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How Wagner's operas held secrets of his disabling migraines, headaches

Date:
December 13, 2013
Source:
BMJ-British Medical Journal
Summary:
Researchers have looked at how German composer Richard Wagner's disabling migraines and headaches influenced his operas.

In a paper published in the Christmas edition of The BMJ, researchers have looked at how German composer Richard Wagner's disabling migraines and headaches influenced his operas.

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As composer of frequently performed operas worldwide, Wagner's medical problems have been investigated in numerous accounts and he even described his headaches and symptoms as the "main plague of his life."

Researchers in Germany therefore wanted to show how Wagner used his suffering to compose his operas, using Siegfried as an example.

The researchers say Siegfried opens with a pulsating thumping which gradually becomes more intense until it reaches an "almost painful pulsation." At the climax, the main character cries out "Compulsive plague! Pain without end!" which the researchers believe is a representation of a "painful, pulsating sensory migraine episode."

In his memoirs, Wagner gives an account of the symptoms he had in September 1865, the same time he composed Siegfried. The composer openly voiced his suffering caused by the "nervous headaches" he had while composing this opera.

Wagner's depiction of his migraines included a "scintillating, flickering, glimmering melody line with a zig-zag pattern" while a main character sings of "Loathsome light!" and "rustling and humming and blustering." The researchers say the music has the characteristics of a typical migraine and the experimental flicker frequency gives "important clues" about the performance speed intended by Wagner.

They conclude that Richard Wagner was "severely burdened" by migraine and used his suffering creatively "letting future generations take part in his emotions and perceptions."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by BMJ-British Medical Journal. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. C. H. Gobel, A. Gobel, H. Gobel. "Compulsive plague! pain without end!" How Richard Wagner played out his migraine in the opera Siegfried. BMJ, 2013; 347 (dec12 3): f6952 DOI: 10.1136/bmj.f6952

Cite This Page:

BMJ-British Medical Journal. "How Wagner's operas held secrets of his disabling migraines, headaches." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 December 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/12/131213094945.htm>.
BMJ-British Medical Journal. (2013, December 13). How Wagner's operas held secrets of his disabling migraines, headaches. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 1, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/12/131213094945.htm
BMJ-British Medical Journal. "How Wagner's operas held secrets of his disabling migraines, headaches." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/12/131213094945.htm (accessed April 1, 2015).

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