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<   No. 3047   2011-05-31   >

Comic #3047

1 Giuseppe: 'O sole mio!
1 Isaac Newton: Someone shut him up before...
2 Nazi 1: Hey, that is not Wagner he is singing! Arrest that man!
2 Nazi 2: Jawohl!
3 {The Nazis drag Giuseppe away}
4 Me: Wow. I knew the Nazis were bad. But no singing allowed but Wagnerian opera? That's brutal.

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Richard Wagner was a German composer of the 19th century, most famous for his operatic works including Tannhäuser, Lohengrin, and the epic cycle of four operas Der Ring des Nibelungen. Many of the themes and tunes from these operas will be familiar to you, even if you're not into opera. In particular, the Bridal Chorus ("Here comes the bride...") from Lohengrin, and the Ride of the Valkyries tune from Die Walküre, part 2 of the Ring cycle.

Wagner is a somewhat controversial figure nowadays because of several essays and articles he wrote expressing antisemitic views. Given the later history of Germany, and the fact that Hitler was a big fan of Wagner, there have even been claims that Wagner's works contributed in some way to the rise of the Nazis. To this day Wagner remains almost a persona non grata in Israel, where performances of his works are rare and invariably raise loud protests and demonstrations.

On the positive side, Wagner made heavy use of the musical concept of leitmotif in his operas. Leitmotif is the association of particular musical themes with specific characters, items, or moods within a musical work. This technique had been used before, but Wagner was the one who really brought it to full maturity and ensconced it within the western musical canon as a technique worthy of use.

Leitmotif would later notably be used by film composer John Williams. Inspiration from Wagner's work led Williams to develop specific character-associated themes in his work, including the famous Jaws theme associated with the giant shark of the film. And of course a few years later Williams would go on to compose music that would quickly become a much more widely known example of leitmotifs than even Wagner's work: the Star Wars soundtracks.

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Last Modified: Tuesday, 31 May 2011; 03:11:01 PST.
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