Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Why Wagner is a better composer than you are

The music of Richard Wagner is not really that tough. This is one of the main reasons for his enormous continuing popularity.

He takes the elements of obsession with tonality used by all his contemporaries and does something very different with it. He abandons cadences, for one thing, and puts them only at the end of scenes. He makes everything a secondary dominant which in turn makes everything constantly modulating from one place to another. When you're listening to it, this is not hard to figure out.

Then he carefully invents memorable themes, which he ostentatiously calls Leitmotivs, and peppers them throughout his huge movements. When listening to him, you are constantly hearing music that sounds familiar. Some people think they have to study these so they will clearly remember the assigned associations for each Leitmotiv. This idea was not invented by Wagner. He wanted you to recognize the melodies because he designed them to be easy to remember.

At every step of the way he is giving you something to anticipate and hold on to. Admittedly Philip Glass is making the whole thing a lot simpler by just repeating exactly the same music over and over. I don't think you have to go quite that far. It isn't a sin against proper modern composition to give me something to hold on to. Make this easier to get. Give me a hint every now and then, because if I don't get it, most of the other people won't either.

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