Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Dresden Amen

I've been complaining about Richard Wagner and the Dresden Amen for years.

In 2005 I said:

"If you don’t mind all that constant modulating, Wagner is wonderful. Except for Parsifal, of course. His use of the borrowed theme of the Dresden Amen which he repeats ad nauseum, always in its original borrowed harmonization, cannot be considered thematic development in any sense. It’s a mistake, a serious lapse in judgment, maybe even a sign of senility. The emperor has no clothes."

The Dresden Amen also appears in Tannhäuser.

In 2012 I said:

"I have been trying to explain it.  I was raised on wonderful Baptist hymns like "Rock of Ages," and when professional concerns led me to participate in the music of other religions, I was forced to become aware of the tradition of adding an "amen" to the end of hymns.  Usually this was a simple plagal cadence, but sometimes it was that most corny and cloying of musical phrases--the Dresden Amen.  Just thinking about it now makes me shudder."

So I decided for no particular reason to look into this.  The man who wrote the Dresden Amen died a little over a decade before Wagner was born.  Wikipedia shows it notated here.  It turns out I should really cut him some slack.  It turns out he was raised in Dresden and was a Kapellmeister in Dresden from 1842 to 1849.  So he's allowed to have the same sentimental attachment to it that I have for things from my own childhood. 

I have only one final comment.  It is absolutely not possible that it showed up accidentally in either of the operas in which it appears.  Maybe it's supposed to make you think of church or god or something.  Apologies.

2 comments:

Paul said...

My "Rock of Ages" story:

During my elementary school years, we were literally the only Jewish family in town (population 6800 or so). In fifth grade music class, where we were learning to play the Tonette, one of the songs in our songbook (this would never happen in public school today, of course), was this Baptist hymn. It so happens there's a Jewish song by the same name (titled "Ma'oz tzur" in Hebrew) that's popular during Hanukkah. As the class started to sight-read the music, I raised my hand and explained to the teacher this was all wrong. She was taken aback and asked me to explain myself. Because I was something of a musical play-by-ear prodigy, I easily picked out on my Tonette the first full verse of what I knew to be "Rock of Ages," which is written in a minor key. Seeing the puzzlement on her face, I switched over to vocals and sang the first verse for her -- in Hebrew, of course. The rest of the class was stunned, to say the least.

Dr.B said...

One has the life one has. I think I only know the Baptist version. I sang for the holidays a couple of times and may know a few tunes in Hebrew.