#Gartmore 2019
#A short review of this year’s events
#forthcoming events
#Dr J. Iain S. Robertson – Obituary
#Derek Watson Songs
#News in Brief

 E d i t o r i a l

Confessions of a faint-hearted Wagner fan! Some of you may be shocked to learn that your editor loves Wagner’s music but can be decidedly lukewarm when it comes to learning about his extraordinary life and his writings. I watched with interest my husband Ian plough manfully through ‘Mein Leben’ and determined not to go there myself, ever. Thus, I was delighted when some kind soul lent me the slim volume that is Simon Callow’s ‘Being Wagner’ (Publishers: William Collins). He had done all the hard work for me of reading and condensing Wagner’s magnum opus and his many other writings about his music, his politics and his continuous battle with poverty. It is succinct and well argued, and I would recommend it to any other Wagner fans with limited time and energy.

I am sure many of you are looking forward to Gartmore in September where the topic this year is Walküre. I understand the accommodation is now fully booked, with further places only available to those who can attend on a daily, meals only basis. If any of you feels moved to put pen to paper and describe the experience for those not able to attend, we would be most grateful to publish extracts in the next newsletter or on our website.

This edition of the newsletter includes a flyer for next year’s programme of events, ably put together by our secretary John Anderton. We hope as many of you as can, will come along on a Sunday evening at the continuing early time of 6.30pm. This allows those with longer journeys to get home timeously, but if it prevents others from coming, please let us know and we will look again at the situation.

Sadly, there will be no more interesting snippets, often of a medical nature, from Dr Ian Robertson who passed away in March. We include a tribute to him by Dale Bilsland who was a friend of Ian and his wife, Maureen.

Also, at a recent Society Committee meeting, it was agreed that the Admission charge for non-members should be reduced to £10 to try and encourage more people to attend our excellent meetings!

And finally…the Society is looking for an auditor to review and approve our accounts. Anyone who feel they might be suitable, should contact Ian McLennan at treasurer@wagnerscotland.net.


David Nice M.A. Ed. will present the second of his exciting and informative series on the Ring Cycle at Gartmore House from 19-23rd September 2019. Full details are available on our website.

Places are available on a non-residential basis if attendees wish to commute from home or arrange their own accommodation elsewhere. The cost for this option is £275 per person and includes lunches, dinners, teas and coffees in the hotel, as well as the course fee.

Anyone wishing to take advantage of this should get in touch with Brenda Nesbitt or Dale Bilsland as soon as possible (dalebilsland1@gmail.com).

Dale Bilsland: 0141 942 0935 – dalebilsland1@gmail.com


As you know, our Secretary sends an email after each of our meetings with a summary. In this Newsletter, I have taken each of John’s excellent accounts and edited these further. As you will see, we have a great deal of variety and we would encourage you all to attend if you can.

In October, Dr Paul Dawson-Bowling gave an entertaining, and for some, convincing account as to why Richard Wagner should be regarded as ‘Not only a great, but a profoundly good man’. Generous with other people’s money, Wagner also revised his famously unpalatable views on Jews towards the end of his life.

David Code examined Wagner’s influence on Debussy who had been highly impressed by Wagner’s operas, particularly Tristan and Isolde and Parsifal. David demonstrated on the Steinway how Debussy used the ‘Tristan chord’ in his own music.

In January, our treasurer Ian McLennan tackled ‘Götterdämmerung: the beginning of the End of the Ring’. Ian demonstrated the unification of ideas from the beginning of Das Rheingold to the Prologue to Act 1 of Götterdämmerung, and spoke in detail about the purpose of the Prologue in the context of the final opera of the cycle.

Dale Bilsland began by describing the history of the spear in Parsifal from the Holy Roman Empire to the literary sources of ‘Parsifal’ in Chrétien de Troyes and Wolfram von Eschenbach. He played recordings of Parsifal made some 90 years ago conducted by Karl Muck. Many in the audience heard for the first time the bell sound played on a Glockenklavier.

Asking whether Wagner was responsible for Hitler, David Hughes examined a number of German and British literary sources for the notion that Wagner influenced Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich. Professor Hughes’ thorough examination of relevant literature convinced most of the audience that the importance of Wagner to the Third Reich has been significantly exaggerated.

Michael Downes started his talk on ‘Elgar’s oratorios as music dramas’ by noting the similarities between Elgar and Wagner who were symbolic of England and Germany respectively, with similar characters, financial worries, devoted wives, extra marital affairs, and an intense feeling of nationalism. In his early life Elgar made some arrangements of Wagner’s music and some of his pieces contained Wagnerian phrases. It was noted during the discussion that Elgar composed no operas.

Robert Dick is a distinguished conductor whose topic, ‘the practicalities of conducting Wagner overtures’ delighted the audience. Various aspects of the conductor’s role were presented including tempo, dynamics, balance and expression. From the outset Robert emphasised the importance of the score in interpreting a particular work. It was wonderful to be able to hear the music, see the notes highlighted on the screen and see Robert conducting from his own score.

The final talk of the year was given by Michael Fend who asked, ‘Opus metaphysicum’– an empty phrase? In this philosophical approach to Wagner’s operas Michael gave a detailed account of the contribution of Nietzsche and Schopenhauer to the understanding of Wagner’s opera and in particular, to Tristan und Isolde. This analysis was aided by a handout which contained 13 quotations from writings by Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Kant, E.T.A. Hoffmann, and Richard Wagner.

Forthcoming events

All Wagner Society of Scotland events start at 6.30pm at Edinburgh Society of Musicians, 3 Belford Road, EH4 3BL (by Dean Bridge).   Light refreshments are available during the interval.  Admission is £7 members, £15 non-members.  

Sunday 13th October 2019
‘Rhythm and Silence in the Tristan and Parsifal preludes’ – Anthony Negus

This talk will be an exploration of the power and tension created by Wagner’s use of silence as a vivid part of his rhythm. It is the inner rhythm that informs and fires his works: an inner rhythm that has its source in Beethoven, and most especially the 9th Symphony which played a crucial role in Wagner’s artistic development. The power of Wagner’s harmony is bound up with these two elements of rhythm and silence, like fire, water and air in the Ring.

Anthony Negus played Wagner on the piano from an early age, and imbibed his works at Covent Garden, and Bayreuth in the 1960’s. In the 1970’s he was a musical assistant at Bayreuth, and in the 80’s conducted many performances for WNO, especially Parsifal. Since 2000 he has built up a reputation at Longborough for Wagner excellence, first with the small Ring cycle 2002/2004, then the full Ring 2007 – 2013, but also Tannhauser, Tristan and Der fliegende Holländer. This year marks the launch of a new
Ring cycle with Das Rheingold.

Sunday 17th November 2019
A Masterclass with Royal Conservatoire of Scotland students by Julia Lynch

In this masterclass with some young artistes from the R.C.S., Julia Lynch will include works by Richard Wagner.

Julia is on the staff of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland as Head Vocal and Repertoire Coach, and was a Musikassistentin at the Bayreuther Festspiele from 2008-2014. We are sure she will give us some fascinating insights into how young musicians are trained in this discipline.

Sunday 8th December 2019

Notice is hereby given that the Annual General Meeting will take place on Sunday 8th December 2019. Following the AGM members are invited free of charge to a Christmas social evening including a buffet and drinks. During the evening entertainment will be provided by one of former Bayreuth scholars.

DR. J. IAN S. ROBERTSON – Obituary

The Society was saddened to learn of the death earlier this year of Ian Robertson, a long standing and loyal member, and a personal friend to many of our members.

Ian was a true “Renaissance Man”. As a cardiovascular surgeon and scientist, his pioneering research into blood pressure and heart failure enabled the development of new medications and treatments that undoubtedly saved hundreds of lives. This earned him well-deserved international recognition.

However, it is by his love of opera that many will remember him, an interest he was able to pursue with his customary energy on retiral. He served as chairman of the Friends of Scottish Opera from 1999 to 2004 and on its board of directors from 1999 to 2008 and many are the tales of his “vigorous” contributions in those rôles! He wrote “Doctors in Opera” including an extensively revised second edition which has entertained and informed us all.

He was a regular and witty contributor to this newsletter. At our meetings he could always be relied upon to contribute thoughtfully and incisively during questions and it is for this and for his support and friendship that he will be sadly missed. It is an often easily used phrase but completely appropriate to Ian – “we shall not see his like again”.

Dale Bilsland


A performance of four of Derek Watson’s songs has recently been uploaded to YouTube.

The singer is Graham Titus, and he and Derek first met at the Bayreuth Festival in 1969 when they both attended that year’s Jugendfestspieltreffen. The accompanist, Erik Levi, gave at least one talk to the Society back in 1996, not long after the publication by MacMillan of his book ‘Music in the Third Reich’.

The link to the film of the performance is given below, but it also comes up if you search YouTube under ‘Derek Watson Songs’.




The exciting final instalment of Edinburgh International Festival’s Ring cycle is due to take place at the Usher Hall on Sunday 25th August. For Götterdämmerung the RSNO will be conducted by Andrew Davis.

Edinburgh Players Opera Group (EPOG) will be running through Das Rheingold at Portobello Town Hall in the afternoon of 29th September 2019

RWVI Kongress in 2019 will take place from 28 November to 2 December (not March as announced in Newsletter 21.1) in Venice. Kongress in 2020 will take place in Bonn on 23-27 September 2020, to coincide with the Beethoven Anniversary.

The Théâtre du Capitole, Toulouse is staging Parsifal with an internationally distinguished cast in January/February 2020

Gran Teatre del Liceu is staging Katharina Wagner’s new Lohengrin in March/ April 2020, with the proverbial “stellar” cast.

Semper Opera, Dresden are staging Die Meistersingers von Nürnberg in Dresden in January/February 2020.

Lyric Opera of Chicago is staging a new Ring cycle in April/May 2020

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