Wisst ihr wie das wird?(1): The Album-Sonate for Mathilde Wesendonck as Prototype for Richard Wagner’s Unrealized Symphonies
“Don’t look for too many unmentionable motivations in the Album Sonata. I promised it to a young woman who was very kind to me, in return for a beautiful sofa cushion that she gave me as a present.”
So wrote Richard Wagner, nearly twenty-five years after he composed the work in question (2). The little mention which the composer made to this sonata is exclusively dedicated to downplaying its significance; Wagner knew he would be remembered as a composer of dramatic works, not of ‘absolute’ instrumental ones. Aside from Wagner’s relationship with the work’s dedicatee, does this sonata, all but ignored in Wagner studies, offer any insight into a composer for whom so much insight has already been offered up?
Charles Ives’ Central Park in the Dark is a work from the fruitful period that followed his self-imposed exile from professional music-making. During the years 1898- 1906, Ives more and more removed himself from the German-Romantic harmonies which had dominated his earlier works, instead concentrating on the development of his own personal idiom derived from experimental technical procedures and an emphasis on quotation. The work, whose first title was “A contemplation of nothing serious,” serves as a companion piece to “‘A Contemplation of a Serious Matter’,” or The Unanswered Question.” In the work, we find Ives as a young man in a light-hearted contemplative mood, observing the goings-on of the Park while sitting on a bench by one of its ponds. This sort of immersed, nature-inspired reflection was just one of the ways in which Ives’ transcendentalism-- the set of ideas, attitudes, and questions espoused by thinkers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau-- reared its head. By first examining significant elements within the score, and then by examining some those aspects of Transcendentalism which most immediately relate to music generally, this paper intends to broadly convey Ives’ musical translation of philosophical ideas. Foremost among these ideas are those concerning the importance of a communal, emotional language which can be accessed through quotation of popular materials; that the contemplation of Nature is essential to the well-rounded and dynamic life; and that harmony exists between elements which appear to be opposed to or at odds with one another.