Wagner: Tristan und Isolde WWV 90 - Prelude und Liebestod (Act III)

Duration : 19 minutes

The Orchestre National de France, conducted by Emmanuel Krivine, performs the "Prélude & Liebestod" from Richard Wagner's "Tristan und Isolde". Excerpt of the concert recorded live on 23 May 2019 at Radio France.

It is rare to be able to assign a precise date to an artistic revolution. And yet, musical modernism is generally considered to have been born on 10 June 1865. On this day, at the Hoftheater in Munich, was premiered Tristan und Isolde, a musical "drama" composed several years earlier and a work that Wagner had struggled to stage until his encounter with Ludwig II of Bavaria in 1864. The shock was intense and the public extraordinarily enthusiastic. Faced with the sublime performance by the duo Malvina and Ludwig Schnorr von Carosfeld, Wagner exclaimed after the third performance, on 19 June 1865: "Never again!" As for the young Friedrich Nietzsche, he later insisted in his work of dramatic theory The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music (1872) upon the dangerous charm of Tristan und Isolde, a work punishing any listener imprudent enough to throw themselves into the waves of Wagner's music without the support of the text and the characters: Tristan allows for one to experience the Dionysian within a more modern period.

The prelude to Tristan und Isolde submerges the listener in a symphonic ocean from the very first bars, in which the theme of desire, with its worrisome and painful chromaticism, is repeated three times with increasing insistence before the orchestral explosion. A sensual music, bubbling with desire and passion, it has been studied repeatedly since the end of the 19th century without ever diminishing the effect on the listener of the endless modulations and the supple rhythms of the perpetual syncopation. In the prelude, Wagner draws upon a style of writing progressively developed since his opera Der fliegende Holländer in order to express the incandescent passion between Tristan and Isolde, climaxing in the third act. More than a simple overture, the prelude possesses an essential dramatic function: expressing musically the link between desire and death that precedes the transfiguration of the love between Tristan and Isolde during the final scene. The Liebestod or "death of love", with which concludes the drama, is therefore traditionally combined with the prelude. To the final decrescendo of the prelude answers an immense crescendo in which the voice of the soprano lovingly joins the orchestral motifs. The key of B major, which gradually establishes itself, dissipates the painful dissonances of the prelude as Isolde perishes in a carnal and spiritual joy summarised by the final word of the drama: Lust ("bliss").

The Orchestre National de France performs Wagner with Anne Petersen
Full concert
The Orchestre National de France performs Wagner with Anne Petersen
Maison de la Radio, Paris
Richard Wagner
Richard Wagner
All artists
  • Emmanuel Krivine
    Emmanuel KrivineConductor
  • Orchestre National de FranceOrchestra