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Work of the Week – Wagner / Gourlay: Parsifal Suite

There are operas that are inextricably linked to special days of the year. For example, Hansel and Gretel by Engelbert Humperdinck and La Bohème by Giacomo Puccini belong to Christmas. On Good Friday, on the other hand, Richard Wagner's Parsifal is regularly on the programme. This is because the Holy Grail, which according to legend was used to catch the blood of Christ on the cross, takes centre stage. On 28 March 2024, the Orchestre National de Lyon will present the French premiere of the Parsifal Suite under the direction of Markus Stenz. 

Six years ago, the British conductor Andrew Gourlay created a continuous orchestral suite lasting around 45 minutes from Wagner's great stage festival. After the famous prelude, he moves directly into the third act, where a short passage for slow unison strings shows the knight Parsifal at the holy spring, thrusting his spear into the ground and praying in front of it. This is followed by a section of Good Friday music for gentle woodwinds and strings as Parsifal marvels at the beauty of the forest and meadow glowing in the morning light. 

Parsifal Suite by Andrew Gourlay after Richard Wagner: Good Friday Magic for Orchestra

Wagner's own transition to the second scene begins with the sound of the midday bells, in which the forest scene is dramatically transformed into the mighty hall of the Grail Castle. The knights enter from both sides, carrying the wounded guardian of the Grail, Amfortas, and Titurel's coffin. This is followed by the preludes to acts three and two, the latter depicting Klingsor's magic garden. The Parsifal Suite finally leads to the natural end of the opera. Here Parsifal holds up his sacred spear with which he has healed Amfortas. He takes the Grail, which shines ever brighter, and brandishes it in blessing: "Miracle of supreme redemption". 

Parsifal surely contains some of Wagner’s greatest orchestral writing [...]. I therefore set about constructing an orchestral suite that would give us more time to settle into the music of Parsifal. The result is forty-five minutes of continuous music from the opera. (Andrew Gourlay)

In recent years, Gourlay's Parsifal Suite has already been performed in North and South America, Asia and many European countries. In German-speaking countries, however, it is still available for its national premieres. As an opera, Parsifal can be seen on Good Friday at the Ulm Theatre and at the Goetheanum Dornach in Switzerland, among others.

Further Reading: 

Parsifal Suite: Werkdetails und Online-Partitur

Website Orchestre National de Lyon 


illustration: Adobe Stock / AIGen


Head of Promotion | Concert Opera Media Division

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