CD ‘Wagneriana’


CDCOVER wagneriana


Transcriptions for Horn Ensemble by Herman Jeurissen
Capricorno 10012

Ensemble Capricorno
Jasper de Waal, Fons Verspaandonk, Okke Westdorp, Mariëlle van Pruijssen, Kirsten Jeurissen, Laurens Woudenberg, José Luis Sogorb, Rob van de Laar, Kathrin Willener, Klaske de Haan, Jana Suilen, Corine Buijze, Iris Oltheten, Maaike Dijkstra
Conductor: Herman Jeurissen

Richard Wagner/Herman Jeurissen, Ring-Rhapsodie
(I: Der Raub des Rheingoldes; II: Die Siegfried-Sage)
Anton Bruckner (arr. H. J.), Ave Maria
Richard Wagner (arr. H.J.), Tristan Fantasy, Gebet des Rienzi; Gruß; Ankunft bei den schwarzen Schwänen
Herman Jeurissen, Vier alte Brummbären
Gabriel Fauré & André Messager (arr. H. J.), Souvenirs de Bayreuth

“The Ensemble Capricorno plays beautifully, with great power, emotion and energy. The arrangements are excellent – they use the familiar Wagner themes in idiomatic and stylistically appropriate settings. The sonorities and the breadth of the emotional character from the combined horns and Wagner tubas make this a CD I can heartily recommend.” The Horn Call, October 2008

HRNGRoep 2007



Richard Wagner (1813-1883) is the most paraphrased and parodied composer of the 19th century. From the outset, both his strange, woolly use of language and his megalomaniac music prompted parodies putting these features into perspective. The many, seriously-intended arrangements of highlights from Wagner’s oeuvre often could not avoid drastic cuts in his interminable melodies. Wagner himself enjoyed all these arrangements and even wrote a few salon pieces for piano based on themes from his operas. Even in Wagner’s time arrangements had already been written for horn ensemble. Hans Richter (1843-1916), hornist and famed Wagner conductor, wrote a few potpourris based on Wagnerian themes for four horns. The 8-part phantasies by the Viennese horn player Karl Stiegler (1876-1932) on well-known fragments from Wagner’s operas are still performed today. My arrangement of the Gebet des Rienzi from the opera (1840) of that name follows this long tradition.

The Ring-Rhapsodie has a different starting point; a substantial part of the circa 20-hour long (4-part) cycle “Der Ring des Nibelungen” comprises scenes which are dominated by the ringing sound of horns. I have tried to forge a consistent, logical and musical whole from these many horn passages. In his music drama “Der Ring des Nibelungen” Wagner combined the story of Siegfried from the German Nibelunglied (c.1210) with various Nordic myths and sagas from the Edda, the 13th century collection of Icelandic poetry and prose. The operas Walküre (1856), Siegfried (1869) and Götterdämmerung (1876) tell of Siegfried’s birth, heroic deeds and death. Siegfried’s faithful companion is a horn and whenever he appears on stage the archetypal symbol of masculine heroic power is portrayed by the horns who thereby acquire, almost accidentally, a leading role in the orchestra. Every horn player knows Siegfried’s horn call!

Rheingold (1854), a full evening’s prologue, describes the primal mythological world prior to the arrival of man; gods, giants, dwarfs, waternymphs and gnomes struggle and squabble for power and material gain. In his satire “Richard Wagner in Bayreuth” (1876) Friedrich Nietzsche humorously described Wagner’s depiction of this phantasy world: “The musician Wagner has given a language to everything in nature that until now did not want to speak; he could not believe that anything could exist without speech. He penetrates the innermost being of dawn, wood, mist, ravine, mountain top, nocturnal shiver and moonshine and notes their secret desire – they also want to be heard.” For Wagner the horn is the instrument of nature par excellence. As Rheingold opens, eight horns characterize the gently flowing Rhine with canonical repeated arpeggios. Pastoral horn sounds portray the magic garden of Freya, goddess of love and spring, whose golden apples keep the gods eternally young. The underground smithy of the Nibelungen dwarfs is illustrated by forced, stopped notes on the horns, whereas muted horns symbolize the Tarnhelm, the magic helmet of invisibility. The pomp and circumstance of the Valhalla, the gods’s lofty dwelling, is portrayed by a sonorous quartet of Wagner tubas. These tubas, especially made for the Ring, are closely related to the German baritone/euphonium in the wind band world, but are played by hornists using a horn mouthpiece and hence they have a relatively narrow tapered leadpipe. The Wagner tuba is capable of a large alphorn type of sound, but if it is forcibly blown it can become threatening and demonic. Ominous Wagner tuba tones accompany the heavy tread of the giants, the appearance of the dragon and of the looming ghost of the earth mother out of the rocky tomb.For “Der Raub des Rheingoldes”  I assembled the chosen fragments into a “topographical” sequence, thus forming, as it were, musical postcards of the mythological landscape. In contrast Siegfried’s life is presented in Siegfried-Sage in a concise, narrative manner. Siegfried’s youth, the forging of the sword and the struggle with the dragon open this collage. Then comes a moment of peace: the Rhine becomes red as a result of the glorious sunrise. This heralds impending disaster: Siegfried’s last and fatal hunt and its consequences, – the “Twilight of the Gods” or the demise of the Nordic pantheon.

Wagner’s continually modulating music and his pastoral depictions lead us very naturally to the music of Anton Bruckner (1824-1896). Bruckner’s Ave Maria (1882 and originally for contralto and harmonium) combines Catholic mysticism with Wagnerian sonority, but without his overpowering, glowing sensuality. It is very telling that Bruckner diligently studied Wagner’s opera Tristan und Isolde (1857-9), the “Opus metaphysicum of all art” (Nietzsche), using a piano reduction without text. The deeply religious Bruckner could not entertain the idea that a pair of star crossed lovers should choose death in order to become united.

Wagner’s passion for Mathilde Wesendonck, his Swiss muse and patron, inspired the composer/text writer to elaborate on the medieval saga of Tristan and Isolde. It was impossible for him (at least in the eyes of others) to have anything more than a platonic relationship with this married woman.  My Tristan Fantasy has as motto “Einem edlern Wild gilt ihre Jägerslist” (A far more noble prey [Tristan] is target of their hunter’s ruse). These are the words of Brangäne, Isolde’s maid, when she hears a royal nocturnal hunt pass by (start of 2nd act of the opera). The hunt is a symbol of perilous courtship. In this phantasy the festive horn flourishes are surrounded and interrupted by melancholic, sighing horn calls from the third act of the opera.

Wagner took Elizabeth’s aria “Dich teure Halle, grüss ich wieder” from Tannhäuser (1823-5) as starting point for two paraphrases. The final sentence of this aria “Sei mir gegrüsst” becomes the main theme of the serenade Gruss seiner Treuen an Friedrich August den Geliebten (1844), a composition for male choir, and eminently suited for transcription to a horn ensemble.  The Albumleaf in A flat, Ankunft bei den schwarzen Schwänen (1861) is based on the same theme. The composer dedicated this short piano piece to the Countess of Pourtalès, wife of the Prussian consul in Paris in gratitude for hospitality received in France. The title refers to the pond with black swans in the garden of the embassy. The four Wagner tubas in this arrangement provide an extra layer of melancholy.

A lively piano-duet improvisation by Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924) and his pupil André Messager (1853-1929) on Wagnerian “Ring” themes provides the essence of the Quadrille Souvenirs de Bayreuth (1896). Fauré and Messager compress Wagner’s musical “polyps” (Nietzsche) with clarity and wit into the absurdly tight corset of 8-bar dance music.

Even solemn Wagnerian tuba sonorities can quickly change to out of tune banal honking. In their works Wagner and Bruckner gave the Wagner tuba an almost mythical and religious role, though the instrument clearly has close relatives in the peasant wind band. Reason enough to combine Wagnerian opera themes with Julius Fučik’s popular burlesque Der alte Brummbär (The old Grumbler). The result (Vier Alte Brummbären) provides a humorous antidote to my opera collages.

Herman Jeurissen

(Translation: John MacFarlane)