Summary of the 20th Annual General Meeting – 4 December 2016
Bayreuther Stipendiatin
Committee Vacancies
Forthcoming Events
Study Course at Gartmore House, Stirlingshire
Wagner’s Homicidal Proclivity?
News in Brief


Wagner is often associated with some extreme political ideas.  However, it is not his fault that his music dramas were hijacked by Hitler to serve his hellish agenda.   What really comes through in Wagner’s operas is that love and heroism will prevail over the petty squabbling of those who try to control our lives.   He always tries to shine a light where a situation looks hopeless and suggests that if people try and do something noble, the world might improve.   Many of our excellent speakers show us how Wagner’s music tries to raise the human spirit and eliminate the evil that men and women do to each other for their own obscure, personal gratification and advancement.

Wagner was a man of his time and he was constrained by the technology and theatre practices of the 19th Century no matter how he tried to innovate.   How many designers have looked at the stage directions at the end of the Ring and sighed deeply about how to stage the last scene of Gotterdammerung, especially where the music is at its most emotionally vibrant containing all the ingredients of the scene by the use of Leitmotifs.   Opera North knew about all these problems before they embarked on their Ring, but a lack of money drove the production values.   They knew that a failure to be realistic about the costs could severely damage their company’s future, so they took the very bold move of producing a ‘semi-staged’ Ring.    Whether it was deliberate or not, this type of staging depends on the audience using their imaginations (with a little help) and the result is that you see it all at the end, Brunnhilde, Grane, the funeral pyre, Valhalla in flames, the Rhinemaidens and the Ring and even dear old Hagen with his famous last line.

The Ring des Nibelungen is on BBC iPlayer until August.   Don’t miss it!  A must for all our members!

Summary of the 20th Annual General Meeting – 4 December 2016

The meeting was attended by 27 members with apologies received from six.  Dale Bilsland, Chair, reported that volunteers had come forward to replace outgoing office bearers after the last AGM so that the Society could now go forward.  He outlined the programme of meetings held in the past year, the residential course at Gartmore in September 2016 (‘The Dresden Years’) and announced that this year Bayreuth had only awarded four tickets to our Society; the ballot was underway for these.

The Bayreuth scholarship 2016 had been awarded to Rebecca Godley whose report had been published in the recent Newsletter. Unfortunately Rebecca had been unable to attend the AGM and Christmas social due to audition dates.

Dale concluded by thanking the Committee including Nadine Harrison for her sterling work as Secretary which included organising the programme of Sunday meetings, the Gartmore residential courses and the website; Scott Wilkinson for impeccably keeping our finances in order; Robert Allen for the Newsletter and website; Iain Miller our Bayreuth Scholarship Officer, John Anderton, programme secretary from 2017 and to those who have served as committee members – Christine and Richard Proudfoot, Ina Stewart, Gabriele Kuhn, Peter Stuart, Maureen McLennan, Tim Gould and Derek Williams.

Scott Wilkinson, Treasurer presented a summary of the accounts for the 12 months to 30 September 2016. Accounts were presented both for the general and the scholarship accounts. The general account balance had increased by £3544 since 30th September 2015, standing at £13719 on 30 September 2016.  Projected expenditure on speakers had been less than anticipated and there had not been the need for any major outlays during the period.  The balance on this account would enable the Society to confidently cover costs through the next financial year.  For the Scholarship account, expenditure exceeded income but the balance was still £5808 allowing for ongoing support for the Bayreuth scholarship winner for several years to come.  In answer to a question, Scott said that, should this latter fund become depleted, it would be boosted from the general fund.

There was some discussion about the large amount of money in the general account and what this could be used for.  Suggestions included a grant for a young composer, support for student opera groups and publicity.  It was pointed out that there needed to be a Wagner connection with any such ventures.  The Treasurer also pointed out that some reserves were needed for unexpected outlays and costs e.g. of speakers which varied a great deal.

There were currently 113 individual members and 33 joint members, i.e. 179 people in total, including two student members.  Nadine Harrison, Scott Wilkinson, Robert Allen and Richard Proudfoot were stepping down from the committee and were thanked for their contributions to date.

The Committee for 2016-17 was elected as follows:

Dale Bilsland                  Chair

John Anderton               Secretary

Peter Stuart                    Treasurer and Membership Secretary

Maureen McLennan        Newsletter Editor

Iain Millar                         Bayreuth Officer

Derek Williams                Website manager

Gabriele Kuhn                 Member

Ina Stewart                      Member

Christine Proudfoot         Member

Tim Gould                       Member

Ian McLennan                Member

Full draft minutes of the AGM are available on request from the Secretary and will be ratified at the 21st AGM in 2017.

Bayreuther Stipendiatin

The Society is delighted to announce that our Scholar for 2017 will be Gillian Slater. Gillian is in her final year studying Set and Costume Design as part of the BA Production Arts and Design course at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. She was Assistant Designer in their recent production of Agrippina.

Committee Vacancies

Volunteers are sought to fill the following posts that will become vacant during this year –

CHAIR: Dale Bilsland announced at the recent AGM that he will not be seeking re-election at the 2017 AGM.

INDEPENDENT EXAMINER:  to scrutinise the Society accounts prior to submission to the Annual General Meeting in 2017 and as part of our OSCR Annual Return.  The person need not be a member of the Society, but cannot be a member of the Committee, and should have some facility with financial accounts.

ORGANISER OF ANNUAL STUDY WEEKEND AT GARTMORE in September each year.  This involves receiving bookings from members and co-ordinating our booking/requirements with Gartmore House Hotel. This will take effect from the 2018 course but the new organiser ideally should work with Nadine Harrison who is organising 2017.

MEMBER TO ORGANISE MEMBERSHIP RECORDS in conjunction with the Treasurer from 2018.

Anyone interested should contact Dale Bilsland (dale.bilsland2012@btinternet.com; 0141 942 0935).

Forthcoming Events

—All events take place at Edinburgh Society of Musicians, 3 Belford Road, EH4 3BL (by Dean Bridge). Admission £7 members, £15 non-members.  Please note the earlier starting time on 23rd April

Sunday 23rd April 2017 at 7.00pm**

International baritone Malcolm Rivers coaches three of Britain’s most exciting young singers in extracts from Siegfried
Lee Bisset Soprano  Brünhilde
Jonathan Stoughton Tenor  Siegfried
Donald Thomson Bass  Fafner
with Kelvin Lim Piano.

Part 1 will include Siegfried’s sword-forging scene from Act 1 and work on Fafner’s ‘Wer bist du, kühner Knabe?’ from Act II.  In Part 2 Lee Bisset and Jonathan Stoughton will perform the final half hour of the music drama from ‘Heil dir, Sonne!’ onwards.

During the course of the evening the 2016 Carole Rees Award for Advanced Musical Studies will be presented to Donald Thomson by members of the late Carol Rees’ family and the Winner of the 2017 Award will be announced. There will be an opportunity to meet the artists from 9 until 9.30pm.

Sunday May 21st 2017 at 7.30pm


Compared to Der Ring des NibelungenParsifal and even, Die Meistersinger, the orchestral forces required for Tristan und Isolde are quite conventional by Wagner’s standards.  What he does with this orchestra though, is far from conventional and so, in this talk, we will be examining key points in the score, paying particular attention to orchestral textures and effects but also relating them to the voice(s) they support and enhance.  Technical terms will be explained and a sheet of relevant leitmotivs will be supplied but, if you have a score, please bring it with you to follow. 

Derek Blyth was born in Edinburgh where he studied with Fiona Cunning, Morag Maclachlan, Scott Wilkinson and Derek Watson, whence the passion for Wagner.  After taking B.Mus in Aberdeen, he moved to Durham and then to Cheshire, where he taught music for many years.  He lectures to the Manchester Wagner Society of which he is vice president and also the Manchester Lit. and Phil. He conducts musicals and operettas and travels round Europe to see opera.

Sunday June 25th at 7.30pm


Famous in particular for his incredible operatic scores, Wagner is often overlooked as a great pioneer in Lieder writing.  Catherine will explore phrase lengths, harmony, prolonged cadences and much more through song and explanation.  We will discover the great contribution Wagner made to this genre along with his German Romantic Lieder contemporaries. 

Catherine is a former pupil of Douglas Academy Music School, Glasgow and completed her voice studies under Caroline Crawshaw at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, UK.  She has enjoyed an international professional singing career ranging from the great National Opera Houses of Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, to Glastonbury and the Edinburgh Fringe, with companies including Carl Rosa Opera, Grange Park Opera and Garsington Opera.  Catherine now lives in Brussels and continues to perform regularly in recital, oratorio and cabaret both in Belgium and Britain.



Study Course at Gartmore House, Stirlingshire

Friday 15th to Monday 18th September 2017

Tutor: Derek Watson B.Mus. LRAM

Please book for this course as soon as possible to secure your place. Due to changes in booking arrangements with Gartmore House, we need all provisional bookings by 30 April 2017 and before if possible.

For full information and how to book see Newsletter December 2016 or the website www.wagnerscotland.net/courses

Wagner’s Homicidal Proclivity?

Wagner as dramatist displayed a marked penchant for killing off his characters.  In his youthful play Leubald und Adelaide he exterminated entire families, such that several persons had to reappear as ghosts in order to sustain the action.  The casualty list of his operas Tristan und Isolde and Der Ring are also remarkably long.

Curiously, the cause of death of several of his operatic heroines is obscure.  Whilst Senta is clearly drowned and Brünnhilde incinerated, any doctor would have difficulty in providing death certificates for Elizabeth, Elsa, Kundry and Isolde (although Weitz1 has ingeniously proposed that Isolde succumbed to an overdose of belladonna, contained in the aphrodisiac drink proffered by Brangäne).

As the writer Nestroy commented2 in broad Viennese dialect: “I don’t need no dagger, I can die on me own”.

  1. Weitz, G. British Medical Journal 2003; 327: 1469-71
  2. Nestroy, J. Quoted by Gal, H. in Richard Wagner. Stein and Day, New York 1976 p154   

J Ian Robertson

News in Brief
  • Staatstheater: Oper Nürnberg is performing two complete Ring Cycles in May and June –https://www.staatstheater-nuernberg.de/index.php?page=oper,der_ring_des_…
  • Opus Arte has released on BluRay and DVD the Kaspar Holten production of das Liebesverbot recently performed at Theatro Real, Madrid (12 down one to go!)
  • The Mastersingers, who are presenting the exciting evening on Siegfried at our Society of 23 April, are organising a major conference in London on 8 and 9 April, 2017 on Culture and the Third Reich – https://mastersingers.org.uk/culture/