Why have many writers referred to the Prelude of Wagner’s opera Tristan
und Isolde as the beginnings of modern music? What were the consequences of this on music of the 20th century?

The Prelude to Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde has been described by musicologists as the founding platform of modern music (Farjeon, 1931, pp. 983; Kramer, 2004, pp. 256). This is greatly reflected in Wagner’s unique compositional style, which has been considered to have revolutionized the way that other composers approached musical composition, particularly with respect to musical elements such as tonality, harmony, thematic musical material and dramatization (Grimbert, 2002, pp53).

Tristan und Isolde was composed between 1857 and 1859 and received its first performance, conducted by Hans von Bulow, in Munich, on June 10 1865. The particularly yearning, sighing quality of the music is well fitted to the opera’s subject matter, a tense love triangle between Tristan, Isolde and King Mark. Isolde is married to King Mark (of Cornwell) buy Tristan and Isolde both drank a love potion, ensuring their unending but impossible love for each other.

According to his program notes, Wagner writes that the in the Prelude of Tristan und Isolde there is “henceforth no end to the yearning, longing, rapture, and misery of love: world, power, fame, honor, chivalry, loyalty, and friendship, scattered like an insubstantial dream; one thing alone left living: longing, longing unquenchable, desire forever renewing itself, craving and languishing; one sole redemption: death, surcease of being, the sleep that knows no waking!” (Wagner, 1859, cited in Lewis, 1987, pp). This is reflected is Wagner’s music style and his concept of Gesamtkunstwerk.

Gesamtkunstwerk was a term coined by Wagner to reflect his idealist view of opera where all parts of the production assume equal status (“Mfiles”, n.d). Wagner believed that the future of music and the arts lay in the “embrace” of Gesamtkunstwerk...

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