Opera: Tristan & Isolde
While working on the Ring, Wagner experienced a crisis. He put Siegfried aside for a while and wrote a groundbreaking opera, based on the medieval love story of Tristan and Isolde.
He received added inspiration from his extra-marital affair with Mathilde Wesendonk. Two of her five poems that he set to music (Wesendonklieder) became preliminary studies for Tristan, in which the action and the music blend to form a symphonic whole.
The new opera Tristan und Isolde was the height of modernity, as the succession of chords was determined more by chromaticism than by their harmonic function. The ‘Tristan chord’ put a bomb under traditional theory of harmony, as it were, and the orchestration was also extremely innovative. After Tristan und Isolde, Wagner’s composition style changed for good.
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