The Sonic Mystery

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Listen on Demand
What's that famous "Tristan Chord" all about, anyways? We hear from composer Danny Felsenfeld, who takes a look under the hood to reveal the power, beauty and "game" of Wagner's astonishing music—and illustrates how those few simple notes have become part of the musical collective unconscious.

Comments [9]

Jim from New Jersey

I am glad I didn't need the information about the "Tristan Chord" as provided in your "Sonic Mystery" segment, or the chord would still be a "mystery" to me. Not once did anybody mention such things as "key" or "modulation," the latter word meaning a change of key. Circle the fifths, everybody, here the come the diminished sevenths charging down the hill at us again.

May. 20 2007 03:25 PM
Sibern from NYC

I can never understand how a man like Wagner, reputed to be a boor, anti-semite, etc. had the capacity to write such sensuous music as he did in Tristan and Isolde let alone all his other great music in his other operas. He was truly possessed with musical genius.

May. 02 2007 02:38 PM
Jade from New York City

The Bernard Herrmann exerpts last night were incredible, although the very first one was not identified AFAIK. I recognized that it was from "Vertigo", but I didn't hear anyone mention that movie by name. I enjoyed all of the discussion nevertheless, and I am having fun with all of the "mysteries" so far.

May. 02 2007 09:09 AM

Last night's program was marvelous and the selection of music was incredible. Will a listing of the recordings used in the program be available online?

Thank you.


[Editor's note: you can find the playlist for this segment at - just scroll down to the "Wagner's Progeny" section of the page]

May. 02 2007 08:34 AM
David Jacobson

I caught part of this evening's broadcast. Wonderful!

I hope you get around to mentioning Max Steiner's theme from Gone with the Wind. I hear a major key rip-off of the opening of Tristan. Too bad Wagner never heard the joke. Consider it payback: Wagner was a great, great composer and (so they say) conductor and, in every other respect, a thoroughly loathsome human being. Good for Max Steiner!!

May. 01 2007 09:11 PM
Ray from NJ

This theme of 'longing' from Tristan and Isolde has been part of my life since early musical studies. There is something heart-wrenching and universal about the 'pure' love that is agonizingly not allowed to happen, and then the transcendent "Love-Death" that takes us to new heights. Not to trivialize, but the Matrix got 'close' to expressing some of those feelings. And a gem I have not heard mentioned is Elgar's Nimrod variation 13 (from Enigma Variations) that encapsulates alot of these feelings in about a 3-5 minute musical experience.

May. 01 2007 08:42 PM
Bob from Cranford, NJ

I know nothing about music but I love listening to it and enjoy listening to people talk about it and musicians talking about their craft, although I don't find them generally as articulate about it as I might expect. Your show tonight is fascinating to me and has sent me tumbling into the rabbit hole of "the Tristan chord" on Wikipedia crashing through one hypertext link into another and yet another.

To my untutored ear, during a series of excerpts you played earlier, I heard what sounded like the opening to John Coltrane's "Dear Lord" a sublimely lovely composition. Unfortunately, I couldn't tell where one excerpt began and another ended, so I wasn't sure if that was indeed the source. FWIW

Keep up the good work.

May. 01 2007 07:35 PM
Heather from E Village

Direct quote of the Tristan chord:

"Weather Storm" by Massive Attack on their album Protection.

The song begins with that pure three-note intro and builds.

Also chack out Craig Armstrong's version on the Buddha Bar series.

I was surprised and pleased that you played Radiohead; this is in that vein of electronic quoting.

May. 01 2007 07:32 PM
maria eisen from park slope brooklyn

What about the Brazilian standard, Manha de Carnaval, one of the themes from the film, Black Orpheus. The very opening statement of the melody has that chord in it. From what i have heard, many of the Bossa Nova Composers were influenced by that tradition. I think that chord occurs throughout Antonio Carlos Jobims music as well.

May. 01 2007 07:29 PM

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