All in a chord II: Wagner: Tristan und Isolde

Hewett, I. (2017) All in a chord II: Wagner: Tristan und Isolde. [Audio]

Abstract

Music is never created in isolation - it's conceived in relation to what's going on around a composer in terms of personal and historical events, new technologies, new ideas and artistic endeavours in other fields. In this series, Ivan Hewett is looking at five very different chords which amply demonstrate the concept that harmony is a reflection of history. Each programme is a bite size portion of rich musical and historical investigation - and each chord has had far reaching influence on other music and is emblematic of its era. 2) THE TRISTAN CHORD (broadcast 10 January and 16 August 2017). Contributors: musicologist John Deathridge and historian Tim Blanning. Wagner's Tristan Chord is called the most significant chord in Western music as it is said to mark the beginning of the breakdown of tonality. Within itself, it contains not one but two dissonances, so creating a double desire, agonising in its intensity for resolution. The chord to which it then moves resolves one of these dissonances but not the other, so providing resolution - but not resolution. Written in 1859, the same year as Origin of the Species and around the same time as Madame Bovary, Wagner's Tristan Chord reflects a time when the anchor was being pulled up on many old certainties.

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