Tristan and Isolde (opera)

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Work data
Title: Tristan and Isolde
The first singers of Tristan and Isolde: Ludwig and Malvina Schnorr von Carolsfeld Munich 1865

The first singers of Tristan and Isolde:
Ludwig and Malvina Schnorr von Carolsfeld
Munich 1865

Original language: German
Music: Richard Wagner
Libretto : Richard Wagner
Premiere: June 10, 1865
Place of premiere: National Theater Munich
Playing time: approx. 3:50 hours

1st act: approx. 1:20 hours
2nd act: approx. 1:15 hours
3rd act: approx. 1:15 hours

Place and time of the action: Cornwall and Brittany , no time
  • Tristan ( tenor )
  • King Brand ( Bass )
  • Isolde ( soprano )
  • Kurwenal ( baritone )
  • Melot (tenor / baritone)
  • Brangäne (soprano or mezzo-soprano)
  • A shepherd (tenor)
  • A helmsman (baritone)
  • Voice of a young sailor (tenor)
  • Ship people, knights and squires. Isolde's women
The so-called Tristan chord (music theory)
Richard Wagner - Tristan and Isolde - Prelude (11:09 minutes - 13.9 MB)

Tristan und Isolde is a musical drama by Richard Wagner , who himself described the work as "a plot in three acts". The premiere took place on June 10, 1865 in the Royal Court and National Theater in Munich under the direction of Hans von Bülow .



The British Kingdom of Cornwall , ruled by King Marke , pays interest to the Kingdom of Ireland. The Irish Prince Morold sails to Cornwall to collect the interest due there. The country's war of independence against Ireland breaks out, and Morold is killed by Marke's nephew and loyal vassal Tristan. Instead of interest, Tristan sends Morold's head to Ireland, to his fiancée, the Irish king's daughter Isolde. Later, the rulers of Ireland and Cornwall swear to each other a " primal feud ", that is to say no further fighting.

Tristan was badly wounded in the fight against Morold. Tristan knows about Isolde's medicine and lets herself be driven to the coast of Ireland in a boat under the pseudonym (and anagram) Tantris in order to be healed by her. Isolde takes care of him and recognizes in him the murderer of her fiancé, since the splinter she had pulled from Morold's head fits exactly into the notch in Tristan's sword. She decides to kill the defenseless with his weapon. When Tristan looks into her eyes, however, she falls in love with him and lets her sword sink. She heals Tristan and lets him return to Cornwall incognito.

Back in Cornwall, Tristan persuades his master and uncle King Marke to marry Isolde in order to seal peace with Ireland. Tristan returns to Ireland as a suitor; The Irish royal couple agree to give Isolde, who has not confided her secret to anyone, to Marke as a pledge of peace in Cornwall. With Isolde on board, Tristan sails back to Cornwall. He avoids any contact with her on the ship.

First elevator

Set design by Ewald Dülberg for the Kroll Opera (no longer realized due to the closure in 1931)

Tent-like room on the front deck of a ship - crossing from Ireland to Cornwall.

Isolde is deeply humiliated that she is given to the “tired king” of Cornwall as a pledge of peace, but above all that Tristan, of all people, with whom she fell in love and whom she gave her life, has taken on the role of the suitor.

Through her servant Brangäne, she has Tristan ask for an interview. Tristan rejects this. Tristan's follower Kurwenal mocked Brangäne: His master could not serve the maid he gave to King Marke.

Isolde reveals to Brangäne that she once saved Tristan’s life and that he swore to her eternal gratitude and loyalty. She couldn't bear the agony of being unloved constantly around the "most noble man". Brangäne misunderstood her and tried to comfort her mistress by saying that Isolde's mother gave her a number of magic juices, including a love potion in case she were married to an unloved husband. Isolde explains to Brangäne that only the death potion is useful for her.

Isolde lets Tristan know that she will not enter Cornwall if he has not first asked her forgiveness for his guilt. She instructs her servant Brangäne to give her the death potion when Tristan arrives, in order to kill Tristan with it.

Tristan appears at Isolde. She demands satisfaction from him for Morold's murder, and he agrees. Isolde hands him a potion "to atone for all guilt", believing that the potion will bring him and her death. In fact, however, Brangäne did not bring himself to hand her the death potion and exchanged it for the love potion. After Tristan and Isolde have drunk from it, they confess their love to each other in the face of the soon-expected death. At that moment the ship lands in Cornwall.

second elevator

Garden with tall trees in front of the Isoldes room - Cornwall.

King Marke went on a night hunt with his entourage; Isolde, meanwhile, awaits a secret visit from Tristan in the garden of his castle. Notwithstanding Brangänes' warning of Tristan’s friend Melot, who is spying on the lovers, Isolde herself extinguishes the torch, with which she gives the lover the agreed sign to come. Tristan falls into her arms and both assure themselves of their boundless love, which even death cannot end. They long for eternal acceptance into the “wonderland of the night”. The night symbolizes the inner world of true, unrestricted love, while the day stands in contrast to the outer world of (self-) deception through social constraints such as the pursuit of fame and honor, which Tristan had ruled and led to conflict.

O sink down, night of love
, let forget that I live;
take me in your lap,
release me from the world!
So we die in order to be undivided -
forever united, without end ',
without' awakening - without 'inheritance -
namelessly embraced in love',
entirely given to ourselves,
only to live love!
Without naming, without separating
, re-cognizing, re-burning;
eternally endless, one-conscious:
hot, glowing breasts
highest love- lust !

In ecstatic affirmations of their love, they ignore Brangänes warning call before the dawning, rather dedicate themselves to the eternal night and wish that day will never come again and that they die the love death together as the highest perfection of their love. At that moment they surprise Marke and his court, led by the traitor Melot. The king, who admits that out of awe never touched Isolde, is dismayed by the infidelity of his beloved nephew and friend Tristan, who is desperately trying to banish the disturbing "daytime ghosts". But then Tristan faces reality and makes the decision to go ahead of Isolde for the sake of their two secrets into the “wonder realm of the night”, into death. Isolde promises to follow him wherever he goes. With one last kiss for Isolde, Tristan provokes Melot in such a way that he pulls the sword against the traitor. Tristan penetrates him, but does not defend himself and, badly wounded by Melot, sinks into Kurwenal's arms.

third elevator

Garden at Tristan's Castle Kareol in Brittany.

Kurwenal has brought his master to his ancestral castle Kareol in Brittany. There Tristan relived the stages of his life in a fever, the early loss of his parents, his touching longing for death and his initially unacknowledged love for Isolde. He longs for the redeeming death that Isolde, again as a healer, should bring him. Several times he thinks he spies a ship - Kurwenal sent to Isolde - but is deceived by hallucinations and curses the love potion and his fate of not being able to see Isolde and yet not being able to die. The arrival of Isolde's ship is finally announced. When Isolde rushes to him, Tristan ecstatically tears the bandages off and dies in her arms.

A second ship docks, in it Marke with his entourage and Brangäne. Kurwenal throws himself at the supposedly hostile intruders with his people and kills Melot, but is fatally injured himself in battle. Marke laments the dead: He has come to wed Tristan to Isolde after Brangäne revealed to him the relationship between the lovers. Isolde, however, sinks with a vision in which she sees herself completely united with Tristan, "as if transfigured" over his corpse.

Mild and soft as he smiles,
as he opens the eye -
do you see it, friends? Don't you see it?
Always lighter as it shines, shines with
stars high up?
Don't you see
How bravely his heart swells,
full and noble in his bosom?
sweet breath gently escapes from the lips, blissfully mild -
friends! Look!
Do you not feel and see it?

She drowns “in the universe blowing the breath of the world” - “drowning, sinking, unconsciously - highest pleasure!” Are Isolde's last words. (The final music, which today is usually wrongly called " Isolde's love death ", Wagner himself called "Isolde's transfiguration".)



Title page of the 1911 score

Scoring based on the score edited by Felix Mottl , the musical text of which corresponds to the first print from 1860 and Wagner's autograph: The information does not follow the modern order of woodwinds - brasses - stringed instruments, but puts the latter at the top:

Instruments of the orchestra

  • String instruments. First and second violins. - violas. - Violoncello (sic!) . - double basses.

Extremely good and strong to fill.

  • Woodwind instruments. 3 large flutes, of which the third has to alternate with the small flute. - 2 hours . - 1 English horn . - 2 clarinets. - 1 bass clarinet. - 3 bassoons.
  • Brass instruments. 4 horns ¹). - 3 trumpets. - 3 trumpets²). - 1 bass tuba.
  • Percussion instruments. 1 pair of timpani. - (To ensure the change in tuning, strengthened by a third timpani.) - 1 triangle. - 1 pair of basins.
  • String instrument. 1 harp.

For this on the theater: 3 trumpets. 3 trumpets. 6 horns (to be reinforced if possible). 1 English horn³

Wagner's instructions show that he had an unusually precise sound conception and that he was using the most modern achievements in instrument making at the time . Also remarkable is the fact that the final chord of "Tristan" is not played by all instruments in the tutti. The English horn is missing, which is said to have prompted Richard Strauss to interpret: "The poison is out ..."

Music and plot

Tristan und Isolde's music begins with the singing, but is fulfilled in the orchestra, which has symphonic proportions. The language of the instruments is like an additional organ for the people on stage. What a character feels, thinks and does is expressed in melodies, harmonies and rhythms.

First elevator

NB 1

The action begins with the curtain closed, so it can only be heard. With the expression “slow and languishing” an orchestral music begins that soon turns out to be Isolde's dream. Isolde longs for Tristan, whom she loves. In the center of the opposing, chromatic melodies (fe-dis, and g sharp-a-a sharp-b) is the so-called "Tristan chord" fh-dis-g sharp, which is actually an isolate chord (NB 1).

NB 2

Isolde remembers the beginning of their love when Tristan, whom she could have killed, looked into her eyes (NB 2).

NB 3

Isolde thinks about her plan to kill herself and Tristan in order to avert an unbearable life at the court of King Markes (NB 3).

NB 4

After the curtain has opened, Isolde wakes up from her half asleep and gives in to her feelings of hatred for Tristan because he betrayed her and does not want to admit his love for her (NB 4).

NB 5

Later Isolde quotes Tristan as "mistress" with a majestic pose and demands accountability and readiness for atonement from him. (NB 5).

NB 6

Tristan agrees to their death together, but Brangäne prevents it. In the shock of being alive, the couple profess their passionate love (NB 6).

second elevator

NB 7

The music for the nocturnal love affair between Isolde and Tristan in the second act has a different sound than that of the first act. The fulfillment of all longings now seems possible, the lovers indulge in feelings of happiness and wish for a love death that promises eternal pleasure. Here they sing the most famous duet from the entire opera: "O sink 'hernieder, Nacht der Liebe" (NB 7).

NB 8

The notes on which Tristan and Isolde sing their verses are identical to the first chord of the opera, the so-called "Tristan chord" from NB 1: es-f-as-ces ≈ fh-dis-gis. The enharmonic equation of the tones es = dis, ace = gis, ces = b must not hide the fact that these are different chords: full of internal tension, the chromatic chord, which means Isolde's love tendons (fh-dis-gis), from blessed Looseness is the diatonic sound that expresses the happiness of love together (es-f-as-ces). Tristan finds the term “consecrated night” for himself and his lover. This exclamation is also underlaid with the diatonic Tristan chord (f-as-ces-es) (NB 8).

NB 9

Later, the lovers sing of their happiness in the so-called death duet, which deals with the death of love and the wish never to wake up (NB 9).

third elevator

NB 10

The scandal at the end of the second act, when the hunting party appears, is musically implemented in that the orchestral melody suddenly breaks off and Brangänes “a loud scream” can be heard. We meet the wounded and rescued Tristan again in the third elevator. The third act also begins with a dream scene with the curtain closed. This time it is Tristan who, half asleep, longs for Isolde. The first chord (NB 10) is another diatonic variant of the chromatic Tristan chord from NB 1: b-d flat-fg ≈ fh-d flat-g ​​sharp. The B-flat minor sound (b-des-fg) corresponds to Tristan's love tendons, while the double dominant alteration chord (fh-dis-gis) is appropriate to Isolde's feelings.

NB 11

Tristan is also tormented by wound pain that he had himself inflicted at the end of the second act. For this suffering and at the same time the hope of rescue through Isolde, who is also a healer, there is a separate melodic-harmonic theme (NB 11).

NB 12

With the final arrival of Isolde, which at first triggers ecstatic joy in Tristan, then leads to a suicide in a trance state, the music from the first act returns. Tristan dies in Isolde's arms to the sounds that used to accompany the couple's near death (NB 12).

NB 13

The death duet from the second act, which is actually a bliss duet, also returns at the end of the opera and is now led to an ecstatic end by Isolde alone. What broke off in the nocturnal love scene with the words "Highest love lust!", Now leads to a relaxed B major ending with Isolde's singing ("drown, sink, unconsciously, highest lust!"). The motif of longing is woven into it for the last time, this time beginning chromatically (Isolde) and ending diatonic (Tristan): g sharp-a-a-sharp-h-c sharp-dis - a symbol for the union of lovers in death (NB 13).

Work history

Literary sources

The Tristan story is based on the Celtic sagas about King Arthur and Tristan - the latter is handed down in the large-scale verse novel Tristan by Gottfried von Strasbourg (13th century). Wagner knew this important work of late medieval literature as well as the contemporary adaptations of the material by August von Platen , Karl Ritter (senior) and Julius Mosen . In addition, Wagner incorporated motifs and moods from Novalis ' Hymns to the Night into his plot .

Philosophical Sources

Suggestions from Arthur Schopenhauer's philosophy are considered certain. Wagner himself puts this into perspective, however: reading Schopenhauer then encountered an already existing mood in him which had inspired him to create Tristan and which he now found again in Schopenhauer. Schopenhauer, on the other hand, is related to thoughts that he derives from Buddhism and Indian Brahmanism , namely a tendency towards the complete extinction of human existence in death - a thought that can be traced back to Wagner's later work Parsifal . However, a musical representation of nothingness ( nirvana ) is impossible, as the musicologist Martin Geck notes:

Andreas Dorschel suspects Tristan and Isolde to be a 'rapturous enthusiasm' for the 'return to the primordial one' that Wagner shares with German romanticism , which a Schopenhauer, however, had to be downright repugnant. The contradiction named here, according to Dorschel, lies in the essence of the matter: 'Perhaps music, as art, conjuring up the moment of supreme bliss in Isolde's love death, is compelled to say yes where it would most emphatically say no for the sake of philosophical consistency.' . "

Musical sources

In 1850/51 Wagner wrote his main drama-theoretical work “Opera and Drama”, in the third part of which he dealt with his future operas under the heading “The Drama of the Future”. After Tristan and Isolde had finished, he said: "I now permit this work to meet the strictest requirements that flow from my theoretical claims". One of the core ideas of his theory of musical drama is that the orchestra should no longer just provide the accompaniment of the singing, but should be raised to the height of the symphony. Ludwig van Beethoven's symphonies had thus become points of reference for Wagner's dramatic orchestral language. In 1879 he put it this way: "[It] must show the unity of the symphony movement in the new form of dramatic music in order to again be a work of art as music." Wagner was an opponent of Italian number opera. He liked operas better in which the sung word and the dramatic events were decisive. He counted operas by Willibald Gluck, z. B. Orpheus and Eurydice and Iphigenie in Aulis, and (with reservations) the master operas of Wolfgang Amadé Mozart, especially his Don Giovanni. Wagner attributed a special role in the development of a German-language opera to the Freischütz Carl Maria von Webers. Significant precursors for Tristan and Isolde were also Wagner's own romantic operas The Flying Dutchman, Tannhauser and Lohengrin. Franz Liszt's symphonic poems can be said to have had a direct influence on Wagner's compositional technique. In 1857 Wagner wrote a treatise on this group of works, in which he particularly praised the language skills of the instruments and the orchestra in general. He had also trained in Liszt's harmonic language. Wagner to Hans von Bülow on October 7, 1859: "that since I became acquainted with Liszt's compositions I have become a completely different fellow as a harmonist than I was before." Tristan and Isolde's score can attest to this.


Stage model by Angelo Quaglio for the third act of the world premiere
  • 1842: Wagner meets Julius Mosen and his poem about the Tristan saga.
  • 1846: Robert Schumann contemplates a Tristan opera. Robert Reinick wrote the libretto , but the opera was never realized. Through regular contact with Schumann, Wagner found out about his thoughts.
  • 1854: An attempt to dramatize the Tristan material by Karl Ritter, with whom Wagner is friends, prompted Wagner to study it more intensively. At the time he was in exile in Switzerland, where he was still working on the Ring of the Nibelung (ring, creation).
  • 1856: Wagner reports to Franz Liszt in a letter about the complete conceptual but not yet fixed in writing.
  • 1857: On April 28, Wagner moves into the Wesendonck's garden house in Zurich. Supported by a passionate relationship with Mathilde Wesendonck (see also Wesendonck-Lieder , Origin), he interrupts work on Siegfried to devote himself entirely to Tristan , who under the given circumstances seems to reflect his personal situation: Wagner sees himself as Tristan , Mathilde as Isolde and Otto Wesendonck standing between them in the thankless role of King Brand. On September 18, Wagner presented the completed original of the Tristan poem to Mathilde Wesendonck. He reads the text in close circle of friends. In December the composition sketch for the first act was finished.
  • 1858: In the spring the complete score of the first act is available. After a scandal between Otto Wesendonck and his wife, Wagner temporarily separates from her and travels to Venice, where the second act is composed within six months.
  • 1859: After he had to leave Venice in March, Wagner does not return to Zurich, but goes to Lucerne, where he completes the third act. In August, the Tristan is complete. The first performance of the piece is delayed, however, as the work will soon be considered unperforceable due to its unusual musical difficulties. Wagner reported on these problems in an open letter of April 18, 1865 to Friedrich Uhl .
  • 1860: The Tristan prelude is given its first concert performance, but the audience refuses it.
  • 1862: After difficult negotiations, rehearsals for the premiere begin in Vienna. After countless problems and 77 rehearsals, however, it was canceled in 1863.
  • 1865: After Wagner was called by Ludwig II from Bavaria to Munich, the work is premiered on June 10th at the Munich Court and National Theater.
  • 1886: First performance of Tristan at the Bayreuth Festival, staged by Cosima Wagner under the musical direction of Felix Mottl .


Ludwig II of Bavaria , supporter of Wagner

The factory was originally supposed to be in Rio de Janeiro , then in Karlsruhe , then in Paris and finally in 1863 at the k. u. k. The Court Opera in Vienna, Dresden and Weimar will be premiered. All of these attempts failed. Only the generous and unconditional support of King Ludwig II of Bavaria made the implementation of this demanding work possible.


A date had already been set for the intended premiere at the Grand Ducal Court Theater in Karlsruhe, December 3, 1859, the birthday of Grand Duchess Luise . Ludwig Schnorr von Carolsfeld and Malvina Garrigues were planned as Tristan and Isolde . In a letter to his wife Minna from October 1859 regarding the Karlsruhe plans, Wagner regretted: “None other than the voiceless Garrigues zur Isolde. This is not even entirely decided yet; Much lies too low for it, because it can only make itself audible at high altitudes. ”The premiere did not take place in Karlsruhe. It probably failed because the designated Tristan, "despite all dedication to his task", despaired of the feasibility of the last part of the third act.


A second attempt to perform the opera in Karlsruhe with the pair of singers failed because the Vienna Court Opera did not release its singers for the secondary roles, but wanted to premiere the opera itself. A day of the premiere has already been set in Vienna, October 1st, 1861. But the Tristan planned for Vienna, Alois Ander , lost his voice and the production had to be postponed. During Wagner's stay in Biebrich , Hesse , today a district of Wiesbaden , Malvina and Ludwig Schnorr von Carolsfeld, now married, stayed with the composer for a fortnight in July 1862. Under Wagner's guidance and with Hans von Bülow at the piano, they studied the title roles of Tristan and Isolde - for the premiere planned for the winter in Dresden. In Vienna, where rehearsals began in autumn of the same year, the title roles were still occupied by Alois Ander and Marie Louise Dustmann-Meyer , but Wagner secretly negotiated with Ludwig Schnorr von Carolsfeld about a guest performance in Vienna to take over Tristan. However, he was only given leave for January 1863. The rehearsals in Vienna were delayed again and Schnorr's engagement was therefore no longer applicable. The Viennese tenor lost his voice again, then Dustmann suffered, and finally the Vienna premiere project was canceled after 77 rehearsals.

Dresden, Weimar

Malvine and Ludwig Schnorr von Carolsfeld were always planned for the leading roles in the plans for the world premieres in Dresden and Weimar as well as for a guest performance by the Viennese production in Prague, but they all failed. The opera was henceforth unplayable.


When King Ludwig II of Bavaria gave his idol Wagner the opportunity to try the world premiere at his Munich court opera , the composer was left to cast all the roles. Hans von Bülow , whose wife Cosima had had an intimate relationship with Wagner at least since the summer of 1864, was to take over the direction of Tristan Ludwig Schnorr von Carolsfeld. However, since he was engaged in Dresden, the premiere was scheduled for May 15, 1865, taking into account his vacation. Wagner offered the role of Isolde in writing to the German soprano Therese Tietjens , who at the time was mostly singing in London , but later described these plans to the press as not applicable, referring to the cast of Malvina Schnorr von Carolsfeld. Originally Anton Mitterwurzer , a friend of Wagner's, was supposed to take over King Marke . However, this preferred the role of Kurwenal and received it. Anna Deinet was chosen as the Brangäne . King Marke was to be entrusted to the Munich bass player August Kindermann , who embodied Wotan in the world premieres of Rheingold and Walküre in 1869 and 1870 . However, Ludwig Zottmayr then sang the part .

Malvina Schnorr von Carolsfeld as Isolde, Munich 1865
Letter from Ludwig Schnorr von Carolsfeld to Richard Wagner, 1865

The first samples were satisfactory. The acoustics in the originally planned Residenz Theater turned out to be unfavorable, which is why the premiere was moved to the larger National Theater . On April 15, 1865, the day of the first orchestral rehearsal, Cosima's and Richard's first daughter, Isolde , was born. She was entered in the baptismal register as the legitimate daughter of Hans and Cosima von Bülow, Richard Wagner acted as baptismal witness. The dress rehearsal on May 11th - in the presence of the king and 600 invited guests - represented the “fulfillment of the impossible” for the lyricist and composer, but in order to dispel any doubts, he set a second “secret” dress rehearsal for the 13th May, when the singers should only sing mezza voce , in half a voice, in order to protect themselves for the premiere . The day of the premiere began for Richard Wagner with the seizure of his furniture after he had learned the day before that his wife Minna , who was in Dresden, was about to die . Finally Ludwig Schnorr von Carolsfeld stood in front of his door and admitted with tears that his wife could not sing that day because of her hoarseness, made worse by a steam bath the night before. One source named "cold and heartache", others "hoarseness". The singing couple traveled to Bad Reichenhall for a cure, and the premiere guests who had come from half of Europe left Munich again. Speculations in the Munich tabloid press about the real reason for the rejection flourished.

Wagner tirelessly encouraged his “lions”, sometimes also referred to as his “beloved bumblebees”, by means of letters, and on June 10, 1865 the world premiere could actually take place. Numerous premiere guests traveled again, and the alleged inability to perform the work was refuted by the factual evidence. The audience was overwhelmed, the press divided. The singing achievements were widely praised, only the "indecency" of the work, which is based on betrayal, was criticized. The next day Ludwig Schnorr von Carolsfeld wrote to his father:

“The effect was immense, one that steadily increased from the first to the last act. After each act we were called out stormily twice, after the last act we led Wagner in our midst. The moment when we stood hand in hand with the beloved Master, after the deed had been done, after all the difficulties and obstacles had been overcome, which had always been presented as insurmountable, when we wept blessed tears - this moment will live fresh and strengthening in our memories until all thinking comes to an end. In addition to the greatest happiness, however, we also feel a good portion of pride; I will stumble more often today, I know that, because my gaze will not so easily sink back to the common earth anytime soon. We have accomplished something that nobody will imitate us anytime soon; we have finally achieved it, the big, big goal. "

The fourth performance

After the three acclaimed performances on June 10, 13 and 19, 1865, the couple went to the Tegernsee to relax , where Wagner followed them for a few days. On June 23, the king received an invitation to schedule a fourth performance within eight to ten days. This took place on July 1, 1865. In her recollections from 1883, the singer writes: “The telegram put my husband into the most terrible excitement, to whom I was at a loss, as it was completely new to me about the otherwise indifferent man. To my worried question as to whether he was feeling uncomfortable, he replied with the counter-question: "And you?" - "I'm hoarse, but contrary to expectations, the evil should subside and, above all, you should feel free: why shouldn't we take the risk a fourth time? The greater the honor! ""

Wagner encouraged his singing couple in writing: “My beloved bumblebee couple! Whoever says A must also say B! - I think you'll have to get serious for Saturday. The king rages after this last performance and fears, the more it postpones it, - that it will receive new harassment again. So he has asked for a fortnightly extension of your vacation (to Dresden) [...] So, full of work! Follow by example: give up hypochondria, you get nothing from it. How much nicer it is, on the other hand, to plunge into the desert and devour harmless hikers with roaring! "

Everyone involved agreed that the fourth was the most successful performance in the series. The audience cheered. Hans von Bülow: “As beautiful as the most beautiful poet's dream.” Malvine Schnorr von Carolsfeld: “It was the most perfect performance, and we - which seldom happened - were satisfied with ourselves.” Wagner: “In the fourth performance - in the last act - the feeling of iniquity in this outrageous feat; I called out: this is the last performance of Tristan and it must never be performed again. "

On July 12th, the king ordered a separate performance with excerpts of Wagner's most important works, with the Tristan actor taking on four tenor roles, all of Wagner's works that have not yet premiered. He gave the role of the Lodge (in a fragment from the Rheingold ), Siegmund's Liebeslied (from the Walküre ), the heroic song of Siegfried during the forging of the sword (from the then unfinished Siegfried ) and the aria of Walther von Stolzing (from the Meistersingers from Nuremberg ). On July 15, 1865, Ludwig Schnorr von Carolsfeld sang another Wagner role, Erik in the Flying Dutchman , while his health was bad. He died on July 21, 1865 - only three weeks after the fourth and last performance of Tristan und Isolde - at the age of 29. The cause of death could not be clarified. Contemporary reports spoke of jumping gout . In his last hours, the singer was delirious and is said to have pulled his hair out. His last words are said to have been: “Goodbye, Siegfried! Comfort my Richard! "

His wife, the first Isolde, Malvina Schnorr von Carolsfeld, fell into deep depression as a result and never stepped onto a stage again.

Line-ups for the first Tristan and Isolde performances

role Pitch First performance in
Munich, June 10, 1865
First performance in Vienna
October 4, 1883
Bayreuth Festival
July 25, 1886
Tristan, nephew of King Brand tenor Ludwig Schnorr von Carolsfeld Hermann Winkelmann Heinrich Gudehus
Isolde, Princess of Ireland soprano Malvina Schnorr von Carolsfeld Amalie Friedrich-Materna Pink viewfinder
Brangäne, Isoldes' confidante Mezzo-soprano Anna Deinet Pink paper Gisela Staudigl
Kurwenal, companion of Tristan baritone Anton Mitterwurzer Karl Sommer Carl Scheidemantel
King Brand of Cornwall bass Ludwig Zottmayr Emil Scaria Gustav Siehr
Melot, a courtier Tenor / baritone Karl Heinrich Viktor Schmitt Adolf Grupp
A shepherd tenor Karl Simons Anton Schittenhelm Wilhelm Guggenbühler
A helmsman baritone Peter Hartmann Theodor Lay Oskar Schneider
Voice of a young sailor tenor not known not known Jose Kellerer
Ship people, knights and squires. Isolde's women
conductor Hans von Bülow Hans Richter Felix Mottl
Staging Richard Wagner not known Cosima Wagner
Stage design not known Carlo Brioschi , Hermann Burghart , Johann Kautsky Max Brückner
Costumes Franz von Seitz Franz Gaul Joseph Flüggen

Duration (using the example of the Bayreuth Festival)

At the Bayreuth Festival it was customary to document the length of the individual lifts, but not all years were recorded there. The type of voice and the temperament of the singers also influenced the duration.

Overview (1876 to 1974)
Tristan and Isolde 1st act 2nd act 3rd act Total duration
Hours. conductor Hours. conductor Hours. conductor Hours. conductor
Shortest duration 1:14 Berislav Klobučar 1:03 Berislav Klobucar 1:10 Victor de Sabata 3:27 Berislav Klobucar
Longest duration 1:30 Arturo Toscanini 1:21 Arturo Toscanini 1:23 Karl Elmendorff 4:11 Arturo Toscanini
Span * 0:16 (22%) 0:18 (29%) 0:13 (19%) 0:44 (21%)

* Percentages based on the shortest duration

Playing time with individual conductors of the Bayreuth Festival (in hours)
year conductor 1st act 2nd act 3rd act Total duration
1886 Felix Mottl 1:20 1:15 1:15 3:50
1906 Michael Balling 1:26 1:21 1:18 4:05
1927 Karl Elmendorff 1:22 1:18 1:23 4:03
1930 Arturo Toscanini 1:30 1:21 1:20 4:11
1931 Wilhelm Furtwängler 1:23 1:15 1:17 3:55
1939 Victor de Sabata 1:17 1:12 1:10 3:39
1952 Herbert von Karajan 1:20 1:14 1:13 3:47
1953 Eugene Jochum 1:21 1:15 1:13 3:49
1957 Wolfgang Sawallisch 1:20 1:16 1:14 3:50
1962 Karl Bohm 1:17 1:17 1:14 3:48
1968 Berislav Klobučar 1:14 1:03 1:11 3:28
1974 Carlos Kleiber 1:16 1:17 1:15 3:48


On the history of the impact of “Tristan”, as the opera is shortened, an almost incalculable wealth of literature has appeared, including extremely critical contributions. Wagner himself already foresaw this while working on the opera, as the famous passage to Mathilde Wesendonck shows:

"Child! This Tristan is going to be terrible! That last act !!! - - - - - - -

I fear the opera will be banned - if the whole thing is not parodied by a bad performance -: only mediocre performances can save me! Completely good ones must drive people crazy - I can't think of any other way. I had to get that far !! ... "

Friedrich Nietzsche wrote in "Ecce homo":

“But today I'm still looking for a work of equally dangerous fascination, of an equally gruesome and sweet infinity, like 'Tristan' - I search in vain in all the arts. (...) I think I know better than anyone the monstrosity that Wagner is capable of, the fifty worlds of alien delight to which no one but himself had wings; and, as I am, strong enough to turn even the most questionable and dangerous things to my advantage and thus become stronger, I call Wagner the great benefactor of my life. That in which we are related, that we have suffered more deeply, also to one another, as people of this century could suffer, will bring our names together again forever. "

Giuseppe Verdi judged:

“The work that has always aroused my greatest admiration is 'Tristan'. In front of this gigantic building I am seized with a shuddering astonishment, and even now it seems incredible to me how a person could conceive and realize it. I consider the second act to be one of the most sublime creations of the mind ever made. This second act is wonderful, wonderful, unspeakably wonderful. "

Richard Strauss described Tristan and Isolde as "the very last conclusion of Schiller and Goethe and the highest fulfillment of the 2000 years of theater development".

Amalie Materna and Hermann Winkelmann , the singers of the Vienna premiere in 1883
(photo montage from 2016)

The music is still felt to be highly emotional today; Kurt Pahlen calls Tristan und Isolde the "opera of ecstasy". On July 20, 1968 , the conductor Josef Keilberth suffered a heart attack during a Tristan performance in Munich in the second act, just like his colleague Felix Mottl did earlier in 1911 . Both times of death are noted in the appropriate places in the sheet music of the State Opera Orchestra. So z. B. Keilberth's time of death in Tristan's parting song "So we died, to be undivided [...]" - exactly at the point where the performance designation morendo , i.e. dying , is noted in the piano reduction .

Musically, Wagner's innovations, especially in the field of harmony, continued to have an impact up to the last phase of romantic music in the 20th century (see, for example, the Tristan chord ).


Discography (selection)



  • Richard Wagner: Tristan and Isolde , first edition of the score, Mainz (Schott) 1865.
  • Richard Wagner: Tristan and Isolde , facsimile of the autograph score, Munich (Dreimasken Verlag) 1923.
  • Richard Wagner: Tristan and Isolde , WWV 90, historical-critical edition, ed. by Isolde Vetter, 3 volumes, Mainz (Schott) 1990-1994.
  • Richard Wagner: Tristan and Isolde , WWV 90, historical-critical edition, document volume, ed. by Egon Voss & Gabriele E. Mayer, Mainz (Schott) 2009.
  • Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde , facsimile of the autograph score (with detailed commentary), ed. by Ulrich Konrad , Kassel (Bärenreiter) 2012.

Secondary literature

  • Carolyn Abbate: Unsung Voices: Opera and Musical Narrative in the Nineteenth Century , Princeton (Princeton University Press) 1991.
  • Carolyn Abbate: The eternal return of »Tristan« , in: Annegret Fauser / Manuela Schwartz (eds.), From Wagner to Wagnérisme. Music ─ Literature ─ Art ─ Politics , Leipzig (Leipziger Universitätsverlag) 1999, pp. 293–313.
  • Theodor W. Adorno : Experiment on Wagner , "Gesammelte Schriften", vol. 13, Frankfurt (Suhrkamp) 1971.
  • Anna Bahr-Mildenburg: Presentation of the works of Richard Wagner from the spirit of poetry and music. "Tristan and Isolde". Complete directing of all parts with music samples , Leipzig / Vienna (musicological publisher) 1936.
  • Ulrich Bartels: Analytical-historical studies of Wagner's "Tristan und Isolde" based on the composition sketch of the second and third act , Cologne (Studio) 1995.
  • Dieter Borchmeyer : Richard Wagner's theater. Idea ─ Poetry ─ Effect , Stuttgart (Reclam) 1982.
  • Eric Chafe: The Tragic and the Ecstatic: The Musical Revolution of Wagner's "Tristan and Isolde" , Oxford / New York (Oxford University Press) 2005, ISBN 978-0-19-517647-6 .
  • Carl Dahlhaus : Wagner's conception of the musical drama , Regensburg (Bosse) 1971, 2nd edition: Munich / Kassel (dtv / Bärenreiter) 1990.
  • Klaus Ebbeke: Richard Wagner's "Art of Transition". On the second scene of the second act of "Tristan und Isolde", especially on bars 634-1116 , in: Josef Kuckertz / Helga de la Motte-Haber / Christian Martin Schmidt / Wilhelm Seidel (eds.), New Music and Tradition. Festschrift Rudolf Stephan on the occasion of his 65th birthday , Laaber (Laaber) 1990, pp. 259–270.
  • Irmtraud Flechsig: Relationships between textual and musical structure in Richard Wagner's "Tristan und Isolde" , in: Carl Dahlhaus (ed.), Richard Wagner's drama as a musical work of art , Regensburg (Bosse) 1970, pp. 239-257.
  • Wolfgang Frühwald: Romantic longing and love death in Richard Wagner's "Tristan and Isolde" , in: Wolfgang Böhme (ed.), Love and redemption. About Richard Wagner , Karlsruhe 1983 (= "Herrenalber Texte", vol. 48).
  • Arthur Groos: Appropriation in Wagner's "Tristan" libretto , in: Arthur Groos / Roger Parker (eds.): Reading Opera , Princeton (Princeton University Press) 1988, pp. 12–33.
  • Arthur Groos (Ed.): Richard Wagner, "Tristan and Isolde" , Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2011.
  • Adriana Guarnieri Corazzol: Tristano, mio ​​Tristano. Gli scrittori italiani e il caso Wagner , Bologna (Il Mulino) 1988.
  • Serge Gut : Tristan et Isolde , Fayard, Paris 2014, ISBN 978-2-213-68113-9 .
  • Brigitte Heldt: Richard Wagner, "Tristan and Isolde". The work and its staging , Laaber-Verlag, Laaber 1994.
  • William Kinderman: The "Secret of Form" in Wager's "Tristan and Isolde" , in: Archiv für Musikwissenschaft 40/1983, pp. 174–188.
  • Klaus Kropfinger : Wagner and Beethoven: Studies on Richard Wagner's Beethoven Reception , Regensburg (Bosse) 1974.
  • Ernst Kurth: Romantic harmony and its crisis in Wagner's "Tristan" , Berlin (Max Hesse) 1923, reprint: Hildesheim (Olms) 1968.
  • Kii-Ming Lo , »In the dark you, in the light me!« ─ Jean-Pierre Ponnelle's Bayreuth staging of »Tristan und Isolde« , in: Naomi Matsumoto et al. (Eds.), The Staging of Verdi & Wagner Operas , Turnhout (Brepols) 2015, pp. 307–321.
  • Kii-Ming Lo / Jürgen Maehder : Ai zhi si ─ Wagner's "Tristan and Isolde" [= love death ─ "Tristan and Isolde" by Richard Wagner ], Gao Tan Publishing Co., Taipei 2014, ISBN 978-986-6620-50- 8 .
  • Jürgen Maehder , A Mantle of Sound for the Night ─ Timbre in Wagner's "Tristan und Isolde" , in: Arthur Groos (Ed.), Richard Wagner, "Tristan und Isolde" , Cambridge (Cambridge University Press) 2011, p. 95- 119 & 180-185.
  • Jürgen Maehder : Wagner research versus Verdi research ─ Comments on the different stages of development of two musicological sub-disciplines , in: Arnold Jacobshagen (Ed.), Verdi and Wagner, Cultures of the Opera , Vienna / Cologne (Böhlau) 2014, pp. 263–291, ISBN 978-3-412-22249-9 .
  • Jürgen Maehder : The Intellectual Challenge of Staging Wagner: Staging Practice at Bayreuth Festival from Wieland Wagner to Patrice Chéreau , in: Marco Brighenti / Marco Targa (eds.), Mettere in scena Wagner. Opera e regia fra Ottocento e contemporaneità , Lucca (LIM) 2019, pp. 151–174.
  • Claus-Steffen Mahnkopf (ed.): Richard Wagner, designer of modernity. Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart 1999, ISBN 3-608-91979-1 .
  • Bryan Magee: The Tristan Chord: Wagner and Philosophy , New York (Metropolitan Books) 2001, ISBN 978-0-8050-6788-0 .
  • Volker Mertens: Richard Wagner and the Middle Ages , in: Ulrich Müller / Ursula Müller (eds.), Richard Wagner und seine Mittelalter , Anif / Salzburg (Müller-Speiser) 1989, pp. 9–84.
  • Ulrich Müller / Ursula Müller (eds.): Richard Wagner und seine Mittelalter , Anif / Salzburg (Müller-Speiser) 1989.
  • Ulrich Müller / Oswald Panagl: Ring and Graal. Texts, comments and interpretations on Richard Wagner's “The Ring of the Nibelung”, “Tristan and Isolde”, “The Mastersingers of Nuremberg” and “Parsifal” , Würzburg (Königshausen & Neumann) 2002.
  • Ulrich Müller : The Modern Reception of Gottfried's Tristan and the Medieval Legend of Tristan and Isolde , in: Will Hasty (a cura di), A Companion to Gottfried von Strasbourg's "Tristan" , Rochester / NY (Camden House) 2003, 2nd edition : 2010, pp. 285-306.
  • Jean-Jacques Nattiez: Wagner androgyne , Paris (Bourgois) 1990; engl. trans. (Stewart Spencer), Princeton (Princeton University Press) 1993.
  • Jean-Jacques Nattiez, Analyzes et interprétations de la musique. La mélodie du berger dans le "Tristan et Isolde" de Wagner , Paris (Vrin) 2013, ISBN 978-2-7116-2512-3 .
  • Peter Petersen : Isolde and Tristan. On the musical identity of the main characters in Richard Wagner's “Action” Tristan and Isolde , Königshausen & Neumann, Würzburg 2019, ISBN 978-3-8260-6796-9 .
  • Heinrich Poos: The "Tristan" hieroglyph. An allegorical attempt , in: Heinz-Klaus Metzger / Rainer Riehn (eds.), Richard Wagner's "Tristan and Isolde" , Munich (text + criticism) 1987, pp. 46-103.
  • Horst Scharschuch: Overall analysis of the harmony of Richard Wagner's musical drama "Tristan and Isolde". With special consideration of the sequence technique of the Tristanstil , Regensburg (Bosse) 1963.
  • Manfred Hermann Schmid : Music as an image. Studies on the work of Weber, Schumann and Wagner , Tutzing (Schneider) 1981.
  • Sebastian Urmoneit: »Tristan and Isolde« ─ Eros and Thanatos. On the »poetic interpretation« of the harmony of Richard Wagner's 'plot' »Tristan und Isolde« , Sinzig (Studio) 2005.
  • Hans Rudolf Vaget: "Without advice in a foreign country?": "Tristan and Isolde" in America: Seidl, Mahler, Toscanini , in: Wagnerspectrum 1/2005, pp. 164-185.
  • Egon Voss : »Wagner and no end«. Considerations and studies , Zurich / Mainz (Atlantis) 1996.
  • Peter Wapnewski : The sad god. Richard Wagner in his heroes , Munich (CH Beck) 1978.
  • Peter Wapnewski : Richard Wagner. The scene and its master , Munich (CH Beck) 1978.
  • Peter Wapnewski : Tristan the hero of Richard Wagner , Berlin (Quadriga) 1981.
  • Peter Wapnewski : love death and godlessness. On »Tristan« and the »Ring des Nibelungen« , Berlin (Corso / Siedler) 1988.
  • Asuka Yamazaki: The German National Consciousness of the 19th Century and Richard Wagner's “Tristan and Isolde” . Königshausen & Neumann, Würzburg 2013, ISBN 978-3-8260-5344-3 (Dissertation University of Kyoto 2012).
  • Elliott Zuckerman: The first hundred years of Wagner's Tristan , New York / London (Columbia University Press) 1964.

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Edition CF Peters, Leipzig 1911. Illustrated in, accessed on March 4, 2015
  2. Richard Wagner's footnote: The composer believes that the treatment of the horn should be recommended to be given special attention. The introduction of the valves has undoubtedly gained so much for this instrument that it is difficult to ignore this completion, although this undeniably causes the horn to lose the beauty of its tone, as well as its ability to soften the tones Has. With this great loss the composer, who is concerned with the preservation of the real character of the horn, would have to refrain from using the valve horns, if he had not, on the other hand, made the experience that excellent artists, through particularly careful treatment, almost up to the disadvantages mentioned were able to pick up imperceptibly, so that in terms of tone and binding a difference was scarcely perceptible. In expectation of a hopefully inevitable improvement in the valve horn, horn players are strongly advised to study the parts assigned to them in the present score very carefully in order to find the correct use of the most appropriate tunings and valves for all the requirements of the performance. The composer has already counted on the E-slur (in addition to the F-slur) to determine whether the other retunings, as they are often given in the score to make it easier to describe the lower notes or the required sound of higher notes, have been carried out It is up to the horn players to decide for themselves, but the composer usually assumed that the individual low notes in particular could be produced by transposition. - The individual notes marked with a + mean stuffed tones, and even if these occur in moods in which they are open, it is always assumed that the wind player then changes the mood of the kind through a valve, that the intended tone come to be heard as stuffed.
  3. Footnote by Richard Wagner: The first two trombones are definitely what are known as tenor bass trombones (i.e. no alto trombone included); the third trombone is definitely to be occupied by a real bass trombone.
  4. Richard Wagner's footnote: The performance of the Hirtenreigen on the English horn (in the first scene of the third act) requires an artist who is so accomplished that it has to be taken over by the same wind player and performed behind the scene who did this during the whole evening English horn blowing in orchestra. Since the English horn is only used again in the orchestra for the second scene, the wind player will have enough time to take his place there again by then, which is even more facilitated when the by far easier cheerful dance is performed by one at the end of the first scene other musicians, either (with the reinforcement of other woodwinds) also on the English horn, or (as stated in the note on the relevant passage, page 373) on a simple natural instrument specially made for this purpose. The first two trombones are definitely what are known as tenor bass trombones (i.e. no alto trombone included); the third trombone is in any case to be occupied by a real bass trombone.
  5. See the chapter "Tristan Harmonics" in Peter Petersen : Isolde und Tristan. On the musical identity of the main characters in Richard Wagner's "plot" Tristan and Isolde. Königshausen & Neumann, Würzburg 2019, p. 47 ff.
  6. Martin Geck, Wagner. Biography. Siedler, Munich, 2012, p. 246. Geck quotes Andreas Dorschel: The idea of ​​“unification” in Wagner's Tristan. In: Heinz-Klaus Metzger / Rainer Riehn (eds.): Richard Wagner, Tristan and Isolde. edition text + kritik, Munich 1987 (Music Concepts 57/58), pp. 3–45.
  7. Richard Wagner: Opera and Drama , ed. U. commented by Klaus Kropfinger, Stuttgart: Reclam 1984.
  8. ^ Richard Wagner: Gesammelte Schriften und Dichtungen Vol. 7, p. 119.
  9. ^ Richard Wagner: Gesammelte Schriften und Dichtungen Vol. 10, p. 185.
  10. ^ Richard Wagner: About Franz Liszt's Symphonic Poems. In: Gesammelte Schriften und Dichtungen Vol. 5, pp. 182–198.
  11. Richard Wagner on Tristan and Isolde. Sayings of the master about his work. Leipzig 1912, p. 120
  12. For a differentiated view of the connection between Wagner's love affair and the work, see Andreas Dorschel , Reflex, Vision, Gegenbild. Constellations between art and life. In: Weimarer contributions 64 (2018), no. 2, pp. 286–298.
  13. Richard Wagner: About Tristan and Isolde , sayings of the master about his work, compiled by Edwin Lindner, Leipzig 1912, p. 122. In another letter to his publisher, Wagner justified the Karlsruhe postponement with the “very poor occupation of the subject of a first Singer ”in Karlsruhe, which in turn meant garrigues.
  14. Malvina Schnorr von Carolsfeld at
  15. ^ Wagner 200: Vienna - Rejection of "Tristan and Isolde" and flight from debt , accessed on October 28, 2016.
  16. Sabine Kurt, Ingrid Rückert, Reiner Nägele (eds.): Richard Wagner. The Munich period (1864–1865). (Catalog for the exhibition in the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek from March 15 to May 28, 2013) Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich 2013, ISBN 978-3-86906-476-5 , p. 37f
  17. The seizure was based on a promissory note from Paris, which had been bought by a Munich opponent of Wagner. More on this in Carl Friedrich Glasenapp : The Life of Richard Wagner , Book 5, - Wagner's wife Minna survived the acute crisis of June 1865, but died on January 25, 1866 in Dresden.
  18. Kerstin Decker : Nietzsche and Wagner: History of a love-hate relationship .
  20. The Androom Archives: , accessed October 29, 2016.
  21. Eduard Schelle in the Viennese press : "The poem is an absurdity in every respect, the music, with the exception of a few parts, the refined brew of a dead, pathological fantasy."
  22. Carl Friedrich Glasenapp : Das Leben Richard Wagner , 5th book, accessed online on October 28, 2016 at:
  23. Although the score requires a soprano part for the role of Brangäne (and the Brangäne was also sung by a soprano in the world premiere), it has become common practice to cast a mezzo-soprano in this role. See also the article "Mezzo-Soprano" by Owen Janker, J. B. Steane and Elizabeth Forbes in Stanley Sadie (eds.): The New Grove Dictionary of Opera. Macmillan, London 1992, ISBN 978-1-56159-228-9 , Volume 3, p. 372. In almost all available audio documents, Brangäne is sung by a mezzo-soprano, see Tristan and Isolde discography in the English language Wikipedia.
  24. ^ Egon Voss: The conductors of the Bayreuth Festival, 1976, Gustav Bosse Verlag, Regensburg; Documentation on Tristan and Isolde : p. 100
  25. So justified in Egon Voss (ibid.)
  26. ^ Rolf Schneider: Wagner for those in a hurry . Development of the Taschenbuch Verlag, Berlin 2000
  27. Pahlen, p. 116
  28. Compare the marking in the musical text of the first trumpeter ( Memento from September 9, 2017 in the Internet Archive )

Web links

Commons : Tristan und Isolde (Wagner)  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files