Karlheinz Essl

Tristan's Lament

Electronic Sound Performance
2013



Karlheinz Essl: Wagneriana - Three Deconstructions on Richard Wagner (Ron Schepperd)
in: textura.org (January 2014)

(...) Essl's work can be viewed as an examination of notions of authorship and the ways by which Wagner's music can be wrested from its creator's grasp, and of how the meanings he imputed to the material are supplemented by a proliferation of additional meanings that others, such as Essl, bring to it. But not only is his recording a literal deconstruction of Wagner's music, it's also an exercise in defamiliarization, a means by which the listener can be stirred from a conventional, reflexive reception of Wagner's work to confront it anew.

Essl's work leads the listener sufficiently familiar with Wagner's music into a re-examination of the composer's work. At the risk of overstatement, one might argue that repeated exposure to Wagneriana - Three Deconstructions on Richard Wagner could result in the listener never hearing the composer's operas in the same way again.

The title Tristan's Lament leaves little doubt as to its source (Tristan und Isolde), though anyone familiar with the opera's famous “Prelude” and “Liebestod” would be able to identify the source material. The piece plays as if Essl purposefully wanted to push the opera's then-challenge to conventional harmony and tonality to another level, in this case through a dramatic application of pitch-shifting. Wagner's material is heard as if in a state of drunken wooziness; throughout the twenty-eight minute piece, those well-known attempts to reach the heights of glorious climax are thwarted, and moments of temporary ascent are undercut when the pitch plummets downward. Here especially is where Brechtian alienation comes into play, given that the listener's customary surrender to the music's romantic passages is undercut by Essl's pitch-shifting.



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Updated: 3 Jan 2014