Is there anyone who doesn't know this music?
As you probably know, the world's best-known wedding march isn't a wedding march at all. Elsa and her unknown knight were married at the end of Act II of Lohengrin. Here, at the start of Act III, they're being escorted to their bridal chamber. The 1954 Bayreuth Festival Chorus and Orchestra are conducted by our man of the hour, Eugen Jochum.
We're forging ahead with our remembrance of that wonderful conductor Eugen Jochum (1902-1987) -- wearing his concert hat in Part 1 and Part 2 (devoted to his Haydn and Bruckner) and now his opera conductor's chapeau in Part 3 (snatches of Weber's Der Freiscütz and Beethoven's Fidelio) and today's installment -- and we still haven't gotten to his Mozart, which is where I was trying to get us. I thought maybe we'd throw in a little Boris Godunov too. But not today; we have too much to do. (And as usual it will look like we're doing more than we actually are, because the texts consume so much space relative to the amount of music they cover.)
One of the recordings I acquired recently -- one of the sources of the "archival" recordings we're featuring in these "chronicles" posts -- wasn't actually new to me. I just didn't have it on CD. It's Jochum's 1954 Bayreuth Lohengrin. (He actually made a studio recording of the opera around the same time, but it's not one of his happiest achievements. Perhaps even he, who often coaxed surprisingly successful results from dubious-looking casts, could do much with that one.)
In a late decision, we're not even going to get to our other Wagnerian destination: Jochum's extraordinarily beautiful 1971 Bayreuth Parsifal, which we sampled in the March 2010 post "Good Wagner conductors find what inside the music makes it move." I'd rather do that another time.
I'm calling these posts "Overtures Plus" because we're hearing a number of overtures and preludes that -- like the two we heard Friday night -- are also familiar as concert pieces. And I thought we'd start by hearing the Lohengrin Act I and Act III Preludes performed as concert pieces. While I actually do have Jochum studio versions, they're mono, so I thought we'd bring in some ringers.
We already heard this performance of the exhilarating Act III Prelude -- in the "Good Wagner conductors post.
Prelude to Act III
Philharmonia Orchestra, Otto Klemperer, cond. EMI, recorded February-March 1960
That's quite a "wow" piece, but if we go back to the start of the opera, to "the Prelude to Lohengrin, we encounter something even more astonishing, not least for those ethereally shimmering strings. (This is a performance we haven't heard before, from the remarkably beautiful series of Wagner orchestral LPs Sir Adrian Boult recorded in the early '70s. We already heard the Siegfried Idyll from this series in a March 2011 post on the piece.)
Prelude to Act I
New Philharmonia Orchestra, Sir Adrian Boult, cond. EMI, recorded Dec. 22-23, 1971
But remember that these are both what in English we call both "preludes" rather than overtures, meaning that they're not self-contained -- they're designed to lead directly into what follows. So let's hear what follows. , which gives us all the more reason to start at the beginning. We're only going to go a minute and change into the opening scene, through the Royal Herald's opening call to the gathered Brabantines, but already I think we can hear how the Prelude emerges differently.
For contrast of a sort, we're going to hear a more recent recording featuring a Herald much more along the lines of what we usually encounter.
Prelude and Act I: The Herald's Opening Call
A plain on the banks of the Scheldt near Antwerp. The river curves into the background; the view of it is obstructed on the right by trees, and it is visible again further off as it winds its way into the distance. In the foreground KING HEINRICH is sitting under the Judgment Oak; next to him are Saxon and Thuringian counts, nobles, and soldiers comprising the King's levy. Opposite them are Brabantine counts and nobles, soldiers, and people. They are headed by FRIEDRICH VON TELRAMUND, next to him is ORTRUD. The middle ground comprises an open circle. The ROYAL HERALD and four trumpeters proceed to the middle. The trumpeters play the King's fanfare)
HERALD: Hear ye, counts, nobles and freemen of Brabant!
Heinrich, king of the Germans, has come to this place
to confer with you according to the law of the realm.
Do you willingly obey his command?
BRABANTINES: We willingly obey his command.
[Striking on their weapons]
Welcome, welcome, o King, to Brabant!
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (b), Royal Herald; Bayreuth Festival Chorus and Orchestra (1954), Eugen Jochum, cond. Live performance
Roman Trekel (b), Royal Herald; Staatskapelle Berlin, Daniel Barenboim, cond. Teldec, recorded January 1998
I hadn't planned to go farther into Act I of Lohengrin, and even when I mapped out a couple of lovely chunks we could carve out, to which the Jochum-Bayreuth performance would be admirably suited, I still wasn't going to do it, if only because I'd left the CDs in the office. But that seemed like a "dog ate my homework" kind of excuse, and I finally went ahead and made the audio files from the LPs (even though I'd vowed to myself once again that I wasn't going to get involved in LP transfers.)
Both excerpts are built around official public utterances -- requiring the services of the Royal Herald -- of King Heinrich the Fowler on this visit to his gathered subjects in Brabant. In the first, a most serious charge has been brought before the King by the much-respected Brabantine nobleman Friedrich von Telramund, who has served as guardian of the children of his long-deceased kinsman the Duke of Brabant, Elsa and Gottfried. Telramund accuses Elsa of being responsible for the disappearance and presumed death of her little brother. Her guilt is sealed, as far as he is concerned, by her refusal to defend herself against the charge. The King naturally is shocked but has no choice but to call for the accused to appear.
WAGNER: Lohengrin: Act I, The King Summons Elsa -- King Heinrich, "Ruft die Beklagte her" ("Call for the accused")
KING HEINRICH: Call for the accused!
Let the trial begin!
God grant me wisdom!
HERALD [proceeding solemnly to the middle]: Shall the trial by might and right be held?
KING HEINRICH [hanging his shield on the oak tree with great ceremony]: May I remain unprotected by this shield
until I have judged strictly and compassionately.
ALL THE MEN [drawing their swords, which the Saxons and Thuringians plunge in the ground in front of them, and the Brabantines lay down flat]: May the sword not return to the scabbard
until it sees justice done through judgment!
HERALD: Where the King's shield hangs,
there shall you now see justice done through judgment!
Thus do I call loudly and clearly:
Elsa, appear in this place!
[ELSA appears in a very simple white garment; she lingers awhile in the background, then steps slowly and with a great sense of shame to the middle of the foreground; women very simply dressed in white follow her, but they remain for now in the background at the extreme border of the trial circle.]
THE MEN: Behold! Behold! The harshly accused approaches.
Ha! How light and pure she appears!
The one who dared to accuse so seriously,
how sure he must be of her guilt.
KING HEINRICH: Are you she, Elsa of Brabant?
[ELSA nods her head affirmatively.]
Do you recognize me as your judge?
[ELSA turns her head toward the KING, looks him in the eye, and then affirms with a trust-filled gesture.]
Then I ask you further:
Is the charge known to you,
which has been brought so weightily aginst you?
[ELSA glances at FRIEDRICH and ORTRUD, shudders, bows her head sadly, and affirms.]
What do you have to say against the charge?
[ELSA through a gesture: "Nothing!"]
So you acknowledge your guilt?
ELSA [staring sadly for a long time around her]: My poor brother!
ALL THE MEN: How wondrous! What strange behavior!
KING HEINRICH: Speak, Elsa, what do you have to confide to me?
Theo Adam (bs-b), King Heinrich; Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (b), Royal Herald; Birgit Nilsson (s), Elsa; Bayreuth Festival Chorus and Orchestra (1954), Eugen Jochum, cond. Live performance
Kurt Moll (bs), King Heinrich; Andreas Schmidt (b), Royal Herald; Cheryl Studer (s), Elsa; Vienna State Opera Concert Chorus, Vienna Philharmonic, Claudio Abbado, cond. DG, recorded 1991-92
Perversely, we're skipping over the only answer Elsa can come up with, which is to share a dream she has had, in which a mysterious shining knight appeared to defend her in the trial by combat which the King's law calls for. As sympathetic as all concerned are toward the rapt Elsa -- all except Telramund and his wife, Ortrud, that is -- there isn't much to be done with her dream story, and once again it's left to the Herald to issue a public call, and then a rebroadcast. (Note in particular the astonishing -- and astonishingly complex -- choral writing, with massive subdivisions of the standard voice ranges. I was talking recently to a friend who makes his living as a free-lance opera-chorus tenor, and he still cringes at the memory of learning the Lohengrin choruses on limited notice.)
Here (and in our next excerpt) for a modern "back-up" performance we turn to a recording that has quite a strong King and Herald.
WAGNER: Lohengrin: Act I, The Call for Elsa's Champion -- King Heinrich, "Im Mittag hoch steht schon die Sonne" ("In midday the sun already stands high")
KING HEINRICH: In midday the sun already stands high.
So it's time to let the call go forth!
HERALD: Let him who has come to fight
in the trial by combat for Elsa of Brabant come forward!
[There is a long silence. ELSA, who has hitherto been completely calm, now begins to look worried as she waits expectantly.]
ALL THE MEN: The call has died away unanswered!
Things do not bode well for her!
FRIEDRICH [pointing to ELSA]:
Behold, did I accuse her falsely?
I have right on my side!
ELSA [moving toward the KING]:
I beseech you, beloved King,
one more call to my knight!
He is surely a long way off and could not hear!
THE KING [to the HERALD]:
Send out one more call to the trial!
[The HERALD gives a signal and the trumpeters once again turn to the four points of the compass.]
HERALD: Let him who has come to fight in the trial by combat
for Elsa of Brabant come forward!
[Once again there is a long, tense silence.]
ALL THE MEN: In dismal silence God passes judgement!
[ELSA sinks to her knees, praying fervently. The women, worried for their mistress, move slightly further into the foreground.]
ELSA: You carried my lament to him,
he came to me at your command:
O Lord, tell my knight now
to help me in my need!
Let me see him now as I saw him then,
[with an expression of joyful transfiguration]
as I saw him then, let him be near me!
WOMEN [sinking to their knees]:
Lord! Send her help!
Lord God! Hear us!
[The men standing on the higher ground near the river are the first to witness the arrival of LOHENGRIN, who is seen in the distance in a barque pulled by a swan. The men in the foreground furthest away from the river bank turn round, initially without leaving their places; their curiosity grows as they look questioningly at those standing on the bank and soon they move from the foreground over to the river to look for themselves.]
MEN : Behold! Behold!
What strange and wonderous thing is this? A swan?
A swan is pulling a barque towards us!
A knight is standing upright in it!
How his armor shines! The eye is dazzled
by such splendor! Behold, he is coming ever closer!
The swan is pulling on a golden chain!
[The last few men hurry over to the background; the foreground is occupied only by the KING, ELSA, FRIEDRICH, ORTRUD, and the women. From his raised seat the KING can see everything; FRIEDRICH and ORTRUD are overcome with shock and astonishment; ELSA, who has been listening to the men's cries with increasing rapture, remains in the middle of the stage; she dares not even look round.]
MEN [returning to the foreground in a state of great agitation]: A miracle! A miracle! A miracle has happened,
a miracle never before seen or heard!
WOMEN: We thank you, Lord our God, for protecting this weak woman!
[ELSA has turned round and cries out when she sees LOHENGRIN.]
ALL THE MEN AND WOMEN: Greetings, God-sent man!
[The barque, drawn by the swan, reaches the bank in the middle of the background; LOHENGRIN, dressed in gleaming silver armour, a helmet on his head, a shield on his back and a small golden horn by his side is standing in the boat leaning on his sword. FRIEDRICH looks at LOHENGRIN in speechless horror. ORTRUD, who has hitherto maintained a cold and arrogant posture, is gripped with terror when she sees the swan. As soon as LOHENGRIN makes a move to leave the boat, an expectant silence descends on the assembled throng.]
Theo Adam (bs-b), King Heinrich; Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (b), Royal Herald; Hermann Uhde (bs-b), Friedrich von Telramund; Birgit Nilsson (s), Elsa; Astrid Varnay (s), Ortrud; Bayreuth Festival Chorus and Orchestra (1954), Eugen Jochum, cond. Live performance
Kurt Moll (bs), King Heinrich; Andreas Schmidt (b), Royal Herald; Hartmut Welker (b), Friedrich von Telramund; Cheryl Studer (s), Elsa; Waltraud Meier (ms), Ortrud; Vienna State Opera Concert Chorus, Vienna Philharmonic, Claudio Abbado, cond. DG, recorded 1991-92
NOW WE SKIP AHEAD TO ACT III OF LOHENGRIN
We already heard the Solti version of this chunk in the March 2010 "Good Wagner conductors" post. The Jochum performance is new to Sunday Classics, though -- except for the Bridal Chamber Procession, of which we just heard the eternally familiar part at the top of today's post.
Act III, Prelude and Bridal Chamber Procession
The Bridal Chamber of LOHENGRIN and ELSA. The singing, offstage, gradually comes closer.
MEN AND WOMEN: Faithfully guided, draw near
to where the blessing of love shall preserve you!
Triumphant courage, the reward of love,
joins you in faith as the happiest of couples!
Champion among youth, proceed!
Jewel among youth, proceed!
Flee now the splendor of the wedding feast,
may the delights of the heart be yours.
[The bride and groom are led into the chamber from opposite sides, by the women and men, respectively.]
Sweet-smelling room, bedecked for love,
takes you in now, away from the splendor.
Faithfully guided, draw now near
to where the blessing of love will preserve you!
Triumphant courage, love so pure,
joins you in faith as the happiest of couples.
[The two processions meet in the middle and embrace. The respective attendants begin to prepare the bride and groom for the night. Eight women circle them.]
EIGHT WOMEN: As God blessed you in happiness,
so do we bless you in joy.
[They walk around a second time.]
Watched over in love's happiness,
may you long remember this hour!
[The KING embraces the bride and groom, and the processions of men and women re-form and exit the way each came in.]
MEN AND WOMEN: Faithfully guarded, remain behind
where the blessing of love will preserve you.
Triumphant courage, love and happiness
join you in faith as the happiest of couples.
Champion among youth, remain here!
Jewel among youth, remain here!
Flee now the splendor of the wedding feast,
may the delights of the heart be yours!
Sweet-smelling room, bedecked for love,
has taken you in, away from the splendor.
Faithfully guarded, remain behind,
where the blessing of love will preserve you!
Triumphant courage, love and happiness
join you as the happiest of couples.
[The bridal couple remains alone in the bridal chamber.]
Bayreuth Festival Chorus and Orchestra (1954), Eugen Jochum, cond. Live performance
Vienna State Opera Concert Chorus, Vienna Philharmonic, Georg Solti, cond. Decca, recorded Nov.-Dec. 1985, June 1986
JUMPING OVER THE WHOLE OF THE RING,
DIE MEISTERSINGER, AND TRISTAN UND ISOLDE . . .
I'm afraid the "further forays" into Act I of Lohengrin knocked some planned Parsifal forays out of this post, reserved for the future. But we can take time to listen again to the beautiful 1959 recording Jochum made of the common concert presentation of the opera's Prelude spliced into the "Good Friday Spell" of Act III.
Prelude and Good Friday Spell
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Eugen Jochum, cond. DG, recorded December 1957