Wagner Prelude to Die Meistersinger Program Notes
Wagner's comic opera Meistersinger of Nurenburg is his most human opera, since it omits gods, potions, and mythic journeys. He wrote it during an extended break from his four-opera Ring of the Nibelung, as a Vienna premiere of Tristan & Isolde was falling through, and following the Paris Tannhäuser production disappointment. Meistersinger percolated for several years, though. Wagner drew on the 1500s in the culturally significant German city of Nurenberg, and their Guild of Master-Singers, with their famous songwriting competitions. The Meistersinger Prelude is a masterpiece, introducing all the opera's leitmotifs (leading motifs), Wagner's term for melodic material associated with characters or ideas. The louder and stately music tends to be motives associated with the public sphere of the Guild and its traditions. Wagner actually quotes two historically accurate Prize Master Tones from a 1497 book about the original Meistersingers. Softer and more expressive music concerns the young traveling knight, Walther,who arrives in Nurenberg the morning before the Meistersingers competition. At church, he is smitten with Eva, the daughter of Pogner, the president of the guild. Her had in marriage (should she accept) is the prize for this year's song competition, so Walther has a crash course in songwriting, first from apprentice David, then jealous Beckmesser, (older and desirous of Eva). Finally, Walther receives instruction from the noble, selfless (and based-on-historical-record) mastersinger and shoemaker, Hans Sachs. The opera is over four hours long, but the reader will be happy to know Walther and Eva end up happily together.