program notes by composition > L > Liebestod, from "Tristan and Isolde"

Liebestod, from Tristan and Isolde

Richard Wagner / arr. Glenn C. Bainum

Liebestod is the title of the final, dramatic music from the 1859 opera Tristan und Isolde by Richard Wagner. It is the climactic end of the opera, as Isolde sings over Tristan's dead body.

The word Liebestod refers to the theme of erotic death or "love death," meaning the two lovers' consummation of their love in death or after death. Liebestod represents love as an eternal force that conquers death and survives lovers’ corporeal bodies. The theme of Liebestod often involves the double suicide of lovers who cannot live without each other and who die of despair over the death of the other.

Richard Wagner (1813–1883) was a German composer, theatre director, polemicist and conductor known chiefly for his operas. His compositions are notable for their complex textures, rich harmonies and orchestration, and the elaborate use of leitmotifs—musical phrases associated with individual characters, places, ideas, or plot elements. His advances in musical language, such as extreme chromaticism and quickly shifting tonal centers, greatly influenced the development of modern classical music.

Wagner's life was characterized by political exile, turbulent love affairs, poverty and repeated flight from his creditors. His controversial writings on music, drama and politics have attracted extensive comment, notably, since the late 20th century, where they express antisemitic sentiments.

Arranger Glenn Cliffe Bainum (1888–1974) was director of bands at Northwestern University from 1926 to 1953. He was honorary life president of the American Bandmasters Association, which he led for 21 years.

Last updated on March 6, 2020 by Palatine Concert Band