The main sad news we have this edition is regarding the recent and untimely death of Derek Watson.   As a small tribute to someone who was such an influential member of our Society, we are including with this Newsletter a separate obituary.   He will be sorely missed by us all.


The main sad news we have this edition is regarding the recent and untimely death of Derek Watson.   As a small tribute to someone who was such an influential member of our Society, we are including with this Newsletter a separate obituary.   He will be sorely missed by us all.

Many were disappointed not to hear Derek’s planned talk on ‘Richard Wagner, the Wanderer: Ludwig to the rescue’ at Gartmore House this year.  It was to have been the penultimate in his stimulating series of talks on Wagner’s life and works.  However, we are most grateful to David Nice, the writer, lecturer and broadcaster who stepped in at short notice and delivered some exciting talks on Das Rheingold.  It seems to have been well received by all who attended and he has expressed willingness to continue with Die Walküre next year if our members wish.  Please let a member of the committee know your thoughts on this.

The GDPR regulations came into force on 25 May 2018 and we wrote to everyone asking for consent to continue to use their data for the Society’s purposes.  We used the same mailing to enquire whether members might be willing to get their Newsletters by email.   We received many replies to both questions and are grateful to all of you for your time and trouble in dealing with this purely administrative chore.  Almost 38% elected to receive their newsletter by email, representing considerable savings to the Society in printing and postage costs.

SUBSCRIPTIONS 2019:  Please remember that subscriptions fall due from 1 January 2019.   If you already have a direct debit or standing order in place, no further action is needed.   Anyone who pays by cheque, please try to ensure that these are in our hands during January.   The subscriptions for next year remain unchanged at £25 for a single member and £35 for a couple.


In August 2018, I travelled to Bayreuth as The Wagner Society of Scotland’s Bayreuther Stipendiatin.  Upon my arrival I enjoyed a Franconian evening where I met scholars from around the world and kick- started my week attempting to speak German!  Over the following days, I enjoyed exploring Bayreuth, with daily walks to the Festpielhaus. The first opera was Lohengrin, and Piotr Beczała performing the title role was outstanding.  I also attended Der Fliegende Holländer and Parsifal, and the long applause at the end of each opera was thoroughly deserved.

During my visit to Bayreuth, Dame Gwyneth Jones gave a masterclass to young singers at Wahnfried.  It was lovely to hear her work with two young singers and to hear Wagner’s music being performed in his own home.  The week also included a tour of the Festspielhaus, attending wreath laying at Wahnfried, as well as a final night scholar’s concert and meal.

At the end of my visit to Bayreuth, I travelled to Nüremberg and met up with my husband for a long weekend.  After a week of Bavarian food in the student accommodation, we treated ourselves to a meal at a Teppanyaki restaurant.  Sitting at a group table with a family from Munich, I reflected on a week of Wagnerian opera and learning to speak German.

I cannot thank The Wagner Society of Scotland enough for providing this once in a lifetime opportunity to finally hear Wagnerian Opera performed in Richard Wagner’s own theatre.  It is something I will always remember.

Claudia Wood

(Claudia is currently singing in Celebrate Voice’s production of Don Giovanni in Salisbury.   She is understudying the role of Donna Elvira.)


We thought it would be of interest to relate our own experiences in attending the first night of the festival along with Wagner’s most famous living fan, Angela Merkel.  The night of 25 July 2018, the weather was sweltering and quite unpleasant.   We obtained our tickets in the annual Bayreuth ballot.   Nine years of nothing and then finally an email saying we had got tickets for the new production of ‘Lohengrin’ and ‘Parsifal’.   Diaries were cleared, families were told and plane tickets and hotels booked (Hotel Rheingold – very Wagnercentric and good value).   Our flight to Nuremberg was due to take off 45 minutes after we landed in Amsterdam.   We really did not have an earthly chance of catching that plane and missed it by miles.   We got the later plane and the last car in the rental…a hybrid.   Our Bayreuth experience almost ended as quickly as it had started, but finally we worked out how to start the car and we were off…

On the morning of Lohengrin our hotel was surrounded by hundreds of German police shouldering sub machine guns.   However, they looked quite a pleasant lot and memories of ‘the Great Escape’ quickly faded.   At the Festspielhaus, we had a bit of a hike (in the heat) and half the garden was closed to accommodate the security apparatus.   In the theatre we caught a glimpse of Angela Merkel and her entourage.   As the performance progressed, the odd person became overcome with heat and was able to leave the auditorium (contrary to popular belief the locked doors are opened during a performance in extremis).   The production was quite ‘out there’.   Blue backgrounds, characters wearing facsimile insect wings and (Spoiler Alert:  a green character representing Elsa’s liberated brother, Gottfried).   All of which is what you get these days in a Wagner production.    Thielemann conducted the music beautifully, but he usually does.

Parsifal was on the following day and our police friends with their reassuring weaponry were all gone.   We walked in the garden and saw the moving Jewish memorial.   We enjoyed ‘Parsifal’, but Bishcoff’s tempi were so slow, we started to worry that there might be a ‘Parsifal – Part 2’ the following day. Any visit to the dear green hill is memorable, and we will try and go back just as quickly as we can.

Ian and Maureen McLennan

Forthcoming Events

All Wagner Society of Scotland events take place at the Edinburgh Society of Musicians, 3 Bedford Road, EH4 3BL (by Dean Bridge).  Admission is £7 for members and £15 for non-members. In an effort to enable more members to come and to get home timeously, WE WILL BE STARTING AT 6.30PM FROM THE DECEMBER MEETING ONWARDS.

Sunday 11th November 2018 at *7.30pm*


Like many of his peers, the young French composer Claude-Achille Debussy was much influenced by Wagner, reflected in his long labours on  his opera, Pelléas et Mélisande.  This talk will review some wagnériste inflections in Pelléas before scanning ahead to later instances, including the Gabriele d’Annunzio ‘mystery’ play Le Martyre de Saint-Sébastien (1911), for which Debussy wrote incidental music distinctly reminiscent of Parsifal.  We will hear, and consider, the ways in which this most ‘French’ composer negotiated with a towering Germanic model even as he took on more and more nationalistic postures in his music and criticism alike.

David J. Code is Reader in Music at the University of Glasgow, School of Culture and Creative Arts.  He has published extensively on such key figures in fin-de-siècle modernism as Claude Debussy, Stéphane Mallarmé, and Igor Stravinsky.  He has also written several articles on the music in the films of Stanley Kubrick, and is planning a co-edited series of volumes on ‘musicality’ in the work of major directors.

Sunday 9th December 2018   at *6.30 pm*

Notice is hereby given that the Annual General Meeting will take place on Sunday 9th December 2018.

Following the AGM members are invited free of charge to a Christmas social evening including a buffet and drinks.  During the evening Rebecca Godley the 2016 Stipendatian will sing Wagner and other songs.

Sunday 20th January 2019  at *6.30pm*


This opera will be the culmination of the Edinburgh Festival Ring in 2019.   It is truly epic in scale and ambition and as the curtain rises at the very beginning of the work, Wagner sets out all the main elements which will lead to the tumultuous ending, six or so hours later.   Ian will look at these elements and their musical components before settling down to listen to the musical results from the beginning to when Siegfried reaches the Rhine (or as far as we can get!)

Ian studied the Performers’ Course in the violin at the RSAMD (now the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland) for two years, before he decided to pursue a career in the law.  He has never lost his interest in playing and listening to music and has a particular interest in opera and the works of Wagner.

Sunday 24th February 2019 at *6.30pm*

The significance of the Spear in the Parsifal story as presented in Richard Wagner’s eponymous opera is well known.  The wound that would not heal unless contacted by the weapon that inflicted it, however, is not unique in legend and the Spear itself, also called the Holy Spear, Holy Lance or Spear of Destiny has an historical importance outwith the Parsifal legend to Europe in general and particularly to Germany.  This would have been well known to Wagner and may have influenced his construction of the opera’s story. In discussing the spear within the opera Dale intends to use some surprising and unusual musical examples.

Dale Bilsland was a chartered surveyor for 45 years and served as President of Glasgow Archaeological Society from 2015-2018.  He never lost his passion for archaeology and history, and as a part-time undergraduate at Glasgow University completed an MA in Ancient Studies in 2005.  Through a fortuitous series of events, including an inspirational music teacher, he fell in love with the works of Richard Wagner as a teenager and has been pursuing this passion ever since.

Sunday 17th March 2019 at *6.30pm*

According to various German and British media, Wagner ‘influenced Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich’.  The composer was apparently ‘acclaimed by Adolf Hitler as the earliest inspiration for his idea of a pure German master race’. Wagner, of course, entertained no such idea, but such views are standard in journalism, and even find their way into scholarship.  This talk will assess Wagner’s place in the diverse spectrum of German mid-nineteenth‑century anti‑Jewish writing, and describe the changes which took place in the decade of his death, including assessments of him by Nazi intellectuals.

Derek Hughes is Professor Emeritus of English at the University of Aberdeen.  His research embraces a number of ancient and modern literatures from Homer to the present day, and naturally examines Wagner’s self‑immolating women.


Wagner was prone to experience vivid dreams. I have already written about his nocturnal meetings with Shakespeare and Beethoven, with both of whom he established valuable artistic rapport. Less happy was his encounter with the ghost of cholera. En route to Vienna he was obliged to stay overnight at Brno where he discovered by chance that cholera was endemic. That night “Cholera stood personified before me: I saw her and could touch her; she came to my bedside, embraced me…I felt death at my heart”.

It is interesting that cholera is in Wagner’s eyes female. As the main symptom of cholera is profuse diarrhoea it could be useful to know if she was carrying suitable utensils, but on this Wagner is silent    He survived his nocturnal ordeal: “I was utterly amazed to find myself at daybreak feeling completely healthy”.  He reached Vienna safely.

Richard Wagner:  My Life. Translated by Andrew Gray. Edited by Mary Whittall. Da Capo Press, New York 1992, p62.

J Ian Robertson


Opera Depot – a treasure trove of rare recordings – there are many fine, intriguing and rare items to be found on this website: including a complete Ring cycle, in English, from 1977 conducted by Henry Holt. The cast contains several British artists: Margaret Kingsley, Lorna Haywood, Malcolm Rivers, Raymond Herincx and Paul Crook; James McCray sings Siegfried and Simon Estes is Hagen. The four parts of the cycle are also available singly. Opera Depot offers mp3 downloads as well as packaged CDs, sent by courier to the UK. Recommended!

Photos from the 1977 Seattle Opera production of The Ring, featuring some of the artists mentioned above, are available here:


RWVI Kongress in 2019 will take place from 28 November to 2 December (not March as announced in Newsletter 21.1) in Venice.  Provisional programmes are available on our website or from Chair, Derek Williams.