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The Siegfried Idyll gift

Updated: Mar 6, 2023

Richard Wagner is uber-famous for his huge mega-event operas, bombasting and booming, blasting through blazes, and sopranos who could be mistaken for small self-propelled mountains that could belt out the high notes.

My Uncle Ned always complained that to sit through a Wagner opera- all four or six hours or whatever- you had to have lots of Sitzfleisch ‘meat on your rump to sit on.’

They tend to be Very Long.

Let’s play something much shorter- and so much lighter and gentler. Something much warmer.

(please play for twenty minutes of lovely, serene music for your day)

Wagner could be a petty, selfish, narrow-minded jerk. Unfaithful, didn’t pay people back, in money or favor. Egocentric, and loudly so.

But for once, he got it right.

The music you’re listening to now- and if you aren’t, listen in-

The music you’re listening to now was a very special present.

One morning, his wife woke up, on their son Siegfried’s, or Fidi’s, third birthday, and this is what she heard wafting up from downstairs. Richard had written this gift to her, and gotten together an ensemble to quietly come in and set up on the stairs leading to the upper floor.

And start playing.

That was a beautiful present.



Why, why the caricature of Wagnerian sopranos being built like refrigerators?

In the era before microphones and loudspeakers, you had to be able to sing so loud- and yet beautifully- that you could be heard over Wagner’s large, large loud orchestras.

The title of the cartoon, from the old German satirical magazine Simplizissimus, runs

"Keine unserer Sängerinnen wiegt unter hundert Kilo; wir können also nur noch Wagneropern geben."

“None of our lady singers weighs under 220 pounds, so we can only perform Wagner operas now.”

a horned Celtic helmet from Britain

And... what is with those crazy horned helmets? If they were only just be filled with ale, they might make sense. It sure doesn’t make sense to have those great big snaggables on your noggin when you’re under attack.

Well- horned helmets aren’t even Germanic as such. Over the millennia, people have occasionally made parade helmets with horns- the more famous ones were actually Celtic, and rare at that.

But the imagery proved just too irresistible to artists, and now Celts and Germanic heroes all get horns glued to their helmets now. Wagnerian singers, too. Among others...

Norwegian troll in downtown Oslo (Andrea Malz)


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