RICHARD WAGNER (1813 - 1883)
Parsifal, an orchestral quest

symphonic compilation by Henk de Vlieger, 1993

In 1991, Henk de Vlieger, percussionist in the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic, had arranged Richard Wagner's famous opera cycle The Ring of the Nibelung into a single symphonic work, a fiery musical spectacle entitled The Ring, an orchestral adventure. The success of this led to a demand for more such arrangements, because the music, which Wagner originally composed for the theatre, turned out - after some adaptions - to be ideally suited to the concert hall. So 1993 saw the appearance of De Vlieger's second Wagner arrangement - of the opera Parsifal.

Parsifal is Wagner's last completed composition. He wrote the text as early as 1857 and composed the music in the period 1877-1882. Wagner derived the story - about the conflict between religious and secular love - mainly from the 13th century legend by Wolfram von Eschenbach. In the past, critics have repeatedly claimed that the mixture of heathen, Christian and medieval symbolism which characterises Parsifal has led to contradictions. But, as in all Wagner's works, the opera owes its quality mainly to the music, which here displays a special unity. As in The Ring, the composer used his technique of leitmotifs in this opera, too, but not this time to achieve a dramatic development: the music here is more contemplative than narrative in character. The predominantly slow tempi emphasise the striking austerity of this Bühnenweihfestspiel, as the composer called the work.

Following the same method of working as in The Ring, an orchestral adventure, in this arrangement too, De Vlieger forged a number of orchestral highlights together into a unified, single symphonic work. Where necessary, voices have been replaced by instruments, modulations adapted and transpositions 'composed' again (with strict adherence to Wagner's idiom). The narrative line, however, is virtually absent in this arrangement. Instead, attention is mainly focused on the constant factor in Parsifal: the ritual. The opera is structured more or less symmetrically, and this form is closely linked to the ritual content, of course. De Vlieger has retained this aspect in his arrangement and, where possible, even reinforced it. A selection was thus made of seven parts, which flow into one another and have the following subtitles:

     1. Vorspiel
     2. Parsifal
     3. Die Gralsritter I
     4. Die Blumenmädchen 
     5. Karfreitagszauber
     6. Die Gralsritter II
     7. Nachspiel 

The first part - Vorspiel - is the instrumental overture. The last part, the finale of the opera, is here called Nachspiel, for reasons of symmetry. Both excerpts are in the same key and use the same motifs ('Abendmal', 'Gral' and 'Glaube'). The Vorspiel was taken over unchanged, but a few changes were made to the Nachspiel: the vocal contribution of Parsifal was left out and the role of the choir was replaced by instruments.

Parts 3. and 6. both have the same subtitle Die Gralsritter and are also related to one another in accordance with the principle of symmetry. They are originally the intermezzi from the first and third acts. In the theatre, there is a change of scene and the orchestra can play for a while at full volume. They are both events in which the rituals of the knights of the Holy Grail are prepared. In terms of the music, the most characteristic correspondence of these parts is the use of four very deep bells.

The central section of the arrangement consists of two excerpts which can be regarded as the psychological opposites of one another. In the sensual, seductive music of Die Blumenmädchen (The Flower Maidens), the original six-voice female choir has been eliminated and the six solo voices are sometimes replaced by violin solos. The original extensive scene is shortened and thereby reduced to a compact orchestral whole. This colourful excerpt is followed by the austere, meditative Karfreitagszauber, the Good Friday music, in which the awakening of nature is linked to the Christian image of sin and redemption. This part is introduced by motifs from the Vorspiel and the Nachspiel. In this way the symmetry in the heart of the arrangement is again subtly confirmed.

The short second part, entitled Parsifal, occupies a remarkable place in the arrangement. Here, the protagonist of the story is portrayed as a reckless young fool. For this purpose, the arranger departed from the original chronology by combining a number of quicker excerpts, taken initially from the second act and subsequently from the first act. The motifs which are introduced here are very important for the development of the arrangement, because they reoccur at the beginning of each following excerpt. Thoughtlessness thereby finally turns into reflection. The bridge characterised by this arrangement thus forms a great symmetrical voltage curve, in which the Parsifal motifs, as it were, the pillars.

Parsifal, an orchestral quest was commissioned by the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra, and dedicated to the musicians of this orchestra. They played the first performance , conducted by Edo de Waart, on April 6, 1994 in Muziekcentrum Vredenburg, Utrecht.

Orchestra: 3 flutes, 3 oboes, english horn, 3 clarinets, bassclarinet, 3 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, basstuba, timpani, 2 percussionists, 
2 harps, strings

Duration: 55'00"


Published by SCHOTT Music


                      Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra / Edo de Waart
                      Challenge Classics CC 72338

                       Royal Scottish National Orchestra / Neeme Järvi
                       Chandos CHSA 5077