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Overture to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

About the Work

Quick Look Composer: Richard Wagner
© Peter Laki
The action of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg ("The Master Singers of Nuremberg"), completed in 1867 and first performed the following year, revolves around a singing contest and the question of what makes a good song. The opera reveals Wagner's bright, joyful, and humorous side—qualities we don't often see in his works. There are no curses, love potions, or murders this time, only a story of rivalry between a good and a bad singer (Walther von Stoltzing and Sixtus Beckmesser, respectively) for the hand of a lovely maiden (Eva Pogner). The wise poet Hans Sachs harbors tender feelings for Eva, but willingly steps aside in favor of his young friend Walther. (Sachs, a cobbler and poet, was a historical figure who lived in Nuremberg in the 16th century; many of his works have been preserved.)

The Prelude anticipates four of the opera's main melodies. After devoting a separate section to each of them, Wagner ingeniously combines the four in a final section where they can all be heard simultaneously.

The first two themes are associated with the guild of the master singers. The first a march and the second a fanfare, they are heard throughout the opera whenever Hans Sachs and the other masters enter as a group or the guild is mentioned. The third theme is a variant of the song with which Walther wins the singing contest and, with it, Eva's hand. Finally, the fourth theme is introduced in conjunction with a funny, irreverent version of the master singers' melody as the apprentices imitate the masters and poke fun at them. This episode alludes to the scene in Act III where Beckmesser presents himself as a contender in the singing contest while people in the audience shake their heads in disapproval: Scheint mir nicht der Rechte ("Doesn't seem the right one to me"). The combination of these four themes brings the prelude to a glorious climax that, in the opera, leads directly into the beginning of Act I (the congregation singing a chorale in church); however, it is highly effective with a concert ending, too.