Richard Wagner in Venice: A Symphony

Fragments of Wagner’s late music heard for the first time

For the first time some of Wagner’s late fragments and sketches can be heard in a new work by composer Matthew King who has realised his long-held ambition to compose a new work around and from these fragments in Richard Wagner in Venice: A Symphony. King’s new work will be released alongside Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll in a recording by The Mahler Players on 22 October.  The symphony has been described by Wagner scholar, Professor John Deathridge, as “…a moving 21st-century adventure into the late 19th century by Matthew King that raises intriguing questions about the nature of authenticity and the as ifs of music history.”

Richard Wagner in Venice: A Symphony by Matthew King uses some of Wagner’s unfinished fragments and sketches from near the end of his life and combines them into a 20-minute single-movement symphony. Most of the fragments have been quietly sitting in an archive in Bayreuth for the last almost 150 years and have never been heard before. Alongside Richard Wagner in Venice: A Symphony on the album is Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll.

This marks the first release for The Mahler Players, a chamber orchestra based in the Highlands of Scotland, founded by conductor Tomas Leakey in 2013. Its members predominantly live in the Highlands, though it invites musicians from all across Scotland and further afield.

Described by Judith Weir, Master of the Queen’s Music, as “one of Britain‘s most adventurous composers, utterly skilled, imaginative and resourceful”, Matthew King’s other recent works include an ongoing sequence of more than 20 single-movement piano sonatas since 2019; a piano concerto, premiered in San Diego in June 2018; the orchestral lament, A Hero Passes, premiered in Canterbury Cathedral in 2018; and two music theatre pieces with the librettist Alasdair Middleton. King is Professor of Composition at Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London.

In King’s programme note in the CD sleeve he says: “My own interest in Wagner’s late sketches dates back as far as 2010. I had been intrigued by Cosima’s description of his writing “a beautiful melody” in 1882, because no such melody seemed to exist in his published work. John Deathridge’s book, Wagner Beyond Good and Evil, supplied me with all the answers I needed, revealing the extent to which Cosima’s diary provides a fascinating lens on Wagner’s changing attitudes to symphonic form in the final years of his life.

Little known to many, the beautiful building in which the recording was captured and the live premiere given in late September this year, the Strathpeffer Pavilion, has its own fascinating connection to Wagner. Commissioned in the late 1870s, the architect was instructed to base the design on a casino in Baden Baden, which in turn was based on the Festspielhaus, the theatre which Wagner built in 1876 for performances of his operas, especially Der Ring des Nibelungen and Parsifal, and in which the annual Bayreuth Festival takes place every summer. Strathpeffer Pavilion was opened in 1881, the year in which several of Wagner’s final symphonic sketches were written.

The CD can be pre-ordered on  from today and purchased from 22 October. 

Jim Welsh

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