A Level Music: Prelude to Tristan und Isolde by Wagner

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When was this piece composed?
Late Romantic
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What type of work is this from?
An opera
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When was it first performed?
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What is the opera about?
It is a tragic love story that involves/ends in death.
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Name the Resources
Large Orchestra: Woodwind (3 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, cor anglais, bass clarinet,3 bassoons), Brass: (4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones and tuba), Timpani, Strings (2 violins, viola, cello and double bass)
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Would Wagner have used the entire orchestra at the same time?
Rarely - used specific instruments to create specific tone/textural colours. He sets his orchestra delicately to focus on each instrument group.
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Which woodwind instruments have solos and therefore play an important role?
Cor anglais and bass clarinet: bars 101, 104
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Does Wagner use the brass to its full potential?
No - used subtly. Trombone and tuba only play for 18 bars in whole piece, and trumpets barely play at all (only in bars 81-83).
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Which brass instrument did Wagner particularly like?
Horns: produced a softer, rounded sound, song-like.
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When is the timpani saved for?
The climax of the piece, and at tne end to create a sinister feel (fill in silence)
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Which string instrument is particularly important?
The cello - represents the human voice, opens the whole piece. Plays beautiful, melodic lines.
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Is the viola used effectively?
Yes, e.g. page 71. Has a shared melody with oboe and even plays higher than violin II in bar 42.
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What is an essential part of the expression of the piece?
The tone of the instruments
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Is there a lot of detail on the score?
Yes: bar 36, division of strings, bar 16: pizz and double stopping, bar 22: sul G (play on the G string - tone colour) and bar 77: tremolo
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Describe the structure
There is no formal structure due to the tonality. Some people say its' in ternary form (loosest possible sense).
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Explain carefully the structure
A section (bars 1-23), bridge passage (23-24), B section (25-65), A2 a climax to the A section (66-83) and CODA (84) which recalls the opening.
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The piece uses melodic sequence - why and where?
To create a sort of structure, the opening in the cello parts
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Is there lots of repetition and imitation?
Yes, bars 36-42 in viola and oboes
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Is there note subtraction between parts?
Yes, bars 8-13.
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What is the tonality?
Opens in A minor, yet difficult to establish tonality as there are no perfect cadences or A minor chords. In bar 3 there is a V7 chord in A min and bars 1-3 outline imperfect cadence.
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Does the piece change to any other key?
Bar 7: C major (no raised 7th), bar 11: E major (dominant chord in E), bar 61: A major (climax of piece) with dominant pedal of E in bass in bar 63.
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What is a tristan chord and where can an example of this be found?
Is it a chord associated with the character Tristan. Bar 1, chord 1 and bar 2 create a Tristan chord and bar 106 onwards the Tristan chord is in C minor. This chord has created much controvesy.
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What is the Tristan chord made up of (above the root)?
Augmented 4th (tritone - devil's interval), augmented 6th and augmented 9th
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Is there any dissonance?
Yes, the opening which is based on appoggiaturas causes dissonance.
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Are perfect cadences rare?
Yes. There is an interrupted cadence bars 16-17.
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Is there much chromaticism?
Yes - it creates intensity.
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Are there many added/unresolved/diminished 7ths?
Yes, they create a peculiar sound and add to the chromatic writing.
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Are there any other peculiar chords?
II7b and Neopolitan 6th (chord 2 in 1st inversion with flattened root) and an Augmented chord 6.
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What is the metre?
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Is the rhythm repetitive?
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What does the rhythm do?
Deliberately obscures any sense of metre due to the slow tempo.
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Is there a wide variation in rhythm?
Yes, ranging from demisemiquaver triplets to dotted minims. The note lengths are mostly quavers, yet in bars 22-24 there are many semiquavers.
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Are there many rests?
Yes: silence is used effectively. Bars 10 and 11.
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Is there an appogiatura rhythm?
Yes, it is: short, long and it features heavily: bar 3, and there is a 3 note rhythm that occurs frequently: bar 17, cello.
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Describe the texture
Starts monophonic with only cello playing. A single line written in octaves: bars 14-15 (homorhythmic). Bars 63-83: contrapuntal. Broken chords in strings: bar 69 (romantic and classical feature), MDH: bar 12 in woodwind, 4-part writing: bars 11-12.
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Texturally, where is there a quartet-like feel?
Bars 11-12 between 1st oboe, flute, clarinet and cor anglais
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What is the 'leitmotif'?
The main feature of the melody: a reoccuring theme associated with a particular mood, feeling or character throughout an opera.
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Name the 4 motifs:
1) Grief, 2) Desire, 3) Glance, 4) Love Potion
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Grief Motif:
Chromatic and descending minor 6th, bars 1-2 in cello
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Desire Motif:
Ascends chromatically, bar 2 in oboe
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Glance Motif:
Ascending, quite sentimental, contains wide leaps, bar 20 where there is a minor 7th leap, bars 17-22 in cello.
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Love Potion Motif:
An ascending phrase, slightly similar to Glance motif, bars 45-47. Retrograde occurs in bars 84-85.
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