Lazar Berman playing Liszt’s Tristan and Isolde

 Copyright © 2015 Azim Lewis Mayadas

7 thoughts on “Famous Family Fusion of Musical Masters

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