Richard Wagner: His Life, His Work, His Century
The New Grove Wagner
The Fertilizing Seed: Wagner’s Concept of the Poetic Intent
Wagner’s Siegfried: Its Drama, History, and Music
I Saw the World End: A Study of Wagner’s Ring
Wagner and Aeschylus: The Ring and the Oresteia
Kingdom on the Rhine: History, Myth and Legend in Wagner’s Ring
Staging Wagnerian Drama
Wagner Rehearsing the ‘Ring’: An Eye-Witness Account of the Stage Rehearsals of the First Bayreuth Festival
In Search of Wagner [Versuch über Wagner]
TétralogiesWagner, Boulez, Chéreau: Essai sur l’infidélité
Dichtungen und Schriften: Jubiläumsausgabe in Zehn Bänden
The Opera Quarterly, Commemorative Wagner Issue, volume 1, no. 3 (Autumn 1983)
Three Wagner Essays
Readers who feel in need of a quick Wagner fix, but who may be put off by the multitude of recent Wagner literature (as is the present reviewer), will do well to await The New Grove Wagner. It contains a concise, merciless account of Wagner’s life by John Deathridge and, at somewhat greater length, a treatment of Wagner’s music, aesthetics, and individual operas and music dramas by Carl Dahlhaus which is a tour de force in its short space. In addition, there is a very valuable up-to-date work list based on the comprehensive catalog of Wagner’s music that is about to be issued in Germany—the first “Köchel” ever issued for this composer.
Perhaps this New Grove Wagner is not quite the little book for neophytes that its format seems to promise. Deathridge writes with some asperity against the background of previous Wagner biography, and Dahlhaus takes musical literacy in his readers for granted. He also assumes familiarity with nineteenth-century German philosophical and political thought in another trenchant but (as Dahlhaus himself might say) more “dubious” chapter on Wagner’s “Theoretical Writings.”
“Theoretical writings” they are; they are also the prolix and powerful writ of the ideology of Wagnerism. Indeed, the central issue with Wagner must be seen as the complicity in his work between art and ideology, between art and Wagnerism. In the summary to his chapter, Dahlhaus, who is the foremost Wagner scholar of our time, restates his position on this question squarely. Wagner’s writings, he says, should be seen as
statements in which a composer who was also an intellectual formed in the “Vormärz” period summoned almost the entire intellectual inheritance of his age and forced it into service to justify his conceptions of musical drama. This process involved some drastic reinterpretation of the philosophies upon which it drew; yet the conceptions they were supposed to serve stood in no need of justification…Wagner varied the philosophical, aesthetic and political theories he proclaimed in his writings entirely for the sake of his musical dramas, which in the last analysis were the only thing that truly possessed him. The works are the key to the writings, not vice versa.
That is, the operas and music dramas must be understood first in their own, internal terms, and only second as reflections of ideology. Back of this conviction lies another, articulated elsewhere by Dahlhaus—that the music in these works must be understood before they can be understood as operas or music dramas.
This may seem obvious enough. But it is a longstanding complaint among musicians that the staggering Wagner literature contains so few studies of the music qua music. There is still no generally accepted model for the way the mature music of Wagner “works,” as there is for Bach, Beethoven, Schoenberg, and even Palestrina. An aura of mystification about the technical basis of his music was promoted by Nietzsche’s “Cagliostro of modernism” himself. “Silence was hard for Wagner,” Dahlhaus remarks, but he also …
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