Saturday, November 3, 2007

Wagner - Tristan & Isolde Analysis

The Prelude to Tristan and Isolde is one that became extremely popular for one main reason: the invention of what has become known as the Tristan Chord. The Tristan Chord was born out of Wagner's desire to prolong the feeling of grief, the feeling of sorrow.

The Tristan Chord is found in m. 2 - f, b, d#, g # this becomes a significant chord for most of the prelude.

The prelude I believe has three main motives. The first begins in measure 1. For purpose sake it is in the alto voice through until m. 3. The second motive begins in the soprano voice til m. 3. Motive c can be be found in m. 16 & 17. It is evolved from b. The difference lies in that in c - the third note has been lengthened.

The piece is primarily in a minor. Again we have the initial motives from m. 1 - 3 - followed by the same motive but up a m. 3 in 4 -7. This occurs later in mm. 8 - 11 and then follows in 12 - 13 but an octave higher.

The Tristan Chords that I found are as follows: m. 2 / 40 / 102 - 103 / 106 - 111. (the 106 - 111 is a Tristan Chord broken up in the cellos)

The hard thing about this piece is the tension - there are not a lot of perfect authentic cadences. We have a V - VI cadence in mm. 16 - 17. An imperfect cadence in mm. 44 & 74. At m. 42 we have a key change to what I believe is F# minor. Then at m. 71 back to a minor.

Measures 74 - 80 serves as an extension / development of the material from 63 - 74.

I am not sure what else to say - what was everyone else's findings? I was a little confused to what actual form / key this is in? does anyone have any ideas?

Jonathan Schorr


Brenden said...

I am going to try to be as organized as possible with this. I agree with you about the importance of the "Tristan Chord." I am not exactly sure where you gained this information but it seems legit. It seems like it should be built if in root positiion on the G# and then B, D#, and F. The only evidence I found with this exact chord is in m. 2, m. 86, m. 102. There is a similar chord in m. 6 but the 7th is augmented.

I do agree with you about there being multiple motives within the piece. The first beginning in the pick up to m. 1, the second being in m. 2 starting in the soprano and then the 3rd beginning in m. 19. All three motives continue throughout the whole piece in various derivations.

I am not convince that there is a determined tonal center until the piece goes into A Major at m. 43. There is a determined tonic chord in m. 44. Also, what i believe to be a transition at m. 63 has a pedal tone of E, which is the dominant of A.

I agree with you that there is no definitive PAC's. There is so much chromaticism within this piece that it is difficult to find the actual phrases. It is easier to figure out where the piece is going based upon the motives going throughout the piece.

The first 3 evidences of the 1st motive start with a minor 6th (a -> f) in m. 1. In m 4-5 with a Major 6th (b -> G#), and then again in m. 8 (d -> b).

I think that m. 63 - 70 is a transition back to the original key...whatever it is. :) The third of the a minor is prominent from 77 - 79.

That is just my thoughts on what you have already put down and maybe a little expansion on your thoughts.

Shelley Scarr said...

I agree with you that the piece begins in a minor. I do believe that it then goes into A major at measure 43. In measure 77, the piece seems to move to E-flat major briefly.

I agree with you about the Tristan chords and its structure of F, B, D#, and G#; however, I did not agree with there being one in m. 40. It didn't seem that distinct as the others. I did find another one in m. 6 on Ab, D, F#, and B. It had the same intervals as the one found in m. 2.

sarah s said...

I definitely agree with you that in this prelude Wagner is setting up the importance of the motives and especially the Tristan chord. The main things that I noticed were the preeminence of the melody line being presented in octaves for the majority of the time and his favoring of the "quarter-dotted quarter-sixteenth" rhythm. I think that if we looked through this piece thoroughly, we would probably find the Tristan chord to be the foundation of the entire piece. I think that Wagner does an excellent job of setting the mood for this opera in the prelude by expressing all of the necessary emotions early so that the listener can recognize them as they come. The piece is so chromatic that it is very hard too determine key areas and even definitive section other than looking at rhythms and score markings.

CStump said...

I just found this blog. I was looking up information for Tristan and I must say that I was very happy to find out that a blog like this could exist. The one thing that would make it even greater is if you guys were able to have the actual score posted and marked along side your comments. Most of the scores you guys are analyzing are in the public domain. :)

Unknown said...

Isn `t the Prelude to the third act of the Tristan, that monument to melancholy, much more characteristic for the Wagnerian experiments with 12 note-scale and atonality in general that it the case with the that breath taking Prelude to the First Act itself?

peterandorka said...

Here you can find the score:,_WWV_90_%28Wagner,_Richard%29

Tonality is moving, but if you analyze the function of the altered notes, you will be able to trace back its origin. Leo Weiner has a harmony-analysis of this prelude (act 1) in his book (Elemző összhangzattan).

The piece begins in a minor, the second phrase is a repetition of the first (bars 4-7) but in C major (goes to its dominant7 = G7 chord). In the 10th bar it turns back to a-minor. This chord seems to be a II2 in C-major, but it turns into a suspension of C-F-A-D#, so it's a subdominant of a-minor but it goes first to H7 (dominant of dominant in a-minor), then to E7 and closes on VI (F-major chord), which is IV in C-major, and the piece goes on in C-major. A bit d-minor in bar 20, then comes the other main tonality: E-major (bar 22-23). Dominant of D-major (A then A7 - common chord with E-major [subdominant]) appears in bars 30-31, here is a D-major territory, and the enter of the "blickmotiv" it turns with chromaticism back into C-major. Some F-major, G-minor and A-major comes in bars 36-43, then (in spite of the 3#!) comes E-major (through C#-minor) again, then comes the same as from bar 25. After D-major comes A-major in bar 54, and in 55 E-major again. Entering the blickmotiv again comes C-major but closes on D-major not minor, and with D# in the bass it turns in to a real A-major with a long Dominant bass point (it is E) - but it's not E-major!!! In bar 71 goes back to C-major. From bar 77 it is interesting, I'm sure, it's B-flat minor, and in 80 it's an E-flat tonality (I thing it's rather E-flat minor than major - see the C-flat notes!). E-flat is the farthest tonality from a-minor (it symbolises the extremity turning from hate to love for me), but with a chromatic step from F to E it goes back to a-minor. (See the entering of the cellos with the starting material in bar 80, 81, and 82 is the real recapitulation, as the continuation shows.) In bars 88-90 the modulations goes 2x faster than in bars 36-40, but the same. The piece closes in C, in minor to prepare to the sailor's solo.

The second form of the Trinstan chord is in bar 81 on trumpet. It goes a minor second upper, and closes on the none (9) of the chord (it's a C on the top of a B-flat7 chord!), so it's more impulsive and extensive than it was in the beginning. This is not a closing here.

Also take a look to the Tristan chord in bars 102-103. It's tricky. Wagner writes here e-flat instead of d#, and a-flat instead of g#. Why? Because here the Tristan chord is not subdominant, it's part of the c-minor's dominant (in timpani there's the G-bass tremolo), so he doesn't want to close it to a-minor's dominant (E7) at the and of the prelude, tonality remains in C. After this there's no problem, because the second one went originally to G7, so it can remain untached.