Voice of the Past: Wagner on Homecomings

Le Jour ni l’Heure 9274 : Émile Bernard, 1868-1941, portrait de Richard Wagner, 1813-1883, Le Prieuré, Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Yvelines, Île-de-France, mardi 21 août 2012, 17:02:11

Homecomings are bittersweet. In a previous post, I gave Robert Louis Stevenson’s take on the matter. As my blog is mostly about travel, I tend to return to those themes of homecoming, renewal and loss frequently. Travel is all of those things–the wanderlust drawing you from home, the anticipation of adventure, a new experience in a new land, falling in love with the place, then the sad realization that you may never see your destination again. You return home, changed. Home never looks the same.

The German opera master Richard Wagner knew a bit about this. And the Romantic-era children of Germany often returned to the theme of “Storm and Stress” in their works. Wagner captured that feeling in all of his opi. As for the longing for home–the verdant fields of flowers and mountain meadows–he outdoes himself in his “Pilgrims’ Chorus” from the opera, Tannhäuser.

The lyrics to the work, in English:

“Once more with joy O my home I may meet,
Once more ye fair, flowr’y meadows I greet,
My Pilgrim’s staff henceforth may rest,
Since Heaven’s sweet peace is within my breast.

The sinner’s ‘plaint on high was heard
On high was heard and answered by the Lord.
The tears I laid before His shrine,
Are turned to hope and joy divine.

O Lord eternal praise be Thine!
The blessed source of Thy mercy overflowing
On souls repentant seek Ye, all-knowing
Of hell and death, I have no fear
For thou my Lord are ever near.

Alleluia forever and ever.”

And here, take a listen:

Of course, Wagner’s pilgrims are trading home for heaven, but still, the first stanza captures that melancholy for home. I know many jocks, brutes, meatheads and every-men that loathe classical music, especially opera. And yet when they hear Wagner, they are awestruck. Maybe it is Wagner’s way of building walls of sound, sustaining crescendos over minutes and hours. Maybe it is his knack for melody. Maybe there’s something about singing German loudly that appeals to fans of football, death metal and X-Box. It doesn’t matter why they like Wagner to me, other than that they like it. That is evidence enough that one needn’t know German to understand Wagner’s sentiment.

What does homecoming sound like for you? How has travel changed your homelife?

Wagner Photo credit: Renaud Camus / Foter / CC BY


2 thoughts on “Voice of the Past: Wagner on Homecomings

  1. Homecoming to me is the sound of waves crashing on the beach and seagulls cawing … simplicity. I ran from this for the bigger world but only find myself looking for this very place.

    • I will admit a fondness for the lake as well. There is something comforting about a vast expanse of water, the sky meeting the horizon like Da Vinci’s smufato. My favorite color remains atherblau–the blue where the sea meets the sky. All of those sentiments come from the longing for home.

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