Wagner, Richard


Wagner, Richard

Das Liebesmahl der Apostel (The Feast of Pentecost) for male chorusses & orchestra (Piano Reduction)

SKU: 733b Categories: ,



Wagner, Richard

Das Liebesmahl der Apostel (The Feast of Pentecost) for male chorusses & orchestra (Piano Reduction)

Preface to the full score:

Das Liebesmahl der Apostel
Biblical scene for multiple male choruses and orchestra
to words by the composer (1843)

Hardly had Wagner escaped the deprivations of his Paris years and landed safely in Dresden than he “good-naturedly” accepted, in January 1843, the post of conductor of the Dresden Liedertafel, a male choral society which, as he amusingly sums up in Mein Leben, “consisted of a moderately large number of young merchants and civil servants who took greater pleasure in any form of convivial entertainment than in music.” This appointment, a strange footnote to the career of a composer who otherwise felt completely out of place outside the theater, was probably an attempt to ingratiate himself with Dresden‘s “solid burghers” after having spent years living on the margins of society in Paris. Whatever his reasons for accepting it, he soon found himself embroiled in a project that turned out to be unique not only in his own oeuvre but in the annals of nineteenth-century music. The Liedertafel was headed by a redoubtable “Professor Löwe” whose first name has strangely eluded discovery to the present day, but whose headlong ambitions and organizing zeal earned him from Wagner the nickname of “Robespierre” and the principal character trait of “terrorism.” Faced with the upcoming Second General Festival of Male Choruses in July, Professor Löwe conceived the idea of presenting a new work of twenty-five minutes’ duration, to be performed by the assembled male choruses of the whole of Saxony. The task of writing this mammoth work fell to Wagner, who blanched at thought of twenty-five uninterrupted minutes of a cappella male voices and realized that he would have to breathe much drama into the piece to rescue it from monotony. Interrupting his work on Tannhäuser, he selected the remarkable Biblical story of Pentecost from Acts II, in which the apostles are visited by the Holy Ghost and suddenly become able to “speak in tongues.” On this basis he quickly drafted a verse libretto which, between April and 29 June 1843, he set for three choruses of youths (TTBB), the twelve apostles (12 basses), a chorus of “voices from on high” (16 tenors, 12 first basses and 12 second basses), and a huge orchestra with quadruple woodwind, a large brass section (including serpent), massive strings, four kettledrums, and two harps.

The gigantic new work, entitled Das Liebesmahl der Apostel (“The Love-Feast of the Apostles”), was punctually premièred a week later, on 6 July 1843, in Dresden’s famous Frauenkirche. The 1,200 male choristers occupied almost the whole of the nave, the one-hundred-man orchestra much of the rest, and the “chorus from on high” sang from the lofty heights of the cupola. To bring about the requisite dramatic impact, Wagner had the orchestra remain silent for the first twenty-five minutes of the piece, leaving the field entirely to the male choruses, which he divided up into groups of widely unequal sizes to ensure variety of sound (two harps accompanied softly in the background to make sure that they remained in tune). Not until the appearance of the Holy Ghost at the words “Welch Brausen erfüllt die Luft” (What roaring doth fill the air!) did the orchestra enter, to electrifying effect. The performance was hugely successful and might, in a different composer, have predestined its author to become a post-Mendelssohnian creator of oratorios. Wagner, however, drew a different conclusion (“I was surprised by the disproportionately slight impact that reached my ear from this immeasurable tangle of human bodies”) and resolved never again to attempt such mass musical happenings. Shortly thereafter he found a diplomatic way to “disburden himself” of the Liedertafel by arranging for his equally ambitious friend Ferdinand Hiller to become his successor.

In later years Wagner spoke disparagingly of this remarkable work, which fits hardly any of the generic categories of its day and which he called, privately to Cosima, “a sort of Ammergau Passion Play.” Yet Das Liebesmahl der Apostel was promptly published in full score and vocal score by Breitkopf & Härtel in Leipzig (1844) and quickly entered the repertoire of Germany’s male choral societies, where it remained firmly implanted until the turn of the century. Breitkopf felt called upon to reissue the work in full score and vocal score in 1870, again in 1884, and with English and French translations in 1892. The English firm of Novello in London also issued vocal scores in 1876 and 1898, all of which points to a surprisingly large market in both Germany and abroad for this ungainly work. To the great critic and historian Hermann Kretzschmar, writing in 1890, Das Liebesmahl der Apostel was “a firm and radiant pillar of its genre” and the entrance of the orchestra an “elemental effect which remains emblazoned in memory to the end of one’s days.” Wagner took a less sanguine view of the affair, referring to it unfairly as a pièce d’occasion. Yet anyone who knows and appreciates the monks in Tannhäuser, the sailors in Tristan, or (in another, superior “Liebesmahl”) the Knights of the Grail in Parsifal will find much of interest in this score, and the dramatic postponement of the orchestra and the multiple unequal choruses make the work unique in its century.

On 18 June 1879 Wagner played through Das Liebesmahl at the piano for the benefit of his wife Cosima, prefacing his performance with the words “Don’t expect too much of it.” At the end, however, he added, perhaps only half-ironically: “There one can fully recognize the composer of Tristan und Isolde.”

Plot Synopsis
“The disciples of the Lord have secretly gathered together in Jerusalem to commemorate their deceased Savior in a joint feast. Some (Chorus II) are filled with fear and trepidation; others (Chorus III) speak words of encouragement; a third group (Chorus I unisono) makes ready and orders the celebration to begin. When all are fully prepared the Apostles enter, but with a message of horror: new persecutions have been decreed, and the teachings of the Man from Nazareth are proscribed on pain of death. Despair seizes the disciples. In direst need they beseech the Almighty to help them: ‘Send us Thy Holy Ghost!’ A miracle occurs: from the heavenly heights a chorus of angels is heard, invisible: ‘Be comforted.’ At these wondrous words of solace they again take heart. The celebration of the Love-Feast is joyously enacted and ends with a rousing vow from all the disciples: to go forth and proclaim the word of the Lord to all the nations.” (Translated from H. Kretzschmar: Führer durch den Concertsaal, ii/2: Oratorien und weltliche Chorwerke (Leipzig, 1890), pp. 237-8.)

Bradford Robinson, 2007

For performance material please contact the publisher Breitkopf und Härtel, Wiesbaden. Reprint of a copy from the Musikbibliothek der Münchner Stadtbibliothek, München.

Deutsches Vorwort zur Partitur lesen > HERE

Score Data


Repertoire Explorer


Choir/Voice & Orchestra


225 x 320 mm


Piano Reduction



You may also like…

Go to Top