Richard Wagner and French music is a subject that not only occupies musicologists, but also inspires delightful concert programmes. On this evening, Daniel Barenboim, honorary conductor of the Berliner Philharmoniker, will frame Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder with works by Gabriel Fauré and César Franck.
Fauré’s delicately orchestrated suite Pelléas et Mélisande is based on the incidental music the composer wrote for an English performance of Maurice Maeterlinck’s symbolist drama of the same name. Maeterlinck’s plot concludes with the death of the two title characters – just like Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde. Not fatal, but also unhappy, was the end of the love story that linked Wagner to Mathilde Wesendonck and was a major impetus for the completion of the opera. A letter Wagner had written to the wife of his Swiss patron fell into the hands of his wife Cosima. The composer, who left Switzerland shortly afterwards, had previously set five poems by Mathilde to music. In this concert, the cycle will be sung by mezzo-soprano Elīna Garanča, whose repertoire also includes Kundry in Wagner’s Parsifal.
César Franck’s only symphony is probably the most important French contribution to the genre written in the 19th century after Berlioz. Franck described the work as “classical” – but in fact it deviates from the familiar model in crucial aspects. The symphony gets by with few themes that transform themselves again and again, and the constant alternation between fast and slow sections subverts the traditional movement characters. The harmony, which is marked by strong chromaticism, also reveals how well the composer knew the music of Richard Wagner.