Prelude: Tristan und Isolde - Wagner

Overview of the main points of the piece.

MDH - Melody Dominated Homophony

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  • Prelude to Tristan und Isolde - Wagner
    • Background
      • Opera: tragic love story, ends in death
      • Late Romantic
    • Tonality
      • C major (bar7)
      • Tonal ambiguity
      • E major (bar11) dominant chord
      • Opens in A minor (no A minor chord)
      • A major (climax section bar 61-73) double bass has a dominant pedal
    • Resources
      • Large Orchestra (see score)
      • Rarely has whole orchestra playing at same time (except bar38) creates textural colour
    • Structure
      • No formal structure -some say ternary form
      • CODA from bar84 recalls opening
      • Melodic sequence (opening in cellos) creates a sort of structure
      • Loads of imitation & repetition (bar36&42-violin&oboes)
      • Bar8-13 note subtraction between parts
    • Harmony
      • Cadences
        • Very few perfect cadences (Except bar24-25)
        • Interrupted cadence (bar16-17)
      • Appoggiaturas are v. important: cause dissonance & chromaticism
      • Loads of 7th chords - tend to be unresolved
      • Tristan Chord (bar106) caused controversy
        • Above root made up of:
          • augmented 6th
          • augmented 4th - tritone - devil's interval
          • augmented 9th above the root
      • Unusual chords: IIb7, Neapolitan 6th, augmented 6th chords
      • Diminished 7ths (bar 29)
    • Metre
      • 6/8 simple duple compound
    • Rhythm
      • Repetitive
      • Many rests: silence is used effectively (bars10-11)
      • Rhythm deliberately obscures any sense of metre: partly as it's v. slow
      • Cello (bar17) 3 note rhythm repeated a lot
      • Variety of note lengths: demisemiquaver triplets to dotted minims
      • Like an appoggiatura figure (bar3)
    • Texture
      • Cello starts monophonic
      • Homorhythmic, single line in 8ves (bar14-15)
      • Fairly contrapuntal (bar63-about 83)
      • Broken chords in strings (bar 69) quite a romantic & classical feature
      • MDH (bar12) in woodwind & underlying parts below flute are fairly homophonic
      • 4-part writing (quartet feel-bar11-12) occurs often in woodwind part
    • Melody
      • Built up of leitmotif - recurring theme associated with character or mood (appears throughout opera)
        • Grief Motif: chromatic & descending minor 6th (cello: bar1-2)
        • Desire Motif: ascends chromatically (oboe: bar2)
        • Glance Motif: ascending, quite sequential, contains wide leaps eg.bar20 minor 7th leap (cello: bar17-22)
        • Love potion Motif: slightly similar to glance motif (bar45-47)


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