Composers Datebook®

Maazel's "Ring without Words"

Composer's Datebook - May 11, 2022


In 1987, Telarc Records asked the late conductor Lorin Maazel if he would make a purely orchestral distillation of the four operas that make up Richard Wagner’s “The Ring of the Nibelung.” Telarc wanted it all to fit on just one CD.

Now, with these four Wagner operas clocking in at about 15 hours, that’s a slimming-down assignment worthy of The Biggest Loser.

Maazel crafted a 75-minute sequence, played without pause, beginning with the opening pages of the first opera and ending with the closing pages of the last, with all the music appearing in the same order as it does in Wagner’s four operas.

For the Telarc CD release, Maazel recorded his “Ring without Words” with the Berlin Philharmonic. But what had started as a purely studio affair proved an attractive orchestral showcase for other ensembles, so on today’s date in 1990, Maazel led the Pittsburgh Symphony in the debut of his “Ring without Words” as a concert hall work. Since then, he has performed it with orchestras ranging from the New York to the Vienna Philharmonic.

Maazel confessed he resisted the idea at first. "I said… it would be desecrating a unique masterpiece. But they kept after me.” In the end, Maazel capitulated, but insisted there couldn't be one note by Lorin Maazel. When one instrumentalist shuddered at a particularly abrupt transition, Maazel told him, "Sorry! That's the composer."

Music Played in Today's Program

Richard Wagner (1813 - 1883) arr. Lorin Maazel (1930 -2014) — Ring without Words (Berlin Philharmonic; Lorin Maazel, cond.) Telarc 80154.

On This Day


  • 1791 - Bohemian composer Jan Václav (Johann) Voríšek(Worzischek), in Vamberk;

  • 1855 - Russian composer Anatoly Liadov, in St. Petersburg (Julian date: April 29);

  • 1888 - American popular song composer Irving Berlin (Isidore Balin) inTemun, Russia (Julian date: April 29);

  • 1895 - American composer William Grant Still, in Woodville, Miss.;

  • 1954 - Scottish composer Judith Weir, in Aberdeen;


  • 1849 - German composer Otto Nicolai, age 38, in Berlin;

  • 1916 - German composer, Max Reger, age 43, in Leipzig;

  • 1947 - Swedish composer Ture Rangström, age 62, in Stockholm;


  • 1728 - Handel: opera "Tolomeo, re d'Egitto" (Julian date: April 30);

  • 1917 - Busoni: opera "Arlecchino" (Harlequin) and "Turandot" in Zürich at the Stadttheater;

  • 1945 - Bernstein: "Hashkiveinu" (text from the Sabbath Evening Service) for Cantor, Choir and Organ, at Park Avenue Synagogue in New York City, by Cantor David Puttterman, Max Heffman conducting;

  • 1948 - Cowell: "Hymn, Chorale, and Fuguing Tune" No. 8 for strings, at Florida State University Recital Hall by the School of Music Faculty String Quartet;

  • 1955 - Bliss: Violin Concerto, in London;

  • 1963 - William Grant Still: opera "A Southern Interlude," by the University of Miami Opera; This opera was later revised as "Highway 1, U.S.A.";

  • 1966 - Andrew Imbrie: Symphony No. 1, by the San Francisco Symphony;

  • 1981 - Andrew Lloyd-Webber: musical "Cats" (after T.S. Eliot's "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats") in London at the New London Theatre; This enormously popular and long-running musical opened on Broadway on October 7, 1982;

  • 1984 - John Harbison: "Ulysses' Bow," by the New Haven Symphony, Murry Sidlin conducting;

  • 1995 - John Adams: musical "I Was Looking at the Ceiling and Then I Saw the Sky"at the Zellerbach Playhouse in Berkeley, California, with the Paul Dresher Ensemble conducted by Grant Gershon;

  • 2000 - Colin Matthews: "Pluto The Renewer" (as a new contribution to Gustav Holst's "The Planet"), in Manchester, by the Hallé Orchestra, Kent Nagano conducting;

  • 2002 - Kenneth Frazelle: "Concerto for Chamber Orchestra," in Glendale, Calif., by the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, Jeffrey Kahane conducting.

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

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