The Tristan Chord: Wagner and Philosophy / Edition 1

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Richard Wagner's devotees have ranged from the subtlest minds (Proust) to the most brutal (Hitler). The enduring fascination with his works arises not only from his singular fusion of musical innovation and theatrical daring, but also from his largely overlooked engagement with the boldest investigations of modern philosophy. In this radically clarifying book, Bryan Magee traces Wagner's intellectual quests, from his youthful embrace of revolutionary socialism to the near-Buddhist resignation of his final years. Magee shows how abstract thought can permeate music and stimulate creations of great power and beauty. And he unflinchingly confronts the Wagner whose paranoia, egocentricity, and anti-Semitism are as repugnant as his achievements are glorious.

At once a biography of the composer, an overview of his times, and an exploration of the intellectual and technical aspects of music, Magee's lucid study offers the best explanation of W. H. Auden's judgment that Wagner, for all his notoriety, was "perhaps the greatest genius that ever lived."

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Editorial Reviews

John Rockwell
Enlightening, exciting . . . The Tristan Chord is quite simply indispensable . . .
The New York Times
Literary Review
Magee has opened up Wagner's intellectual world like no one before him.
Lawson Taitte
A limpid stylist . . . [with] an uncanny ability to make philosophical positions clear to the nonprofessional reader.
The New York Times Book Review
John Rockwell
Enlightening,exciting . . . The Tristan Chord is quite simply indispensable . . .
The New York Times
Literary Review
Magee has opened up Wagner's intellectual world like no one before him.
Lawson Taitte
A limpid stylist . . . [with] an uncanny ability to make philosophical positions clear to the nonprofessional reader.
The New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
A sound and highly readable exploration of the composer's philosophical milieu. What were the ideas floating through Wagner's head when he wrote his operas, and how can they be seen at work in his music? Veteran popularizer Magee (Confessions of a Philosopher, 1998, etc.) offers intriguing answers. Here, he maps Wagner's intellectual and emotional transformation by tracking the influences that shaped his worldview. The first concepts to inspire him were Hegel's living reality, Feuerbach's liberation of mankind through love, and the anarchists' direct action. Young Wagner fought at the barricades of Dresden side by side with Bakunin and believed that just as injustice arose, so righteousness might rise instead. Society gave life meaning and value, he affirmed, even though the society he lived in was loathsome and in need of radical realignment. These notions can be seen at play in Wagner's first operas, particularly in the early elements of the Ring Cycle. There, love and sex and art can be seen in the context of socially subversive intoxication with specific ends in mind. But Hegel and Feuerbach gave way to Schopenhauer as Wagner gave in to the bitterness of a disappointed middle-aged left-winger; in his life and art, political struggle was superseded by metaphysics. Wagner's outlook at this time evinces an Eastern sensibility, considering life as indecipherable and touched with a generalized pessimism that pervades the latter parts of the Ring, Tristan and Isolde, and Parsifal, which view any form of political power as corrupting. Magee also convincingly argues that, contrary to popular belief, Nietzsche's philosophy had no effect on Wagner's music. Clearly aware that intellectualinfluences are only one stream flowing into great operas, Magee doesn't overstate the significance of such currents, yet his mellow, lucid interpretation of how they informed and nourished Wagner's libretti is highly persuasive.
From the Publisher
"Magee has opened up Wagner's intellectual world like no one before him."—Literary Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780805071894
  • Publisher: Picador
  • Publication date: 10/1/2002
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 424
  • Sales rank: 802,828
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.91 (d)

Meet the Author

Bryan Magee has had a distinguished career as a university professor, music and theater critic, member of Parliament, and author. He is well known for two popular BBC television series on philosophy. Among his internationally acclaimed books are The Story of Philosophy, The Philosophy of Schopenhauer, and Aspects of Wagner.

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