Newsletter Vol 18 No. 3 September 2014




With this issue of the Newsletter we enclose our complete programme for 2014−15 for your diary, and on the back you will find our Chairman’s Report on the Annual Kongress of the Richard-Wagner-Verband Internationalheld earlier in the year in Graz, which he attended. It makes for lively and exciting reading, and reminds us of the ‘worldwide family of Richard Wagner lovers’ to which we belong. It is indeed a large family, and like all families it embraces several generations, young and old.

In recent months we have been looking at and hearing about adaptations of Wagner’s music dramas for young people. In May we watched a film of Die Feen in a special production from the Wiener Staatsoper lasting about fifty minutes with a reduced cast and orchestra. The Staatsoper, along with other houses in German-speaking countries, run regular series of such productions for children, the intention being to take them beyond passive listening to creativity, encouraging them to write their own songs, devise dances, invent different endings to stories, and so on. Their Ring for Children, last staged in March, contained the whole drama in a single hour, and was recommended ‘from age 6’:  there are engaging pictures of this production on the Staatsoper website. Here at home, Scottish Opera have begun regular presentations of ‘Opera Unwrapped’ for primary school children, inviting financial support from ‘Education Angels’ among the public (

Then in July our visiting speaker Heath Lees, Emeritus Professor of Music at Auckland University, included in his gripping presentation a clip from a half-hour animated film about the Rhinegold made by Alan Platt. (We all wanted to see the rest of it — it is not easy to track down now.) This complemented his thesis that the Ring tetralogy reflects the ‘life cycle of an audience’, from childhood in Das Rheingold, through adulthood in Die Walküre and parenthood in Siegfried, to old age and grandparenthood in Götterdämmerung. In Das Rheingold, the audience is treated as children being told a gradually unfolding story: the Rhinemaidens use baby talk; Loge’s narration tells us a story about the world and builds up a sense of expectation (‘Only one man I saw who forswore love ...’); in Freia’s music we are taught what will later become the basis of the love music in Die Walküre. Then Siegfried presents us with the next generation, and in Götterdämmerung the old order disappears. We can see an age progression in the drama, presented like this: let us hope that the good work being done by the opera companies in inspiriting younger generations to enjoy opera can help achieve this continuity in our audiences.


Forthcoming Events

All events take place at Edinburgh Society of Musicians, 3 Belford Road, EH4 3BL (by Dean Bridge). Admission £7 members, £10 guests (except AGM). Please note start times on 2 and 30 November.


Sunday 5 October 2014 at 7.30pm

WAGNER: The Critic's Perspective — Ken Walton


Wagner's music presented contemporary audiences and critics with a whole new listening experience. Ken Walton, classical music critic and columnist, examines the nature of 19th century critical reaction to Wagner's music, setting such innovatory hallmarks as the so-called ‘Tristan chord’ in historical perspective.

Ken Walton studied at the Royal Northern College of Music and Glasgow University. He has worked as a music critic, journalist, and broadcaster in Scotland for over 30 years, the past 15 of these as principal music critic of The Scotsman. He is a former member of the BBC's Scottish Music Advisory Committee. Ken has also worked extensively in music education, having taught at Glasgow University and the RSAMD (now RCS), and is currently director of music performance at Hutchesons' Grammar School.


Sunday 2 November 2014 at 2.30pm

Thematic transformation in Wagner — Kevin Stephens


Composers have always found ways to develop and transform musical ideas and Wagner was no exception. Kevin Stephens will explore how Wagner manipulated some of his themes, how some of the transformations were intended to be recognised and how others were disguised, and how new themes were generated from old ones creating a web of connections across an opera. Looking mainly at Holländer, Tristan and Meistersinger, this talk explores how Wagner uses shape, rhythm, and devices such as inversion and reversal to transform his themes.

Kevin Stephens has had a varied career in music and opera, as critic, festival director, arts administrator, consultant, lecturer, and author. Since 1997 he has been a tutor and module author for the Rose Bruford College distance learning opera degree, writing the modules on Wagner's Ring cycle among others.


Sunday 30 November 2014  6.30-9pm

AGM and Christmas Social


Notice is hereby given of the Eighteenth Annual General Meeting of the Wagner Society of Scotland at 6.30pm at the Edinburgh Society of Musicians, 3 Belford Road, Edinburgh EH4 3BL. Any member wishing to join the Committee as an ordinary member should contact Dale Bilsland or Nadine Harrison before the meeting.

After the AGM, we hope that Paul Livingston, this year’s Bayreuth Scholar, will come to tell us about his experience and may even play for us. There will be refreshments, donated CDs and books for purchase, and a chance to socialise.

Admission is free for members but donations are welcomed to cover costs.



Book Offer and Review


Lies and Epiphanies: Composers and Their Inspiration from Wagner to Berg

by Chris Walton


(Boydell & Brewer  978 1 58046 477 2, pp. x + 168, 2014)


Chris Walton, a past speaker at our Society on Wagner’s Zurich connections, has written an interesting and stimulating book which is offered to members at a generous discount by the Publishers (see below).
I append a brief review and recommend it highly.

Wagner famously mythologised the ‘epiphanies’ that formed his inspiration for a number of great works, most notably The Flying Dutchman (his sea voyage from Riga), Das Rheingold (the dream at La Spezia), and Parsifal (a Good Friday revelation in Zurich). He also, as is argued here, made considerable personal and professional capital out of his dedication to Cosima of the Siegfried Idyll, in particular to reinforce the dynastic aspirations established by the birth of his and Cosima’s son Siegfried.  In Chris Walton’s study, these epiphanies form a starting point for further case studies of musical inspiration devised as a means of self-promotion by composers influenced by Wagner: Gustav Mahler (moved by hearing Klopstock’s ‘Resurrection Ode’ at von Bülow’s funeral in 1894 to set it as the final movement of his second symphony), Alban Berg (the dedication of his violin concerto to ‘an angel’, Alma Mahler’s daughter Manon), Wilhelm Furtwängler (his long period without inspiration), and Richard Strauss (inspired to great last works by the prospect of his own death).

Whether or not such epiphanies amount to ‘lies’ is the crux of the matter, and Walton digs deeper into these cases by exploring their psychological purpose, which in most cases centres on the seeking of approval and support from those who matter, or who have the right connections. The range is restricted to the Austro-German musical world, so that other names that spring to mind in this connection are not included (Janáček, for example, might have been of greater interest to an English-language readership than Furtwängler, whose musical compositions are little known outside Germany). The first chapter, on Wagner, is the most interesting because Wagner is the most interesting subject psychologically, while the later chapters are of greater historical than musicological interest because of the times in which their subjects lived. We may think that the retrospective refashioning of inspiration is just part of the creative process;  if so, then perhaps truth is irrelevant, and we are concerned not so much with the telling of lies as with the spinning of myth — by those for whom myth was already the fons et origo of their artistic endeavours.  [RA]



Order online at or via mail or telephone: Boydell & Brewer Ltd, PO Box 9, Woodbridge, Suffolk, IP12 3DF (01394 610600).

Please be sure to quote reference 14175 when prompted (online this will be at the checkout).
Offer ends 30 September 2014.


Margaret Perry

We regret to inform readers of the death of our long-standing member Margaret Perry from Perth, who passed away peacefully in a nursing home there in April. Margaret had many friends in the Society and was for many years a frequent face at all our events. We send condolences to her son David and family.

John Pierce

We are also sad to report the death in January of John Pierce from Coventry. He was a member for many years and a frequent participant in our residential courses. We send condolences to his family and will miss him in September at the Parsifal course.


News in Brief


●  Landestheater Linz complete their Ring Project with three complete cycles in February, April, and May 2015 —


●  Oper Leipzig, as befits his birthplace, has a full programme of Wagner in the 14/15 Season culminating in the Wagner Festtage from 22 to 31 May 2015 with six operas and a concert —


●  Sofia Opera and Ballet have announced their 2015 production (following productions in 2013 and 2014) of Wagner’s Ring des Nibelungen on 4, 5, 7, and 9 July 2015.   For more information go to

●  Information about opera performances in Scotland can be found at


Dale Bilsland
22 West Chapelton Drive, Bearsden, Glasgow, G61 2DA
Telephone:  0141 942 0935  Mobile:  0776 691 2724


John Anderton
2 Glenlockart Road, Edinburgh, EH10 5RG
Telephone:  0131 447 1645

Treasurer & Membership Secretary

Peter Stuart
1C Pendreich Road, Bridge of Allan, Stirling, FK9 4PZ
Telephone:  0178 683 3804                

Newsletter Editor

Maureen McLennan
6 Merchiston Place, Edinburgh, EH10 4NR
Telephone:  0131 623 2920  Mobile:  0790 256 3232