Verdi and Wagner
Sun Jul 3, 2005 11:00 am
I don’t know if anyone has ever written a book comparing the lives and compositional styles of Verdi and Wagner. In some ways it seems like an obvious thing to do. They were contemporaries and formed to two important pillars of late 19th Century opera. I would not be surprised if someone has written something, but I have not run across it.
Writers tend to specialize. I would guess that the skills for understanding the
Italian tradition are not necessarily the skills that work best for understanding the Wagnerian tradition. Besides the obvious language differences needed for reading librettos, letters, criticism and secondary literature the music theory skills are probably very different as well.
Italian operas are based on long traditions of song forms and their variations. These forms have their own structural and harmonic rules. Wagnerian opera is based more upon instrumental techniques of developing variation and a very complex and unique approach to harmony. It is not easy to master both of these.
Charles Osborne has written five excellent introductory books on opera: The Complete Operas of Mozart, Verdi, Richard Strauss, Puccini and Bel Canto. Notable by its absence is a book on Wagner (although R. Strauss is in many respects Wagnerian).