Of one chord: pre- and post-Wagnerian interpretation and adaptation of Tristan chord

  • Rima Povilionienė
  • Karolina Šaltmirytė
Keywords: Richard Wagner, Tristan chord, pre-Wagnerian manifestation, post-Wagnerian influence, Lithuanian contemporary music


The music history is full of examples when a certain element of music is established as an individual and autonomous unit that may be examined outside of the music composition. The Tristan chord is one of the most often exploated formations of tones to this day. The chord developed its special meaning in Richard Wagner’s work. It looks like that until Wagner’s opera this chord was regarded as an ordinary vertical combionation of dissonant sounds (the chord may be detected in the scores of baroque, classicism, and romanticism music as well). However, it was personalized and personified in 1859’ opera Tristan and Isolde, in second bar of prelude. The chord was accompanied with the role of leitmotiff and became an individual and recognizable element. Therefore, it caused various discussions about its structure, authenticity and the influence to future composers. For the first time in Lithuanian musicology, this article seeks to present a systematization of approaches to the structure of Tristan chord and its manifestation and equivalents in the pre-Wagnerian music. In this context, the examples of music by contemporary Lithuanian composers are commented showing the integration of Tristan chord, composed at the intersection of the 20th and 21st centuries – Mindaugas Urbaitis’ Der Fall Wagner (1999), Artūras Bumšteinas’ What Happened Between Tristan and Isolde (2001), Ričardas Kabelis’ Tan-Tris-Tan-Tris/Tris-Tan-Tris-Tan (2009) and Onutė Narbutaitė’s opera Cornett (2012).