The Wanderer

I’m not the first to notice that you never know what you’re going to find, wandering around these internets. Why, just today, wandering with my mind while lying in bed hoping to stave off some encroaching virus, I hit the Google and followed a path something like this:

Thinking about Wagner -> Recordings of the Ring Cycle -> Ones I have & have been listening to -> why I’ve been listening -> maybe digital download for the iPod -> what’s available -> check out the prices at . . .

which of course led me to this, and then this blog post and the nice blog which contains it.

Now, I must digress. I have a . . . lot of CDs, most of which, seven months after moving into a new home, are in boxes, waiting for shelves or the like to hold them. But, I’ve got all the boxed sets put away. Ahhhhh!

You see, I have a fetish for boxed sets – the sense of completeness all squared away in one physical package, especially when endowed with thick booklets and copious liner notes, is deeply satisfying. Still, I’m not a sucker, I only want boxed what I want unboxed! I don’t have EVERY box in the Sony reissues of Miles Davis‘ recordings for Columbia, but I have the wants I want and love them. It’s not my fault, though. I blame Mosaic.

And what could be more boxy of a set than Der Ring des Nibelungen? A series of four operas that make up one overall work, intended to be performed on consecutive days, it created the concept before anyone knew what it was. I’ve been listening to Wagner more and more though the years, and more and more recently, the former because as an opera composer I have to engage with Wagner’s work, whether I like it or not, and the latter because I find more and more that I am powerfully drawn to Wagner and have discovered that I have begun a project that, unconsciously at first, is a response to him. I’m at the point where it doesn’t matter if I like Wagner, it’s irrelevant. I can feel his seductive powers and am thrilled to feel them work their charms on me, which I think the old man might have found a high compliment. That is, of course, Wagner’s great power, and the great danger of Wagner.

But, I’m still digressing. Or am I? Have I seduced myself? I seem to think here my topic is that, even though, just as the Penitent Wagnerite, I acquired the separate issues of the never-before-issued stereo recordings of the 1955 Ring performance, I find myself lusting after the damned box set. It seems crazy, since I already have the contents. Part of it is the thought of what a bargain it is to have the pleasure of them all in one, neat box . . . but fundamentally I am become entranced by the work and those Keilberth recordings are the cause. I’ve had the famous and worthy Solti Ring Cycle, but had never been much more than impressed by it. I think that the problem is, once the box is opened I would wish to work my way through from beginning to end, and it was never practical to listen to 14 CDs non-stop, with libretti (i’ve only listened twice to my recording of the Feldman String Quarter No. 2). With each of the separate recordings, I had the opportunity to spend many months listening to them, and they are tremendously listenable performances, really alive and musical and direct. They gave Wagner the chance to start to work his particular magic. Yes, like the other writer, I did pay more cash to buy them separately than to wait for the whole box, but the opportunity I’ve had to get to know the work has been worth the small premium.

Still, a boxed set is just that, an object that I tend to covet. Although I can be ruthless with trading in CDs I don’t favor or listen to, a boxed set has to have a lot of flaws for me to get rid of it, or else be entirely superfluous. Hell, I used to have the 10 CD Gunter Wand edition, and I’m not even a fan. This means that I’ve got more than the two Rings already mentioned – there’s also the Krauss 1953 (great and a real value, decent mono sound, no libretto), the Barenboim (really growing on me with every listen, good value, excellent libretto booklets and a bonus DVD with scenes from the stage production), and this newly issued imprint of the Furtwangler La Scala Ring (just started to listen to it). I think I need the Bohm too! And I’ve read a lot of good stuff about Hartmut Haenchen‘s cycle on SACD – four separate packages – and there’s still the Goodall Ring in English, which has special interest to me since I’m reading Andrew Porter’s translation. Will it stop? When? Maybe not until I produce my own reactions, which have as much to do with science fiction as with Wagner. Don’t laugh. You’ll see . . .


Author: gtra1n

I'm a composer and musician, and I write about music—I do that here, for the New York Classical Review, at the Brooklyn Rail (I edit the music section there) and any place else that will have me, like New Music Box and Music & Literature. I also wrote the Miles Davis' Bitches Brew book in the 33 1/3 series.