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Choruses, Ancient and Modern$
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Joshua Billings, Felix Budelmann, and Fiona Macintosh

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780199670574

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2014

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199670574.001.0001

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Sunk in the ‘Mystic Abyss’: The ‘Choral’ Orchestra in Wagner’s Music Dramas

Sunk in the ‘Mystic Abyss’: The ‘Choral’ Orchestra in Wagner’s Music Dramas

(p.225) 13 Sunk in the ‘Mystic Abyss’: The ‘Choral’ Orchestra in Wagner’s Music Dramas
Choruses, Ancient and Modern

Laurence Dreyfus

Oxford University Press

In ‘Sunk in the “Mystic Abyss”: the “Choral” Orchestra in Wagner’s Music Dramas’, Laurence Dreyfus considers Richard Wagner’s Hellenism, and his proposed transfer of the functions of the Greek tragic chorus to the orchestra of his works. Wagner’s theoretical writings and his directions for the construction of the orchestra pit in his theatre in Bayreuth seek to make the orchestra of music drama into a mysterious but ever-present body accompanying and reflecting on the events of the plot and actions of the characters. This conception of the orchestral role is partly derived from the Greek chorus, and explains some of the uniqueness of Wagner’s musical and dramatic practice. Wagner’s cycle The Ring of the Nibelung includes almost no onstage choruses, but the practice of the leitmotif allows the gestural choral orchestra to comment directly on the events on stage, fulfilling what Wagner believes to be the essential role of the ancient chorus.

Keywords:   chorus, Greek tragedy, Richard Wagner, opera, orchestra, The Ring of the Nibelung, Bayreuth, leitmotif

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