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Assess Wagner's rôle as innovator in terms of influence he had over the modern school in Austria before the Great War

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Introduction

Assess Wagner's r�le as innovator in terms of influence he had over the modern school in Austria before the Great War I would argue that no composer is but influenced by a great composition (not necessarily musical) he comes in contact with. The influence may not be conscious, it may not be positive, and to the outsider it may not even seem relevant. Most influences will cause a composer to think along altered lines, and the stronger the alteration, the easier to detect influence. When two composers, roughly contemporary, produce comparable work, it is difficult to establish whether one influenced the other, or whether both were influenced by something else. In this case, many works have "Wagnerian" aspects, but whether they come from Wagnerian innovations is another matter. Wagner made a large contribution to music. Not only theoretically, harmonically, rhythmically, and instrumentation-wise, but to the form of dramatic symphonic works, and on a more practical level, in conducting and producing music. There are composers who tried to follow his works with similar ones - such as Felix Weingartner - but in their attempts to imitate they entirely lost sight of his goals, and have sunk into obscurity. Others, who composed in their own idiom with integrity and aspects of Wagner, are far more his heirs. ...read more.

Middle

Wagner generally used combinations and transformations in a manner clearly derived from Liszt, but it was Brahms built melodies, chords, tonal associations, and whole structures around tiny motifs that pointed towards unity of horizontal and vertical musical space that was so influential in the Second Viennese School. Schoenberg's statement that he owed most to Bach comes in part from this, and "through Brahms" can be added. Wagner, for all the melodic and chordal use of the Tristan idea, never developed this far. Wagner's innovations in rhythm are perhaps more influential than in harmony. While there was a very strong beat, there was no regular strong/weak pulse of the sort that characterised music of the past two centuries. This was partly due to the elaborate setting of words to melody. There is an endless range of emphasis which serves to create a free and flexible metre that serves the words. Within orchestral parts there is immense rhythmic subtlety and detail, which sometimes leads to a diffuse rather than free sound. The setting of Stabreim verse to music had great effect on Schoenberg, who frequently created musical prose in his efforts serve the words. Strauss attempted similar things, but while at first glance the vocal lines are similar, they lack Wagner's subtle correspondance of word to music. ...read more.

Conclusion

Mahler, Strauss and Schoenberg all followed the pattern of writing initially in an individual yet Wagnerian manner, but quite quickly moved onto quite separate paths, as if reacting violently to Wagner. The increasing desperation and savagery of Strauss and Schoenberg's works, such as Elektra and Erwartung can be seen in this light, but also as a product of other factors. The increasing social and moral decay exemplified by turn of the century Vienna is one. The nature of the harmonic language is another. Flowing Wagnerian textures are ideally suited the mood of Parsifal, more concentrated, dissonant, motivic (rather than leitmotivic or thematic) textures of 1905-8 Strauss and 1905-12 Schoenberg are suited to the expressionistic torment and macabre of Elektra and Pierrot. Wagner's direct influence was very specific in comparison with that of someone like Debussy. His chromatic harmonic language sometimes driven internally, his leitmotive, his word setting, and his form, the Music Drama. He had shown with Tristan that music is a language that can be changed with a single work (which speech cannot be). He had no successors, only followers and chronologically later rivals. He contributed to the loss of tonality's monopoly over harmony in the way that Berlioz and Mahler had contributed to ever subtler orchestration. But Bach and Brahms were to be the primary influences on Schoenberg, Berg and Webern. Even before the Great War, their dominance was present if not obvious. ...read more.

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