Abstract

Wagner's music, aesthetics, and personality were influenced profoundly by the declamation and recitation techniques of his time. “Declamation” as an optic-acoustic phenomenon embraces in this context both the actor's artificial speech and physical delivery. The theatrical declamation of Wagner's childhood and youth, i.e., the declamation of Saxon actors in Dresden and Leipzig during the 1820s and 1830s, differed widely from today's practice. The wide range of pitch, tempo, and dynamics, as well as the highly idealized expression of nineteenth-century German actors, may be described as manifest musical qualities. These qualities have been lost during the course of history, but are preserved by Wagner in his music. As his sketches, letters, and theoretical explanations show, his way of creating a drama may be interpreted as a chain of different performative processes, which employed declamation, recitation, and acting. The final goal of this process was not to create a score or any other scriptural document, but to provide posterity with a fixed tradition of the staging of his works that would remain unchangeable. Wagner's hybrid ambitions in this context become comprehensible when we consider his way of creating a drama. To put it simply: the vocal lines—especially those exhibiting Sprechgesang—resemble the actor's speech very closely, while the orchestral part often has the function of determining the rhythm and expression of the gestures, attitudes, and actions on stage. That theatrical declamation was Wagner's point of departure when he created his works and became forgotten some decades after his death due to profound changes in theatrical performance practice.

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