The Prelude and Liebestod from Richard Wagner's Tristan und Isolde , performed by the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra, Johannes Wildner, conductor, is featured on CD 2 in the WRTI 60th Anniversary Classical 3-CD set. There are those who feel, quite frankly, that the Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde is the greatest piece of music ever written. The final climax of the music drama probably inspired by Wagner’s affair with Mathilde Wesendonck and the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer, is certainly one of the peaks of the operatic repertory. Here, before our very ears, we experience the beginning of the move away from conventional harmony and tonality, and witness Wagner laying the groundwork for the direction of classical music in the 20th century as early as 1857!
The very first chord in the piece, the Tristan chord, is of great significance in the move away from traditional tonal harmony as it resolves to another dissonant chord! For me, the anticipation of final release in that last chord of the Liebestod is almost unbearable; but, when it finally comes, the lasting sense of ecstasy is as spine-tingling and blissful as anything in all art. I dissolve every time I hear it, and ask myself, “How could any human being have written this?”