Tristan and Isolde (includes Liebestod)
Richard Wagner


Listen to this piece at now

The fifth of Wagner's 7 entries in the Ultimate Hall of Fame and his first to appear in every single chart since it launched in 1996.

First performed in 1865, Wagner's heavily influential opera is, in the composer's own words, a tale of 'the bliss and wretchedness of love', and one that could end only with 'one sole redemption — death'. So at the outset, we know this is not going to be a bundle of laughs.

Most famous for its Prelude, in which we hear the much-analysed Tristan Chord — which was to confound and fascinate critics and musicologists in equal measure — this is opera on an epic scale and worth sitting through all five hours of it for Isolde's final Liebestod.

Initial reaction varied. Mark Twain, who hated it at Bayreuth, said, 'Sometimes I feel like the one sane person in the community of the mad.' Clara Schumann said that Tristan was 'the most repugnant thing I have ever seen or heard in all my life'.

Nevertheless it had a profound effect on later composers and directly inspired such giants as Mahler, Richard Strauss, Schoenberg and Britten. Others including Debussy, Ravel and Stravinsky deliberately formulated their styles in direct contrast to Wagner's.

Annalena Persson and Clifton Forbis in Seattle Opera's 2010 production of Tristan and Isolde.