Richard Wagner

Symphony in C major


About this work

Both of Wagner's symphonies are early works; this is the first of them (The other, in E flat, was left unfinished.) The Symphony in C is the first of the pair; it was premiered in Leipzig in 1832, when the composer was 19 years old. It brought him his first fame as a composer, including a famous letter from Clara Wieck to her future husband, Robert Schumann, chiding him for not having yet written a symphony to match Wagner's.

As Clara Wieck alertly noticed, the symphony is very much in the vein of Beethoven's Seventh. We find that it is imaginative, skilfully orchestrated, has an expected sense of grandeur, and, of course, lacks the harmonic innovations that makes Wagner's familiar mature style so unmistakable. It is not surprising that the symphony is so closely modeled on Beethoven; Wagner was virtually self-taught as a composer and a major part of the autodidactic musical training consisted of copying the full score of Beethoven symphonies.

It is pretty much a transitional piece in the repertoire. Although it has a measure of interest, its main attraction is in showing where the future rebel came from.