Tag Archives: Wagner

Take a Bow Mr. Wagner

Any good geek will tell you that for some movies it pays to stay in the theater through the end of the credits. Filmmakers sometimes like to give a little something extra for those who stay.

The Return of the King, the last of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films is no exception, though there is a twist. It’s not Jackson who’s giving the audience a little something: it’s Howard Shore, the composer of the film’s score.

As the film closes, we start with Annie Lennox singing her song “Into the West”.

Once that finishes, we move into a fairly standard instrumental medley, reprising the major themes from the trilogy.

Then we hear a nice closing sequence with the horns, woodwinds and strings coming together seeming to wind down the themes for the closing. The strings in particular play a theme that very much conveys a sense of a curtain slowly closing.

But then we start to hear something a bit unexpected. The woodwinds hold what you expect to be the closing chord when you hear the strings meander a bit once more and the low strings start a strong, loud upward crescendo sweeping the woodwinds up with them. Both grow stronger until you realize that somewhere in there the horns have come in and that all of them together a playing a very decidedly Wagnerian closing chord.

In less than a minute, Shore manages to take us out of his score for the Lord of the Rings and back to Wagner’s own Ring Cycle.

The clip here is from the original soundtrack, so it cuts short the thematic reprise after Annie Lennox’s song ends and comes before the Wagner homage. But you can hear the homage begin around 4:35 into it.

If you want to get the full effect, I strongly recommend you get the The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (The Complete Recordings). If you like Shore’s music, the entire set, while pricey, is a rare treasure: it’s ALL the music from the three films. And includes great, detailed musical commentary that explains the themes in depth. And this is one where I would get the physical box sets rather than the digital download.

For all the ink spilled about who’s Ring is better and whether Wagner influenced Tolkein or not, it’s nice to at least have Shore tip his hat to Wagner. Even if Wagner didn’t influence Tolkein, his influence on the aesthetics of film, particularly in terms of scores, is undeniable. And so of course he is an influence for the work that Shore and Jackson have done.

So, take a bow Mr. Wagner, you deserve it.

New Seattle Opera Blog Guest Post

Be sure to check out my new guest posting over at the Seattle Opera blog, Seattle Ring 2009: A New Wotan for the Ages. In it I share my thoughts on Greer Grimsley as Wotan, what his portrayal tells us about this year’s cycle, and how I’ve seen a new Wotan in this production.

Check it out, and my thanks to the Seattle Opera for letting me guest post.

It’s Wagner Season

I’ve been offline a bit but it seems appropriate to do a short post announcing with great joy that it’s time to celebrate another week of greed, murder, incest, destruction, loss and, finally, the end of the world.

Yes, dear reader, it’s Wagner season! The Seattle Opera has started their first cycle in the most recent of their every-four-year cycles.

Last night began with an excellent staging of Das Rheingold. Tonight we move on to the lovely, and poignant Die Walküre.

We actually kicked off the season last Sunday by attending a preview performance of Das Barbecü at ACT Theater which is a wonderful, light filling-in of details in Götterdammerung in country-western musical style.

I’ll also be doing some guest postings over at the Seattle Opera Blog. And it looks like I’ll have the opportunity to be interviewed by Zach Carstensen over at the Gathering Note blog during Götterdammerung. I’ll be posting links here to those as they go live.

Should be a good week.

All I Needed to Know about Music I Learned from Bugs Bunny!

I’ve come to realize that when I was a kid, an important, defining “or” is “Bugs Bunny/Loony Tunes” or “Mickey Mouse/Disney”, as in “which one did you like”. On a side note, another important one of these is “Road Runner” or “Wiley Coyote”, but that’s a different topic.

I was firmly a “Bugs Bunny/Loony Tunes” person. I felt a certain affinity for the wry, sarcasm with most of the characters. I was also firmly a Wiley Coyote person for that matter.

So, a lot of my childhood cartoon watching was spent watching The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Show for 90 minutes every Saturday morning. Easily two of my favorites were the opera parodies.

Their parody of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, “What’s Opera, Doc?“:

and of course, their parody of Rossini’sBarber of Seville“, “The Rabbit of Seville“:

Being a kid, I didn’t really know that they were parodies, let alone what they were parodying. I just thought they were fun and I liked the music.

By the time I went to college at Oberlin (which has a top notch Conservatory referred to as the “Con”) I hadn’t seen these for a number of years and I hadn’t thought much about them. By then, though, I did know that they were parodies and I had some ideas about what they were parodying.

One day I heard Con students talking one day about “What’s Opera, Doc?” and how they loved it and that it was not just a parody but a very good one. That made me think for the first time that the music in the Bugs Bunny show might be more substantial than other cartoons like Scooby Doo (loved the cartoon but, man, that music was WAY too groovy).

This week, I find the topic of the importance of music in Loony Tunes coming back to mind. In “The Rest is Noise“, Alex Ross at one point talks about how the music in Loony Tunes incorporated atonality and other leading edge concert music trends and practices in a way that exposed them to audiences that wouldn’t normally sit and listen to, say, Schoenberg.

I had another epiphany this week while listening to the first two of Bill Messenger’s lectures in the “Elements of Jazz” series: I have more familiarity and appreciation of at least some early forms of Jazz than I realized because that music was used so often in cartoons like Looney Tunes.

Of course, when you think about it, it shouldn’t be all that shocking, really. After all, how many of us first learned who Beethoven was (and that his birthday was December 16) because of Schroeder? I know the first time I heard (and fell in love with) Beethoven’s Pathétique was this sequence in A Boy Named Charlie Brown:

And as I’m starting to learn (and maybe understand) Jazz a bit more, I can defiantly say my first exposure to the Jazz practice of taking a familiar song and building off of it really came from The Vince Guaraldi Trio’s rendition of “O Tannenbaum” in “A Charlie Brown Christmas“:

This is all to say that all that time I was watching cartoons as a kid, I wasn’t just being entertained, I was learning music than I ever realized.