© 2022 WOSU Public Media
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Classical 101

Tristan and Isolde or Iseult

The things you can learn if you pay attention! The Celtic legend of Tristan and his passion for Iseult, fueled by a magic potion intended for death, was sung by the 12th century minstrels. Richard Wagner's opera Tristan und Isolde is the pinnacle of opera. Most of the repertoire can be codified as before or after Tristan. Wagner's use of harmonics creates a four hour frenzy, often unbearable in its intensity, until the final resolution at the love-death. So how do you top that? Swiss composer Frank Martin (1890-1974) didn't try.  When he looked at the Tristan legend, Martin was not intimidated by Wagner. He took the story of Tristan and Iseult and fashioned something the opposite of Wagner. A work for four singers and eight instrumentalists called Le vin herbe. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-LuSGQwshnE The French text is sung,  declaimed or intoned over a surprisingly rich palette (only eight instruments after all). The sexual repression in Wagner (and it is hard to take) is present in Le vin herbe in more subtle forms. Somehow, as awe-struck and upset as I am by Wagner, Frank Martin's work is more moving.  It can be talky and is not easy listening, but the passion, loss, despair and redemption sing through in  this under-performed work. A new production of Wagner's Tristan runs well over a million dollars. Frank Martin tells the story for $25.00 and car fare. I love them both.