Prelude to Act I of Lohengrin
Length: c. 8 minutes
Orchestration: 3 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 3 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, cymbals, and strings
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performance: March 19, 1920, Walter Henry Rothwell conducting
Wagner composed most of Lohengrin during his years as Kapellmeister in Dresden (he was second Kapellmeister, actually, but a very active one – sort of general music director for the King of Saxony). The composer sided with the republican rebels in the abortive revolution of 1848, and when Prussian soldiers regained control of the city the following year, Wagner fled, first to the shelter of Franz Liszt in Weimar, then on to Switzerland on a fake passport.
There Wagner completed Lohengrin, dedicating it to Liszt, who gave the premiere in Weimar in August 1850, with the composer necessarily absent in exile. (Wagner had led a concert performance of the Act I finale in Dresden in September 1848, during the brief revolutionary era.) The medieval tale of chivalry and betrayal contrasts spiritual purity and striving against worldly evil and machinations. The title character is one of the knights of the Grail, and the Prelude to the first of the three acts musically depicts a vision of the Grail descending to earth. Wagner does this with shimmering, nearly static, strings at first, swelling to a grand climax with the rest of the orchestra as the Grail finally touches down.
- John Henken is Director of Publications for the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association.