Wagner

Overview

While no one would dispute Wagner's ranking among the most significant composers in the history of Western music, his works have been more fiercely attacked than those of any other composer. Alleged to be an unscrupulous womanizer and megalomaniac, undeniably a racist, Wagner's personal qualities and attitudes have often provoked, and continue to provoke, intense hostility that has translated into a mistrust and abhorrence of his music.

In this emphatic, lucid book, Michael ...

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Wagner

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Overview

While no one would dispute Wagner's ranking among the most significant composers in the history of Western music, his works have been more fiercely attacked than those of any other composer. Alleged to be an unscrupulous womanizer and megalomaniac, undeniably a racist, Wagner's personal qualities and attitudes have often provoked, and continue to provoke, intense hostility that has translated into a mistrust and abhorrence of his music.

In this emphatic, lucid book, Michael Tanner discusses why people feel so passionately about Wagner, for or against, in a way that they do not about other artists who had personal traits no less lamentable than those he is thought to have possessed. Tanner lays out the various arguments made by Wagner's detractors and admirers, and challenges most of them. The author's fascination for the relationships among music, text, and plot generates an illuminating discussion of the operas, in which he persuades us to see many of Wagner's best-known works anew—The Ring Cycle, Tristan und Isolde, Parsifal. He refrains from lengthy and detailed musical examination, giving instead passionate and unconventional analyses that are accessible to all lovers of music, be they listeners or performers.

In this fiery reassessment of one of the greatest composers in the history of opera, Tanner presents one of the most intelligent and controversial portraits of Wagner to emerge for many years.

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Editorial Reviews

Opera News
Tanner belongs in [the] tiny but distinguished company of committed Wagnerians who write extraordinarily well . . . His observations are consistently fresh and provocative, often as witty as they are arresting . . . . His short book is a joy to read and worth dozens of longer ones.
— G. W. Bowersock
Sunday Telegraph
Focused and concise. . . . [A] wonderfully open-minded book.
— Rupert Christiansen
Virginia Quarterly Review
[A] quietly magnificent study of one of the most controversial figures in modern music.
Wagner Notes
The most spirited and unapologetic book about Wagner to appear in a long time. . . . Fine, intellectually sparkling, and always engaging. . . . A welcome addition to any Wagner library.
Choice
[Tanner] provides a valuable study of the meaning and significance of Richard Wagner's music dramas. . . . Tanner leads the reader to understand Wagner's lifelong preoccupations, the common threads and themes that underlie his production.
Opera News - G.W. Bowersock
Tanner belongs in [the] tiny but distinguished company of committed Wagnerians who write extraordinarily well . . . His observations are consistently fresh and provocative, often as witty as they are arresting . . . . His short book is a joy to read and worth dozens of longer ones.
Sunday Telegraph - Rupert Christiansen
Focused and concise. . . . [A] wonderfully open-minded book.
Opera News - G. W. Bowersock
Tanner belongs in [the] tiny but distinguished company of committed Wagnerians who write extraordinarily well . . . His observations are consistently fresh and provocative, often as witty as they are arresting . . . . His short book is a joy to read and worth dozens of longer ones.
From the Publisher
"Tanner belongs in [the] tiny but distinguished company of committed Wagnerians who write extraordinarily well . . . His observations are consistently fresh and provocative, often as witty as they are arresting . . . . His short book is a joy to read and worth dozens of longer ones."—G. W. Bowersock, Opera News

"Focused and concise. . . . [A] wonderfully open-minded book."—Rupert Christiansen, Sunday Telegraph

"[A] quietly magnificent study of one of the most controversial figures in modern music."Virginia Quarterly Review

"The most spirited and unapologetic book about Wagner to appear in a long time. . . . Fine, intellectually sparkling, and always engaging. . . . A welcome addition to any Wagner library."Wagner Notes

"[Tanner] provides a valuable study of the meaning and significance of Richard Wagner's music dramas. . . . Tanner leads the reader to understand Wagner's lifelong preoccupations, the common threads and themes that underlie his production."Choice

Library Journal
British academic philosopher Tanner has written on music for the Times Literary Supplement and is author of Nietzsche, a volume in the "Past Masters" series from Oxford University Press 1994. Nietzsche wrote a lot about Wagner, joining a flow of opinions that became a river long ago. Tanner quotes him here, mainly in order to argue with him and many others who find fault with the complicated, controversial German music dramatist. Opening by harshly explicating some Wagner criticism as "inane," "outrageously unfair," and "priggish," Tanner then spiritedly discusses all the operas in chronological order, focusing upon effects he feels their characters, stories, and music are meant to have on thoughtful members of the audience. When these effects are contradictory, Tanner self-consciously argues with himself. A short bibliographic essay provides leads to still more views. A warm-hearted, occasionally hot-headed defense of Wagner; recommended for balance.Bonnie Jo Dopp, Long Branch Community Lib., Silver Spring, Md.
Kirkus Reviews
Tanner, a Cambridge philosopher and opera critic for the Spectator, offers analyses of the plots of Wagner's operas, the intellectual themes projected by them, and an evaluation of the music that is (for most of us) their justification.

Tanner's discussion of The Ring is superb and makes an otherwise very uneven book required reading. He often overstates (arguing, for instance, that Tristan is one of the two great religious works in Western music, along with the St. Matthew Passion), and he generally loads his analytical dice to minimize or even delete Wagner's faults. While almost all serious music lovers include Wagner on their shortlist of the ten greatest composers, Wagner is for Tanner far more serious business than merely music. For him the purpose of his art is to change our lives. That makes his life very important, and Tanner's selective treatment of it is regrettable. Except for a mention in the four-page chronology, Tanner doesn't note the twice published Jewry in Music, Wagner's ferocious demand for racial purity in German music. This omission explains the comparative shallowness of Tanner's discussion of Meistersinger, which is described as a study of human folly, whereas from the outset it was recognized as a specific and passionate statement of German nationalism, and a work happily and repeatedly embraced by the Nazis. So why did Barenboim conduct Meistersinger at Bayreuth this year, and Levine at the Met? Because the incandescence of Wagner's music transcends his personality. As Rilke (another dreadful man and magnificent artist) noted, in attempting to explain the emotions evoked by Parsifal, it drives us "to give joyous consent to the dreadfulness of life in order to take possession of the unutterable abundance and power of our existence."

There is no question that Tanner, by fair means as well as foul, celebrates Wagner's power to achieve that.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691102900
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 8/26/2002
  • Edition description: REPRINT
  • Pages: 248
  • Product dimensions: 4.96 (w) x 6.96 (h) x 0.77 (d)

Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgements ix
1 The Case of Wagner 1
2 Prejudices and Banalities 14
3 Getting under Way 31
4 Domesticating Wagner 48
5 Grandeur and Suffering in Wagner:Some Case Studies 63
6 Lobengrin and its Prelude 83
7 Wagner Ponders 95
8 What is the Ring about? l09
9 Men and Gods 119
10 The Fearless Hero 131
11 The Passion of Passion 140
12 Art, Tradition and Authority 156
13 The Ring Resumed 168
14 Redemption to the Redeemer 184
15 Posdude: Wagner and Culture 201
Chronology 213
Select Bibliography 222
Index 227

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