This space dedicated to attempts to fix the steady and unstable echoes the dissonant sound of Wagner’s music, located on the boundary between late Romanticism and Modernism.
Richard Wagner obsessively planned and controlled the conditions in which his works were heard and performed. The scenic context for all of Wagner’s operas were set out in incredibly detailed comments, resembling a director’s screenplay or assembly plans. For the Ring of the Nibelung tetralogy in 1876, Wagner went as far as to build a special venue — the Bayreuther Festspielhaus (Bayreuth Festival Theatre) — in the land of his chief patron, King Ludwig II of Bavaria.
Wagner’s music played a key role in this king’s life: after first hearing Lohengrin (1848) at the age of fifteen, Ludwig would always identify himself with that opera’s main character. He wrote to his fiancé under the name of Lohengrin, and he may well have been thinking of the swan knight when he supposedly drowned himself in Lake Starnberg. The king’s appreciation of Wagner’s music became increasingly intimate; from 1872 Ludwig listened to Wagner’s operas without an audience — performanc-es at the Munich national theatre were given for a single viewer.
Tristan and Isolde (1865) was another of Ludwig’s favourites — a landmark work in the history of music, both marking the peak and heralding the end of European Romanticism. Its symbol was the Tristan chord that is heard in the first bars of the opera, a dissonant chord which the com-poser left unresolved in defiance of tradition. The score is a watershed between Late Romanticism and Modernism, filled with expectations of disaster and opening the door to the music of the twentieth century.
The Castro (1992) and Stanley (1978) photographs of Hiroshi Sugimoto and the Dwindler_Ravine (2018) sculpture of Nairy Baghramian take us back to the temporal basis of music as such. Both works strive to capture the elusive — to construct an architecture of time, to depict the unportrayable.
Baghramian, a German artist of Iranian descent, looks at what is unstable and fragile in sculpture and architecture, as well as in surrounding reality. Her installations are frequently contained in pre-existing structures or buildings. The works from her Dwindlers (2018) cycle recall drain pipes, ice frozen in pipes, or rivers that have been taken out of a mountain gorge. They are transparent fragments, roughly spliced together by zinc brackets or stuck together with furious splashes of chemical glue, cautiously climbing the walls, clinging to one another, balancing on the verge of extinction — one gets the impression they should serve as conductors for a certain lost compound: liquid, gas, or sound.
In his Theatres series (1992), the Japanese photographer and architect Hiroshi Sugimoto creates an instantaneous imprint of the prolonged, rich experience that viewers receive at the cinema. By opening the shutter and exposing the film for the duration of an entire feature film, Sugimo-to obtains a still with a bright screen — the only source of light in the cinema hall. For many years, Sugimoto photographed American cinemas of the 1920s-1930s, drive-in cinemas of the 1940s-1950s, the ruins of abandoned cinemas in Newark and Boston, and the historical cinemas of Europe. In these photos, which seem to have acquired all the light and emotion of blockbusters, cinemas and their rows of seats and intricate interior details become sacred spaces that inspire awe, preserving the fragile public solitude of the viewer, in many ways resembling the soli-tude of Ludwig II at a performance of a Wagner opera.
Richard Wagner (1813–1883)
«Prelude» to the opera Tristan and Isolde, 1865
USSR State Symphony Orchestra
Yevgeny Svetlanov, conductor
℗ Melodiya, 2022