Lecture 26

Wagner's Influence


From Schoenberg I learned that tradition is a home we must love and forgo.                —Lukas Foss


Richard Wagner (1813-1883) 

we will listen to a few short excerpts from Wagner's most influential work, Tristan and Isolde and discuss its chromatic nature, and how it influenced generations of composers after him. one composer, Arnold Schoenberg, brought this chromaticism to the edge, beyond which music, floating in limbo, no longer had a key. here, he was treading on dangerous ground. 

another composer, Claude Debussy, reacting against Wagner, found other ways to revitalize tonality, but his solutions had equally revolutionary implications.

Topics covered:

  • Tristan and IsoldeClaude Debussy
  • chromaticism
  • Schoenberg: Verklarte Nacht and Pierrot Lunaire
  • Claude Debussy
  • Prelude to the Afternoon of a faun


  • hear the more chromatic nature of Tristan
  • hear how Schoenberg takes it further
  • hear how Debussy stays more tonal, yet has found a new language which is not based on our major-minor diatonic system


  • watch lecture 26 (in multiple parts for quicker download)
  • review Chapter 24, as necessary
  • read textbook:
  • Chapters 25 and 26 (for Pierrot Lunaire)
  • Chapter 25 (Debussy) 
  • As you are reading your textbook, go through the Listening Exercises in textbook sequence, listening to the examples provided.
  • regarding developing listening skills: you should be in the habit of developing your listening skills early in the game - the assignments will get more complex through the semester and you may find yourself unable to keep up. As simple as these early assignments may seem to some of you, they will help to keep you on the right track, and help you develop the skills required for a greater appreciation in listening to music, including the music that you listen to for your own enjoyment. Of course, those objectives are in total sync with the success you hope to have in this class. Remember that your ability to recognize the music on your CDs will be tested and will, of course, impact your grade. 

Audio / Video lecture

  • click lecture segments below in sequence
  • presented in several segments to reduce download time
  • total lecture time: approx. one hour 15 minutes (all segments included)
  • can be downloaded for portable media players by right clicking each segment link and choosing save option. (note: older Macs and Mac notebooks with single-button mice: control-click) 

Lecture 26.1 

Tristan und Isolde

Lecture 26.2 
Schoenberg and Pierrot Lunaire
Lecture 26.3 
Reactions to Wagner : Debussy
Lecture 26.4 
Prelude to the Afternoon of a faun


Four paintings by Monet in a series, showing the Rouen Cathedral at different times of day and under different lighting conditions