1983 / SEGGAU

Richard Wagner as Reflected through his Music for Winds

Friedhelm Brusniak, Augsburg

From 31 May through 3 June, the International Society for the Investigation and Promotion of Wind Music held its fifth conference at Seggau Castle near Leibnitz, Austria. The theme of the conference, selected in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the death of Richard Wagner, received an unusually large response, with delegates from Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Hungary, Bulgaria, West Germany, and the United States in attendance. Considering the large number of participants, the wide spectrum of topics, and the niveau of the papers and discussions, there was little doubt that the days are past when band and wind music research were regarded as a "step child" of musicology.

The fact that almost all of the participants have had practical experience in the wind field, prevented the "image neurosis", which often is present at other conferences. The atmosphere which prevailed was one in which relevancy-orientated specialists could exchange findings, views, and opinions in harmony and congeniality. Everyone reading a paper - be he as musicologist or a student, a professor of music education or a teacher, a professional performer or a composer, a bandmaster or a patron of instrumental music - was assured of the attentiveness of his audience. Considering that various renowned musicologists still pay homage to the "autonomus work of art", it was refreshing to note that those in attendance seemed to accept the idea of "music research as humane research".

That Richard Wagner would make a good subject for wind music specialists to investigate was to be foreseen. However, what was surprising was the wide spectrum of topics presented, ranging from "Wagner's influence on the use of wind instruments by French composers at the turn of the century" (Bernhard Schulé, Genf) to the master's "relationship to military music" (Eugen Brixel, Graz). Speculative papers such as "The Spiritual Conception and Use of Winds by Richard Wagner" (Friedrich Oberkogler, Graz) were no more absent than the thoroughly documented papers such as "How Richard Wagner's works became known in the Provinces" (Erich Schneider, Bregenz). "Richard Wagners's relationship to the instrument builders of his time" (Gunther Joppig, Hittbergen) became almost of necessity a main theme. From an abundance of new source materials, including rediscovered Wagner letters, it can be verified that Wagner requested and doubtlesly had built an alto oboe. Rita Fischer of Erlangen has located in the collection of old instruments in the Kunsthistorische Museum in Vienna (Inv. No.445) an alto oboe which was built by the nineteenth century instrument building family Stengel in Bayreuth. Wagner's use of wind instruments, historical influences, and performance practices were also discussed by Roswitha Karpf, Graz (flute), Friedrich Körner, Graz (trumpet), Kurt Janetzky, Wiesloch (horn), Friend R. Overton, Diepental and Michael Nagy, Vienna (serpent).

Fortunately, the opportunity also existed for the presentation of papers dealing with other themes. Here also the spectrum was large and included a paper concerning the band transcriptions of the works of Anton Bruckner (Wolfgang Suppan), a discussion of the life and works of the South Tyrolian Sepp Thaler (Gottfried Veit, Bozen), and a discourse on the use of the saxophone in bands in Germany (Josef Heckle, Freiburg i. Br.). A topic of interest for the performing musician was the presentation by Gregor Widholm of Vienna concerning the methods now available through the aid of special computers for objectively assessing the quality of brass instruments - a presentation which with the help of diagrams and charts became immediately accessible to the musician without a masters degree in engineering.

There were also papers that did not remain with the "documentation of historical events" in a completely restrictive sence, but which attempted to tie the material to the realities of today and even to future prospects. This was true for the reports and "the March in the United States of America" (Leon J. Bly, U.S.A.) and "the Concept and Development of the Wind Band since the Invention of Valved Instruments" (Bernhard Habla, Würzburg), as well as the report on "The Band Materials in the Hungarian National Library" (Zoltán Falvy, Budapest). In this sense, Christian Blümel of Münster reported on "the Archives for the Investigation and Promotion of the Trombone Choir" and Friedhelm Brusniak of Augsburg reported on the life and wind compositions of Friedrich Buck, a Wagner contemporary who lived and worked in Bayreuth.

Certain holes in the traditional method of writing music history became evident to those in attendance. For example, the phenomenon whereby "masterworks" were popularized from the 18th century until the early part of the 20th century via military bands can not be underestimated by anyone researching the manner in which compositions were preceived and received. However, in current discussions of the music of the 19th century, terms like wind band, brass band, military music, and Harmoniemusik are deemed worthy of only a footnote.

The question of the band's borrowed repertoire was treated with commitment and objectivity. It would appear that "the phase of historically pure performances has been supplanted by the performance practices of today" (Suppan); however, it will still be a while before a "normal" i. e., unbiased relationship can be restored between the "original composition" and the "arrangement". The universal discrimination against band arrangements has left very deep wounds. (Here comes the accusation of "intentional taste manipulation" especially upon the part of the music publishers, who, in order to "capture the market", provide only "stock arrangements".) With scientific meticulosity the pros and cons of transcriptions were weighed, whereby examples from the American musical developments of recent years especially illustrated that Busoni's thoughts on the worth of transcriptions are held today only by certain aestheticians.

In a responsible way, composers, performers, and musicologists discussed taboos. "Enrichment of the band presumes a freeing from cliches", declared Dimiter Christoff, Vice-President of the Bulgarian Composers' Union. In protest against the "diplomatic" term "symphonic band", he selected for his fifth concerto the title Concerto No.2 for Piano and Largest Wind Band. In connection with this work, a stimulating and fruitful conversation took place regarding the aspect of "team work between the composer and the performer", concerning which the performers complained about the lack of cooperation upon the part of the composers.

Wolfgang Schmidt-Brunner of Detmold in his analysis of Arnold Schoenberg's Theme and Variations for Band, opus 43a compared the composition to Hindemith's and Britten's music for amateurs. The work, which without any doubt is one of the most important original compositions for wind band, is intended, according to the composer, to close the gap between the chamber symphony and atonal compositions. 

With a Richard Wagner Concert, the Graz Musikhochschule Symphonic Band under the direction of Eugen Brixel and Hans Baldauf demonstrated the wealth of possibilities modern wind instruments have to offer the composer for both original creations and sparkling arrangements. Correspondingly, the program ranged from Wagner's Trauersinfonie through various arrangements of Wagner's and Bruckner's works to the premiere performance of Karl Haidmayer's Sinfonische Evolution über ein Thema Richard Wagners: De Ilnes Ortam.

The papers presented at the conference will be published in a forthcoming volume in the series "Alta musica". The next conference will be in conjunction with the "Festlichen Musiktage" in Uster near Zürich in 1985; the proposed theme for the conference is: Band Music Today.

(Translation by Leon J. Bly)

[Mitteilungsblatt Nr.13, April 1984]