Sunday, June 21, 2009


On June 21 most people think of the summer solstice. But I do not! I think of this.

Such, beautiful, tender music! I remember writing that in an email one morning to our classical station, WNED-FM. Because they played it when I was on my way to work. And I remember it completely turned my day around.

So tender!

That is, in case you do not feel like clicking on the link, the Prelude to Act III of Wagner's "Die Meistersinger." You can feel the dawn breaking, the music gradually growing brighter. The yearning in the strings. Everyone waking up. The feeling that something beautiful is about to happen.

That is a British production of "Meistersinger" pictured above. It is a little far-out but I like the magic of the colors.

All of "Die Meistersinger" takes place on a single day, June 21. It is so sweet, an opera taking place on a single day. "The Marriage of Figaro" does that too. All these crazy and magical and romantic things happen, all in a single day.

But in "Die Meistersinger" the day is Johannestag, or St. John's Day. The saint is St. John the Baptist. I checked in my missal this morning and the Catholic missal puts him on June 24, which I understand in his birthday. But traditionally it is June 21. Midsummer Day.

Here is how music can take over your life. This morning I came out of Mass and a whole group of us were standing on the steps of the church, talking and laughing -- and all I could think about was "Die Meistersinger." About how Eva comes out of the church with everyone else and all this funny and interesting stuff is happening.

Here I was on the steps of the church on Johannestag with my prayer book just like the people in the opera! That was all I could think about.

Wagner used the traditional Johannestag Chorale in "Die Meistersinger." He did not write that theme. Darn, I am trying and trying to find a recording of the Prelude to Act I that leads into that chorale. But fie, I cannot!

But that is not the only time you hear the theme. Wagner weaves it in at other parts of the opera including this one.

Here is the Prelude to Die Meistersinger as conducted by my friend Larry's hero, Rene Leibowitz.

Here is a cute film version of the magical part of Act 3 when you glimpse the guilds and hear the trumpets and the Middle Ages comes to life before your eyes.

Magic. I keep saying that word. But it is. There is this story about George Szell that I read recently, I forget where. One of the orchestra musicians made a mistake and was asking Szell's mercy, saying it was his first "Meistersinger."

And Szell, uncharacteristically, was not mad at all. He said, "What I wouldn't give to hear 'Meistersinger' again for the first time."


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