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WSJ book review: Wagnerism by Alex Ross
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Oscar
2020-09-17 19:27:38 UTC
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The long-awaited follow-up to Alex Ross's classic 2007 The Rest Is Noise arrived on Tuesday. First-day buyer, and as anticipated it's another great read, this time on my favorite composer (along with Bach). Ross did have another book in 2011, Listen To This, a collection of Ross essays for The New Yorker, which was a cash-in on the success of The Rest Is Noise. I noticed the art design of this new dust jacket and even the dimensions and page weight are practically the exact same as his 2007 best-seller. Go get it.


From Wall Street Journal:

<< ‘Wagnerism: Art & Politics in the Shadow of Music’ Review: The Outsider
After grappling with the artist in full—shadows and all—can we still hear his song?

By Joseph Horowitz
Sept. 11, 2020

Great works of art are so powerfully imagined that their intent and expression mold to changing human circumstances. But the operas of Richard Wagner are arguably unique in this regard: No other creative genius in the Western canon so unerringly holds up a mirror to time and place.

In Gilded Age America, Wagner was a meliorist: a source of uplift whose anti-Semitism was minimized or ignored. In Nazi Germany, he was a tool for Hitler. During the fin de siècle decades, when Wagnerism peaked, he was the source of a surging cultural and intellectual wave, at once avant-garde and reactionary, political and aestheticist, nostalgic and prophetic. Thomas Mann’s claim that Wagner was “probably the greatest talent in the entire history of art” cannot be dismissed as hyperbole.

Alex Ross’s “Wagnerism: Art and Politics in the Shadow of Music” takes up Wagner’s protean impact with unprecedented scope. In other writers’ accounts, Wagnerism ends with World War I in Europe and America and, slightly later, in Soviet Russia (where Vladimir Tatlin’s proposed monument to the Third International was inspired by Wagner’s “The Flying Dutchman”). But in Mr. Ross’s wide-ranging chronicle, Wagner’s influence outside the world of music keeps on going: through the Third Reich and Hollywood to J.R.R. Tolkien (whose disclaimer of Wagner’s influence “does not withstand scrutiny”) and the German artist Anselm Kiefer (“whose decades-long negotiation with Wagner deserves comparison with that of Thomas Mann”) and even Pope Francis (whose favorite Wagner opera is “Parsifal”). No previous writer has so copiously chronicled the sheer ubiquity of Wagner in important novels, poems and paintings. The result is an indispensable work of cultural history, offering both a comprehensive resource and a bravura narrative.

While the existing Wagner literature is vast and defies generalization, the best-known studies range from passionate advocacy to equally impassioned denunciation. Mr. Ross, who came late to Wagner, is a centrist—a circumspect, at times even diffident, Wagnerite. He writes: “The behemoth whispers a different secret in each listener’s ear.” Mr. Ross, the longtime music critic at the New Yorker and the author of “The Rest Is Noise” (2007), is able to become many listeners. Relatedly, there are limits to his degree of engagement—and Wagner is about commitment, however dangerous or misguided. These limits frame and modulate Mr. Ross’s extraordinary book.

In a postlude, Mr. Ross confides his own Wagner journey as a 21st-century gay American operagoer and writes: “Many people have gone away from Wagner feeling uplifted, empowered, aggrandized. For me, he has more often brought revelations of my stupidity, my self-pity, my absurdity—in other words, my humanity.” Wagner himself was more possessed of “humanity” than is generally asserted or assumed. His was in fact a personality as multifarious as his operas. The dramatist in Wagner created a musical stage peopled by powerful men and powerful women. As Mr. Ross richly details, Wagner’s appeal to women and gays is a hallmark of his achievement. Writing about Marcel Proust and Wagner, Mr. Ross observes that “by the nineties, Wagner was well established as a code of gay taste.” He calls Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time” “one of the supreme Wagnerian creations, yet it is free of bombast, maintaining an intimate mode of address.” Writing about Virginia Woolf’s mostly concealed Wagnerian dimension, Mr. Ross is again keenly attuned to defining yet elusive subcurrents.

The author upon whom Mr. Ross lavishes the most attention is Willa Cather, whose Wagnerism—in her life as in her fiction—was an explicit leitmotif. As Joan Acocella demonstrated in her 2000 book “Willa Cather and the Politics of Criticism,” Cather is a writer poisoned in our time by feminist psychosexual readings oblivious of Cather’s own milieu. To understand Cather on her own terms requires understanding her formative relationship with Sieglinde, Brünnhilde and other Wagner heroines. Mr. Ross has here furnished a veritable Cather-Wagner compendium. He has also scored a scholarly coup, establishing that Cather’s Nebraska piano teacher was the son of a prominent German conductor who once led “Rienzi” in Pest, with Wagner in attendance. Cather’s achievement, Mr. Ross summarizes, “was to transpose Wagnerism into an earthier, more generous key. She offered grandeur without grandiosity, heroism without egoism, myth without mythology. Brünnhilde stays on her mountain crag, hailing the sun: no man breaks the ring of fire.”

But is that all? In the early 20th century, most American Wagnerites were women, for whom Wagner was an antidote to lives marginalized in a man’s world of work and money. And so it was with Cather, whose most insightful Wagner commentary diagnoses Kundry, in “Parsifal.” One of Wagner’s most original creations, Kundry oscillates between extremes of submission and domination. Cather’s Kundry, at the Met, was Olive Fremstad, a Wagner soprano, Callas-like in veracity and intensity, with whom Cather became friends. Of Fremstad’s Kundry, Cather writes that it “is a summary of the history of womankind. [Wagner] sees in her an instrument of temptation, of salvation, and of service; but always an instrument, a thing driven and employed. . . . She cannot possibly be at peace with herself. . . . [A] driven creature, [she is] made for purposes eternally contradictory.”

Mr. Ross cites this commentary without comment. But read Cather, and read about Fremstad (who twice married abortively, identified with Ibsen’s women and chopped wood in Scandinavian forests), and it all fits together. Wagner, for Willa Cather, was more than an inspirational artistic model: He was a therapist, a medium for self-understanding and empowerment.

This dimension of the Wagner experience is equally inescapable in considering the vexed topic of Wagner and the Jews. Wagner was a vile anti-Semite. Adolf Hitler was a confirmed Wagnerite. Whether a direct line links Wagner to the Holocaust is a permanently embattled question. Sifting the evidence, Mr. Ross is again a centrist, for whom Wagner is an influential racist but not a proto-Nazi. That Wagner was in his time notably surrounded by loyal Jewish friends and adherents is a fact requiring explanation.

Among the warmest, most animated reminiscences of Wagner the man is the book-length “Personal Recollections” of Angelo Neumann, the Jewish impresario who, in the 1880s, toured the “Ring” throughout Europe. The news of Wagner’s death so stunned Neumann that, as he put it in his memoir, he “reeled into the next room and clutched the bed. . . . I felt within my soul that a god had left this earth.” The peculiar intensity of affinity Wagner could arouse in Jews was perhaps most notably evinced by Hermann Levi, who conducted the premiere of “Parsifal” at Bayreuth. To his father, a rabbi, Levi wrote: “The most beautiful thing that I have experienced in my life is that it was granted to me to come close to such a man, and I thank God daily for this.”

Or take the case of Gustav Mahler, who, as Mr. Ross observes, once argued that the devious dwarf Mime, in “Siegfried,” was “intended by Wagner as a persiflage of a Jew.” Mahler then added: “I know of only one Mime, and that is me.” There is, however, more to this aside. Mahler also said: “No doubt with Mime, Wagner intended to ridicule the Jews with all their characteristic traits . . . the jargon is textually and musically so cleverly suggested; but for God’s sake it must not be exaggerated and overdone. . . . You wouldn’t believe what there is in that part, nor what I could make of it.” For Mahler, Wagner exquisitely understood the Jew in Mime.

Mr. Ross ventures in a useful direction in considering the “special appeal” of “Lohengrin” for Jewish listeners: “The opera romanticizes the figure of the itinerant outsider who stands apart from the ‘normal’ community, much as many Jews perceived themselves within German society.” As a lifelong Jewish Wagnerite, I would go the distance: Wagner is the supreme poet of homelessness, the master musical portraitist of marginality. He is Siegmund, an orphan of ambiguous parentage, who exclaims: “I am always unpopular. . . . Misery is all I know.” He is Wotan and Tristan, who drop out. He is Hans Sachs, a lonely philosopher of pessimism. He is the cerebral Loge, whose irony is quick and irredeemable. As for Wagner himself, he suspected his actual father to have been Jewish. He fled the law as a political exile. He was always in debt. His enemies were numerous and powerful. His health was poor.

That he was himself a paradigmatic outsider explains many of the most impassioned, most therapeutic manifestations of Wagnerism, beginning with his appeal to gays and women, to whom he seemed, as to so many Jews, “one of us.” And so he is also Parsifal, who may be read as androgynous; or Senta, Sieglinde and Brünnhilde, driven to flout convention because of oppressive circumstances—because of a brutish husband or clueless father.

If one were to further extrapolate the grand trajectory traced by Mr. Ross, where, finally, does his own “Wagnerism” fit, with its cool intellectualism and tenacious yet circumspect forms of engagement? I would place it alongside Patrice Chéreau’s landmark 1976 Bayreuth production of “The Ring of the Nibelung.” Chéreau, like Mr. Ross, came late to Wagner. He, too, was an open-ended revisionist, both critical and appreciative. Above all, his production was justly acclaimed, not least by Mr. Ross himself, as an exercise in cultural memory, culling allusions from history and the visual arts—“a panorama of Wagnerism in all its variegated glory.”

And what next, for generations to come? Wagner is never cursory: There is no short course. Will there be enough cultural oxygen to sustain another half-century of Wagnerism? The final sentences of Mr. Ross’s book sound discomfitingly pregnant. He is writing about the Good Friday Spell in “Parsifal,” during which all living creatures “give thanks for the bright instant between birth and death. . . . As Parsifal sings, only the spear that caused [Amfortas’s] wound can heal it. The spear is art itself: poetry, novels, painting, dance, theater, opera. . . . The slowness of the music, the ambiguity of it, the radical shiver of its emotions, the disquiet that so many people feel in its face: all this marks Wagner as a contrary voice in modern culture, a warning from the damaged past.”

—Mr. Horowitz’s 10 books include “Wagner Nights: An American History” and “Moral Fire: Musical Portraits From America’s Fin de Siècle.”

This article appeared in the September 12, 2020, print edition as 'Wagner Über Alles.' >>
g***@gmail.com
2020-09-17 19:55:12 UTC
Permalink
Post by Oscar
The long-awaited follow-up to Alex Ross's classic 2007 The Rest Is Noise arrived on Tuesday. First-day buyer, and as anticipated it's another great read, this time on my favorite composer (along with Bach). Ross did have another book in 2011, Listen To This, a collection of Ross essays for The New Yorker, which was a cash-in on the success of The Rest Is Noise. I noticed the art design of this new dust jacket and even the dimensions and page weight are practically the exact same as his 2007 best-seller. Go get it.
<< ‘Wagnerism: Art & Politics in the Shadow of Music’ Review: The Outsider
After grappling with the artist in full—shadows and all—can we still hear his song?
By Joseph Horowitz
Sept. 11, 2020
Great works of art are so powerfully imagined that their intent and expression mold to changing human circumstances. But the operas of Richard Wagner are arguably unique in this regard: No other creative genius in the Western canon so unerringly holds up a mirror to time and place.
In Gilded Age America, Wagner was a meliorist: a source of uplift whose anti-Semitism was minimized or ignored. In Nazi Germany, he was a tool for Hitler. During the fin de siècle decades, when Wagnerism peaked, he was the source of a surging cultural and intellectual wave, at once avant-garde and reactionary, political and aestheticist, nostalgic and prophetic. Thomas Mann’s claim that Wagner was “probably the greatest talent in the entire history of art” cannot be dismissed as hyperbole.
Alex Ross’s “Wagnerism: Art and Politics in the Shadow of Music” takes up Wagner’s protean impact with unprecedented scope. In other writers’ accounts, Wagnerism ends with World War I in Europe and America and, slightly later, in Soviet Russia (where Vladimir Tatlin’s proposed monument to the Third International was inspired by Wagner’s “The Flying Dutchman”). But in Mr. Ross’s wide-ranging chronicle, Wagner’s influence outside the world of music keeps on going: through the Third Reich and Hollywood to J.R.R. Tolkien (whose disclaimer of Wagner’s influence “does not withstand scrutiny”) and the German artist Anselm Kiefer (“whose decades-long negotiation with Wagner deserves comparison with that of Thomas Mann”) and even Pope Francis (whose favorite Wagner opera is “Parsifal”). No previous writer has so copiously chronicled the sheer ubiquity of Wagner in important novels, poems and paintings. The result is an indispensable work of cultural history, offering both a comprehensive resource and a bravura narrative.
While the existing Wagner literature is vast and defies generalization, the best-known studies range from passionate advocacy to equally impassioned denunciation. Mr. Ross, who came late to Wagner, is a centrist—a circumspect, at times even diffident, Wagnerite. He writes: “The behemoth whispers a different secret in each listener’s ear.” Mr. Ross, the longtime music critic at the New Yorker and the author of “The Rest Is Noise” (2007), is able to become many listeners. Relatedly, there are limits to his degree of engagement—and Wagner is about commitment, however dangerous or misguided. These limits frame and modulate Mr. Ross’s extraordinary book.
In a postlude, Mr. Ross confides his own Wagner journey as a 21st-century gay American operagoer and writes: “Many people have gone away from Wagner feeling uplifted, empowered, aggrandized. For me, he has more often brought revelations of my stupidity, my self-pity, my absurdity—in other words, my humanity.” Wagner himself was more possessed of “humanity” than is generally asserted or assumed. His was in fact a personality as multifarious as his operas. The dramatist in Wagner created a musical stage peopled by powerful men and powerful women. As Mr. Ross richly details, Wagner’s appeal to women and gays is a hallmark of his achievement. Writing about Marcel Proust and Wagner, Mr. Ross observes that “by the nineties, Wagner was well established as a code of gay taste.” He calls Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time” “one of the supreme Wagnerian creations, yet it is free of bombast, maintaining an intimate mode of address.” Writing about Virginia Woolf’s mostly concealed Wagnerian dimension, Mr. Ross is again keenly attuned to defining yet elusive subcurrents.
The author upon whom Mr. Ross lavishes the most attention is Willa Cather, whose Wagnerism—in her life as in her fiction—was an explicit leitmotif. As Joan Acocella demonstrated in her 2000 book “Willa Cather and the Politics of Criticism,” Cather is a writer poisoned in our time by feminist psychosexual readings oblivious of Cather’s own milieu. To understand Cather on her own terms requires understanding her formative relationship with Sieglinde, Brünnhilde and other Wagner heroines. Mr. Ross has here furnished a veritable Cather-Wagner compendium. He has also scored a scholarly coup, establishing that Cather’s Nebraska piano teacher was the son of a prominent German conductor who once led “Rienzi” in Pest, with Wagner in attendance. Cather’s achievement, Mr. Ross summarizes, “was to transpose Wagnerism into an earthier, more generous key. She offered grandeur without grandiosity, heroism without egoism, myth without mythology. Brünnhilde stays on her mountain crag, hailing the sun: no man breaks the ring of fire.”
But is that all? In the early 20th century, most American Wagnerites were women, for whom Wagner was an antidote to lives marginalized in a man’s world of work and money. And so it was with Cather, whose most insightful Wagner commentary diagnoses Kundry, in “Parsifal.” One of Wagner’s most original creations, Kundry oscillates between extremes of submission and domination. Cather’s Kundry, at the Met, was Olive Fremstad, a Wagner soprano, Callas-like in veracity and intensity, with whom Cather became friends. Of Fremstad’s Kundry, Cather writes that it “is a summary of the history of womankind. [Wagner] sees in her an instrument of temptation, of salvation, and of service; but always an instrument, a thing driven and employed. . . . She cannot possibly be at peace with herself. . . . [A] driven creature, [she is] made for purposes eternally contradictory.”
Mr. Ross cites this commentary without comment. But read Cather, and read about Fremstad (who twice married abortively, identified with Ibsen’s women and chopped wood in Scandinavian forests), and it all fits together. Wagner, for Willa Cather, was more than an inspirational artistic model: He was a therapist, a medium for self-understanding and empowerment.
This dimension of the Wagner experience is equally inescapable in considering the vexed topic of Wagner and the Jews. Wagner was a vile anti-Semite. Adolf Hitler was a confirmed Wagnerite. Whether a direct line links Wagner to the Holocaust is a permanently embattled question. Sifting the evidence, Mr. Ross is again a centrist, for whom Wagner is an influential racist but not a proto-Nazi. That Wagner was in his time notably surrounded by loyal Jewish friends and adherents is a fact requiring explanation.
Among the warmest, most animated reminiscences of Wagner the man is the book-length “Personal Recollections” of Angelo Neumann, the Jewish impresario who, in the 1880s, toured the “Ring” throughout Europe. The news of Wagner’s death so stunned Neumann that, as he put it in his memoir, he “reeled into the next room and clutched the bed. . . . I felt within my soul that a god had left this earth.” The peculiar intensity of affinity Wagner could arouse in Jews was perhaps most notably evinced by Hermann Levi, who conducted the premiere of “Parsifal” at Bayreuth. To his father, a rabbi, Levi wrote: “The most beautiful thing that I have experienced in my life is that it was granted to me to come close to such a man, and I thank God daily for this.”
Or take the case of Gustav Mahler, who, as Mr. Ross observes, once argued that the devious dwarf Mime, in “Siegfried,” was “intended by Wagner as a persiflage of a Jew.” Mahler then added: “I know of only one Mime, and that is me.” There is, however, more to this aside. Mahler also said: “No doubt with Mime, Wagner intended to ridicule the Jews with all their characteristic traits . . . the jargon is textually and musically so cleverly suggested; but for God’s sake it must not be exaggerated and overdone. . . . You wouldn’t believe what there is in that part, nor what I could make of it.” For Mahler, Wagner exquisitely understood the Jew in Mime.
Mr. Ross ventures in a useful direction in considering the “special appeal” of “Lohengrin” for Jewish listeners: “The opera romanticizes the figure of the itinerant outsider who stands apart from the ‘normal’ community, much as many Jews perceived themselves within German society.” As a lifelong Jewish Wagnerite, I would go the distance: Wagner is the supreme poet of homelessness, the master musical portraitist of marginality. He is Siegmund, an orphan of ambiguous parentage, who exclaims: “I am always unpopular. . . . Misery is all I know.” He is Wotan and Tristan, who drop out. He is Hans Sachs, a lonely philosopher of pessimism. He is the cerebral Loge, whose irony is quick and irredeemable. As for Wagner himself, he suspected his actual father to have been Jewish. He fled the law as a political exile. He was always in debt. His enemies were numerous and powerful. His health was poor.
That he was himself a paradigmatic outsider explains many of the most impassioned, most therapeutic manifestations of Wagnerism, beginning with his appeal to gays and women, to whom he seemed, as to so many Jews, “one of us.” And so he is also Parsifal, who may be read as androgynous; or Senta, Sieglinde and Brünnhilde, driven to flout convention because of oppressive circumstances—because of a brutish husband or clueless father.
If one were to further extrapolate the grand trajectory traced by Mr. Ross, where, finally, does his own “Wagnerism” fit, with its cool intellectualism and tenacious yet circumspect forms of engagement? I would place it alongside Patrice Chéreau’s landmark 1976 Bayreuth production of “The Ring of the Nibelung.” Chéreau, like Mr. Ross, came late to Wagner. He, too, was an open-ended revisionist, both critical and appreciative. Above all, his production was justly acclaimed, not least by Mr. Ross himself, as an exercise in cultural memory, culling allusions from history and the visual arts—“a panorama of Wagnerism in all its variegated glory.”
And what next, for generations to come? Wagner is never cursory: There is no short course. Will there be enough cultural oxygen to sustain another half-century of Wagnerism? The final sentences of Mr. Ross’s book sound discomfitingly pregnant. He is writing about the Good Friday Spell in “Parsifal,” during which all living creatures “give thanks for the bright instant between birth and death. . . . As Parsifal sings, only the spear that caused [Amfortas’s] wound can heal it. The spear is art itself: poetry, novels, painting, dance, theater, opera. . . . The slowness of the music, the ambiguity of it, the radical shiver of its emotions, the disquiet that so many people feel in its face: all this marks Wagner as a contrary voice in modern culture, a warning from the damaged past.”
—Mr. Horowitz’s 10 books include “Wagner Nights: An American History” and “Moral Fire: Musical Portraits From America’s Fin de Siècle.”
This article appeared in the September 12, 2020, print edition as 'Wagner Über Alles.' >>
https://groups.google.com/forum/#!topic/humanities.music.composers.wagner/jZr8raASFNA
meyers...@gmail.com
2020-09-18 02:15:29 UTC
Permalink
Post by Oscar
The long-awaited follow-up to Alex Ross's classic 2007 The Rest Is Noise arrived on Tuesday. First-day buyer, and as anticipated it's another great read, this time on my favorite composer (along with Bach). Ross did have another book in 2011, Listen To This, a collection of Ross essays for The New Yorker, which was a cash-in on the success of The Rest Is Noise. I noticed the art design of this new dust jacket and even the dimensions and page weight are practically the exact same as his 2007 best-seller. Go get it.
<< ‘Wagnerism: Art & Politics in the Shadow of Music’ Review: The Outsider
After grappling with the artist in full—shadows and all—can we still hear his song?
By Joseph Horowitz
Sept. 11, 2020
Great works of art are so powerfully imagined that their intent and expression mold to changing human circumstances. But the operas of Richard Wagner are arguably unique in this regard: No other creative genius in the Western canon so unerringly holds up a mirror to time and place.
In Gilded Age America, Wagner was a meliorist: a source of uplift whose anti-Semitism was minimized or ignored. In Nazi Germany, he was a tool for Hitler. During the fin de siècle decades, when Wagnerism peaked, he was the source of a surging cultural and intellectual wave, at once avant-garde and reactionary, political and aestheticist, nostalgic and prophetic. Thomas Mann’s claim that Wagner was “probably the greatest talent in the entire history of art” cannot be dismissed as hyperbole.
Alex Ross’s “Wagnerism: Art and Politics in the Shadow of Music” takes up Wagner’s protean impact with unprecedented scope. In other writers’ accounts, Wagnerism ends with World War I in Europe and America and, slightly later, in Soviet Russia (where Vladimir Tatlin’s proposed monument to the Third International was inspired by Wagner’s “The Flying Dutchman”). But in Mr. Ross’s wide-ranging chronicle, Wagner’s influence outside the world of music keeps on going: through the Third Reich and Hollywood to J.R.R. Tolkien (whose disclaimer of Wagner’s influence “does not withstand scrutiny”) and the German artist Anselm Kiefer (“whose decades-long negotiation with Wagner deserves comparison with that of Thomas Mann”) and even Pope Francis (whose favorite Wagner opera is “Parsifal”). No previous writer has so copiously chronicled the sheer ubiquity of Wagner in important novels, poems and paintings. The result is an indispensable work of cultural history, offering both a comprehensive resource and a bravura narrative.
While the existing Wagner literature is vast and defies generalization, the best-known studies range from passionate advocacy to equally impassioned denunciation. Mr. Ross, who came late to Wagner, is a centrist—a circumspect, at times even diffident, Wagnerite. He writes: “The behemoth whispers a different secret in each listener’s ear.” Mr. Ross, the longtime music critic at the New Yorker and the author of “The Rest Is Noise” (2007), is able to become many listeners. Relatedly, there are limits to his degree of engagement—and Wagner is about commitment, however dangerous or misguided. These limits frame and modulate Mr. Ross’s extraordinary book.
In a postlude, Mr. Ross confides his own Wagner journey as a 21st-century gay American operagoer and writes: “Many people have gone away from Wagner feeling uplifted, empowered, aggrandized. For me, he has more often brought revelations of my stupidity, my self-pity, my absurdity—in other words, my humanity.” Wagner himself was more possessed of “humanity” than is generally asserted or assumed. His was in fact a personality as multifarious as his operas. The dramatist in Wagner created a musical stage peopled by powerful men and powerful women. As Mr. Ross richly details, Wagner’s appeal to women and gays is a hallmark of his achievement. Writing about Marcel Proust and Wagner, Mr. Ross observes that “by the nineties, Wagner was well established as a code of gay taste.” He calls Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time” “one of the supreme Wagnerian creations, yet it is free of bombast, maintaining an intimate mode of address.” Writing about Virginia Woolf’s mostly concealed Wagnerian dimension, Mr. Ross is again keenly attuned to defining yet elusive subcurrents.
The author upon whom Mr. Ross lavishes the most attention is Willa Cather, whose Wagnerism—in her life as in her fiction—was an explicit leitmotif. As Joan Acocella demonstrated in her 2000 book “Willa Cather and the Politics of Criticism,” Cather is a writer poisoned in our time by feminist psychosexual readings oblivious of Cather’s own milieu. To understand Cather on her own terms requires understanding her formative relationship with Sieglinde, Brünnhilde and other Wagner heroines. Mr. Ross has here furnished a veritable Cather-Wagner compendium. He has also scored a scholarly coup, establishing that Cather’s Nebraska piano teacher was the son of a prominent German conductor who once led “Rienzi” in Pest, with Wagner in attendance. Cather’s achievement, Mr. Ross summarizes, “was to transpose Wagnerism into an earthier, more generous key. She offered grandeur without grandiosity, heroism without egoism, myth without mythology. Brünnhilde stays on her mountain crag, hailing the sun: no man breaks the ring of fire.”
But is that all? In the early 20th century, most American Wagnerites were women, for whom Wagner was an antidote to lives marginalized in a man’s world of work and money. And so it was with Cather, whose most insightful Wagner commentary diagnoses Kundry, in “Parsifal.” One of Wagner’s most original creations, Kundry oscillates between extremes of submission and domination. Cather’s Kundry, at the Met, was Olive Fremstad, a Wagner soprano, Callas-like in veracity and intensity, with whom Cather became friends. Of Fremstad’s Kundry, Cather writes that it “is a summary of the history of womankind. [Wagner] sees in her an instrument of temptation, of salvation, and of service; but always an instrument, a thing driven and employed. . . . She cannot possibly be at peace with herself. . . . [A] driven creature, [she is] made for purposes eternally contradictory.”
Mr. Ross cites this commentary without comment. But read Cather, and read about Fremstad (who twice married abortively, identified with Ibsen’s women and chopped wood in Scandinavian forests), and it all fits together. Wagner, for Willa Cather, was more than an inspirational artistic model: He was a therapist, a medium for self-understanding and empowerment.
This dimension of the Wagner experience is equally inescapable in considering the vexed topic of Wagner and the Jews. Wagner was a vile anti-Semite. Adolf Hitler was a confirmed Wagnerite. Whether a direct line links Wagner to the Holocaust is a permanently embattled question. Sifting the evidence, Mr. Ross is again a centrist, for whom Wagner is an influential racist but not a proto-Nazi. That Wagner was in his time notably surrounded by loyal Jewish friends and adherents is a fact requiring explanation.
Among the warmest, most animated reminiscences of Wagner the man is the book-length “Personal Recollections” of Angelo Neumann, the Jewish impresario who, in the 1880s, toured the “Ring” throughout Europe. The news of Wagner’s death so stunned Neumann that, as he put it in his memoir, he “reeled into the next room and clutched the bed. . . . I felt within my soul that a god had left this earth.” The peculiar intensity of affinity Wagner could arouse in Jews was perhaps most notably evinced by Hermann Levi, who conducted the premiere of “Parsifal” at Bayreuth. To his father, a rabbi, Levi wrote: “The most beautiful thing that I have experienced in my life is that it was granted to me to come close to such a man, and I thank God daily for this.”
Or take the case of Gustav Mahler, who, as Mr. Ross observes, once argued that the devious dwarf Mime, in “Siegfried,” was “intended by Wagner as a persiflage of a Jew.” Mahler then added: “I know of only one Mime, and that is me.” There is, however, more to this aside. Mahler also said: “No doubt with Mime, Wagner intended to ridicule the Jews with all their characteristic traits . . . the jargon is textually and musically so cleverly suggested; but for God’s sake it must not be exaggerated and overdone. . . . You wouldn’t believe what there is in that part, nor what I could make of it.” For Mahler, Wagner exquisitely understood the Jew in Mime.
Mr. Ross ventures in a useful direction in considering the “special appeal” of “Lohengrin” for Jewish listeners: “The opera romanticizes the figure of the itinerant outsider who stands apart from the ‘normal’ community, much as many Jews perceived themselves within German society.” As a lifelong Jewish Wagnerite, I would go the distance: Wagner is the supreme poet of homelessness, the master musical portraitist of marginality. He is Siegmund, an orphan of ambiguous parentage, who exclaims: “I am always unpopular. . . . Misery is all I know.” He is Wotan and Tristan, who drop out. He is Hans Sachs, a lonely philosopher of pessimism. He is the cerebral Loge, whose irony is quick and irredeemable. As for Wagner himself, he suspected his actual father to have been Jewish. He fled the law as a political exile. He was always in debt. His enemies were numerous and powerful. His health was poor.
That he was himself a paradigmatic outsider explains many of the most impassioned, most therapeutic manifestations of Wagnerism, beginning with his appeal to gays and women, to whom he seemed, as to so many Jews, “one of us.” And so he is also Parsifal, who may be read as androgynous; or Senta, Sieglinde and Brünnhilde, driven to flout convention because of oppressive circumstances—because of a brutish husband or clueless father.
If one were to further extrapolate the grand trajectory traced by Mr. Ross, where, finally, does his own “Wagnerism” fit, with its cool intellectualism and tenacious yet circumspect forms of engagement? I would place it alongside Patrice Chéreau’s landmark 1976 Bayreuth production of “The Ring of the Nibelung.” Chéreau, like Mr. Ross, came late to Wagner. He, too, was an open-ended revisionist, both critical and appreciative. Above all, his production was justly acclaimed, not least by Mr. Ross himself, as an exercise in cultural memory, culling allusions from history and the visual arts—“a panorama of Wagnerism in all its variegated glory.”
And what next, for generations to come? Wagner is never cursory: There is no short course. Will there be enough cultural oxygen to sustain another half-century of Wagnerism? The final sentences of Mr. Ross’s book sound discomfitingly pregnant. He is writing about the Good Friday Spell in “Parsifal,” during which all living creatures “give thanks for the bright instant between birth and death. . . . As Parsifal sings, only the spear that caused [Amfortas’s] wound can heal it. The spear is art itself: poetry, novels, painting, dance, theater, opera. . . . The slowness of the music, the ambiguity of it, the radical shiver of its emotions, the disquiet that so many people feel in its face: all this marks Wagner as a contrary voice in modern culture, a warning from the damaged past.”
—Mr. Horowitz’s 10 books include “Wagner Nights: An American History” and “Moral Fire: Musical Portraits From America’s Fin de Siècle.”
This article appeared in the September 12, 2020, print edition as 'Wagner Über Alles.' >>
Can't wait to read it - it also recieved a rave in Gramophone
Oscar
2020-09-24 21:11:30 UTC
Permalink
Review from New Criterion:

<< The “old sorcerer”
by James F. Penrose

A review of Wagnerism by Alex Ross

As befits one of history’s great megalomaniacs, Richard Wagner worried deeply about his posthumous reputation. “He believes,” his wife Cosima lamented, “that after his death they will drop his works entirely and he will live on in human memory as a phantom.”

In a sense, Wagner’s fears were understandable. The acceptance of his music, particularly in Paris, took many difficult years. Rienzi, Forbidden Love, and The Flying Dutchman, despite Giacomo Meyerbeer’s generous help, went nowhere, and the spectacular failure of Tannhäuser in 1861 infuriated him for the rest of his life. He never understood how much he impeded his progress by his outlandish behavior and matchless talent for irritating people. “His life,” wrote one biographer, “resembles a ship steering with incredible recklessness among every sort of shoal and rock.” Today, though, Wagner’s concerns seem almost laughably misplaced. Even by the late 1860s, he had secured the international reputation and stature that he never relinquished. Today, Tristan und Isolde, Parsifal, Tannhäuser, and the Ring operas still play to awed and overwhelmed audiences.

Wagner’s writings anticipate and complement his music. As is generally known, Art and Revolution and Opera and Drama explain the synesthetic concept of the Gesamtkunst (“totality of art”) that he thought gave his operas their cumulative power. Believing that society could be reformed and saved through a quasi-religious approach to art, Wagner advocated for theatrical reforms that he believed would lead to a better and happier world. He shows himself as a political and musical revolutionary, a utopian even, formulating his artistic legacy, the “artwork of the future.” On a darker note, his “Judaism in Music” essay reveals him as a nasty anti-Semite, madly jealous of Felix Mendelssohn and furious with the likes of Meyerbeer and the critics that in his estimation did little to promote his music. While his rebarbative views on race made it easy for the Nazis to co-opt him, Alex Ross’s new book dryly notes that even with that huge negative, Wagner successfully “survived the ruination of Hitler’s love.”

Ross’s Wagnerism: Art and Politics in the Shadow of Music describes Wagner’s influence on the other arts: literature (Willa Cather, George Eliot, Thomas Mann), poetry (Baudelaire, Mallarmé, T. S. Eliot), painting (Van Gogh, Cézanne, Klimt), sculpture (Arno Breker), and architecture (Louis Sullivan, Josef Hoffman). In many cases, however, “influence” is perhaps a misnomer. For non-musicians, Wagner tended to be all things to all men, and Ross shows how many artists and writers identifying as Wagnerites actually projected their different styles onto him—creating a god in man’s own image, as it were. “You returned me to myself,” wrote Baudelaire, and “We found ourselves in Richard Wagner,” said Edouard Dujardin. Though his acolytes cover an impossibly large field, the thing they had in common was wanting to be revolutionary, willing, in Wagner’s words, to “[d]o something new! New! And again new!” And they took to heart his admonition that “[i]f you hang onto the old, the devil of unproductivity has you, and you will be the most unhappy artist!”

Drawing on hundreds of bibliographical sources and copiously end-noted, Ross’s Wagnerism is exhaustive, a clear labor of love but one structurally weakened by the diffusiveness of its subject matter. Ross claims too much and admits as much: “[d]ialogues between genres,”—i.e. between music and other arts—“are not always persuasive or coherent.” The consequence is a blurred narrative in parts and a sense that points are being stretched. The set designer Adolphe Appia explained the central problem: “any attempt to transfer the Wagnerian idea into a work not based on music is a contradiction of that very idea.”

The book’s strengths lie in its early chapter accounts of the development of the Bayreuth Festspielhaus and the English, American, and French responses to Wagner’s music. “Each country saw Wagner through a self-fashioned prism,” Ross writes. In England, Wagnerism replicated the Pre-Raphaelites’ search for a bucolic, Arthurian past. In the United States, Wagnerism had similarities to the “national love of wilderness sagas, frontier lore, Native American tales and stories of desperadoes searching for gold.” France, though, was another story. There, Wagnerism was modernism personified, and Ross’s accounts of the radical personalities and violent controversies churned up by the Wagner cult are colorful and occasionally disturbing. His explanation of Wagner’s magpie philosophy that drew from (and discarded when convenient) a string of thinkers including Hegel, Feuerbach, Prudhomme, Schopenhauer, and many, many others is clear and enjoyable. Ross’s description of Wagner’s dealings with Friedrich Nietzsche is another strength.

Wagner and Nietzsche first met in 1868, the year before the latter, younger man took up his professorship at the University of Basel. A talented pianist, Nietzsche worked his way as a teenager through a piano score of Tristan and was mesmerized. “Every fibre, every nerve in me is quivering,” he later wrote after hearing the Tristan prelude, and he spent much of his life wondering how Wagner did it.

Shortly after his start at Basel, Nietzsche traveled cross-country to Tribschen, where Wagner and Cosima lived. Within two years of their first lunch, Nietzsche had his own bedroom in the house (King Ludwig II, Wagner’s great benefactor, had the other room). For the first few years, the two enjoyed each other’s company, going for day-long walks in the nearby hills talking philosophy and music. Ross describes how each profited from the friendship: “Nietzsche seized on the chance to align himself with a star of European culture. Wagner, who lacked strong support in the academic world, knew the value of having a gifted and impassioned scholar at his side.”

Of course, there was more to it than that. Nietzsche agreed with Wagner’s view that culture and society could be rejuvenated through the transformative power of art. Nietzsche’s 1872 book, The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music, expanded on Wagner’s ideas in Art and Revolution. Nietzsche claimed that Greek tragedy arose out of the “spirit of music” by balancing the creative Dionysian impulse with the rules of Apollonian order. The balance, achieved in the plays of Aeschylus, was upset by the rationalist influence of Socrates and Euripides, while the corrective was a “gradual awakening of the Dionysian spirit”—an outcome which, not least because of its references to The Ring, flattered the Dionysian Wagner. The good feelings, however, did not last forever. Nietzsche had begun to chafe, in part because he was treated like a menial (being sent on occasion to town to collect caramels or Wagner’s silk underwear), in part because of Wagner’s rampant anti-Semitism and Francophobia, and (we surmise) in much greater part because of Wagner’s impossible personality.

In the early 1870s, the Wagners moved to Bayreuth, 350 miles away from Tribschen, where construction was starting on the Festspielhaus, Wagner’s shrine for the performance of his later operas. Ross describes how in 1876 Wagner dragooned Nietzsche into writing puff pieces for the first Bayreuth Festival. They did little to save the Festival from financial losses. Nevertheless, as Ross shows, in addition to exhibiting Wagner the composer and theorist, it led to Wagner’s pioneering of modern techniques of mass dissemination and publicity. Ross quotes Nicholas Vazsonyi’s remark that “Wagner’s special skill was the ability to preserve the artistic integrity of his towering works amidst the blaze of commodification to which he in the first place had subjected them”—an observation that would undoubtedly have amused Nietzsche who, by this point, was having second thoughts about Wagner’s motives and intentions.

As their relationship deteriorated, it was but a short step for Nietzsche to reconsider Wagner’s philosophy. In 1876, Nietzsche published Human, All Too Human,the work that brought about their permanent estrangement—though Wagner’s astonishingly malicious letter to Nietzsche’s doctor (in which he wrote that Nietzsche’s chronic ill health could be due to masturbation) could have played a part. Anticipating the “Fascist Wagner” that he covers later in the book, Ross sums up the philosophical differences between the two:

What Wagner disliked in Nietzsche—the pitilessness, the exaltation of power—and what Nietzsche disliked in Wagner—the Teutonic chauvinism, the antisemitism—added up to an approximation of the fascist mentality. Once the better angels of their natures are set aside, Wagner and Nietzsche darkly complete each other in the Nazi mind.

Even after Nietzsche published a host of other anti-Wagner writings, however, the spell of Wagner’s music lingered. In Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche alluded to him as the “old sorcerer,” a reference to the bewitching power of his music. And in his “ultimate act of apostasy,” The Case of Wagner, Nietzsche confessed that he understood perfectly when a musician says, “I hate Wagner, but I cannot stand any other music.”

Ross shows how, over time, the English response to Wagner, moving from hostility to acceptance, was the reverse of his relationship with Nietzsche. For Wagner, nineteenth-century London was a real-life Nibelheim, the subterranean hellscape in The Ring representing everything he loathed about modern society. “[W]orld domination, activity, work, and everywhere the oppressive feeling of steam and fog,” he described it. London was enemy territory in other respects, too. The Times’s critic vigorously disliked Wagner’s music, describing Lohengrin as “rank poison.” The predominant value of English music at the time was moral uplift, art that was “exempt from the trail of the serpent” and divorced from England’s rapid social change. For open-minded listeners, though, Wagner’s music eventually provided a place where they “could contemplate tensions between an idyllic past and an industrial present.”

An early lifeline came from the brilliant Mary Ann Evans—George Eliot—who wrote an admiring article about Wagner around 1854. In what must be a reference to his leitmovic construction, she wrote that opera should be “an organic whole, which grows up like a palm, its earliest portion containing the germ and prevision all the rest.” Not yet converted to his music, Eliot nevertheless praised Wagner’s dramatic construction, rejecting the “cheap ridicule” directed against him. Later, she based her own works on Wagner’s principles of organic unity. As she explained about Daniel Deronda, “everything in the book [was meant] to be related to everything else there,” and she would speak of the “roar which lies on the other side of silence”—the unspoken feelings of her characters.

Two decades after Eliot’s article appeared in England, the anti-Wagner climate there had softened considerably. The Lohengrin-hating critic at The Times had been replaced by a student of Nietzsche’s, Francis Hueffer. He and Edward Dannreuther, another transplanted German, not only did much to change English attitudes towards Wagner’s music but were also connected to the English Pre-Raphaelites. They, like Wagner, were dismayed at the spiritual erosion caused by the pace of change. “The leading passion of my life,” wrote William Morris, “has been and is a hatred of modern civilization.” Despite their similar outlooks, Morris could not bear Wagner’s music.

Ross describes how the Pre-Raphaelites took an interest in the Tannhäuser legend, in which the eponymous hero is torn between the erotic Dionysian, Venus, and the saintly Apollonian, Elisabeth. In 1861, the same year as Tannhäuser’s Parisian failure, Edward Burne-Jones painted his Laus Veneris (In Praise of Venus), Swinburne wrote a poem with the same name, and Morris began the even more explicitly titled poem Hill of Venus. Although the Pre-Raphaelites never joined the Wagner cult, Ross says, their aims and effects were largely similar.

Ross’s detailing of Wagner’s 1877 visit to London as well as his analysis of Swinburne’s and Morris’s neo-Wagnerianism make for interesting reading, but even more engaging—on an entirely different subject—are his remarks on the sanitized plot summaries that enterprising publishers prepared for the Victorian “young adult” market. Though they mostly dwell on Wagner’s “heroes and dragons” aspects, it is hard not to smile at the Cartlandesque description of the soon-to-be adulteress, Isolde, as “tall and very fair, with hair of a deep brilliant gold” and Tristan as “deeply tanned.” As the Liebesnacht begins, Ross reports, the two are “satisfying themselves and each other with assurances and proofs of their love and fidelity,” and he goes on to provide other droll examples (like Brunhilde’s live cremation in Gotterdämmerung) of the bowdlerizer’s art.

America had been considerably more receptive to Wagner’s music than some European countries, largely because of an émigré population that created “peak Wagnerism” there during the Gilded Age. Wagner reciprocated those warm feelings. Much to Cosima’s horror, he seriously considered uprooting himself from Bayreuth and moving to Minnesota. Upset by the low attendance and poor returns at the 1876 Festival, Wagner persuaded himself that the purest German stock had immigrated to the upper Midwest. These folk, he believed, were more capable of appreciating his music dramas than his unenthusiastic fellow citizens that stayed home. Ross tells us how Wagner worked with his dentist on a plan that would resettle the Wagner family somewhere with a propitious climate—so how Minnesota made the short list remains a mystery.

Wagner influenced American artists for good and for bad. After a performance of Gotterdämmerung, the artist Albert Pinkham Ryder spent two sleepless days painting his eerie Siegfried and the Rhine Maidens (1891), a picture that did much to influence Jackson Pollock. The Siegfried legend also influenced Owen Wister, the author of the archetypal Western The Virginian (1902)—a work containing, in Ross’s view, the elements of white supremacy, racism, and social Darwinism “that underlay so much of the rhetoric of Manifest Destiny.” In architecture, Ross describes how Paul Rosenfeld saw Wagner as providing theme music for America’s “vastness, its madly affluent wealth, and multiform power and transcontinental span,” and Ross expands on this with references to the work of John Wellborn Root, Daniel Burnham, and Louis Sullivan. He finishes the section by discussing the similarities between Wagner’s music and Walt Whitman’s poetry. For Whitman, the operas “attach themselves to the same theories of art that have been responsible for Leaves of Grass.”

Of Wagnerism’s various benign strains, the French variety was surely the most contagious and engulfing. “You cannot imagine the impression that this music made on those of my age,” said Alphonse Daudet to his son, “It truly transformed us.” Even though Wagner had spent a few years in Paris twenty years before, French Wagnerism really started in 1860 when he conducted three concerts at the Théâtre Italien that included the prelude to Tristan und Isolde, his dreamlike opera of love and death.

As was the case in England, admiration for Wagner grew slowly and attracted few admirers at first. Berlioz was in the nay camp, disparaging the prelude as a “sort of chromatic moaning.” Baudelaire, however, was an early devotee. Similar to how George Eliot defended Wagner in England, Baudelaire stood up for him after the Tannhäuser flop in late 1861 and helped turn public opinion against the “convocation of imbeciles blocking progress” and towards a new Wagner partisanship. But Baudelaire made an even longer lasting contribution. When the critic Paul Scudo heard “the qualities and defects of an epoch of decadence” in Wagner’s music, Baudelaire adopted the term, likening “decadence” to the synesthetic shocks of recognition that the music provoked in his own creative processes. By the end of the century, Ross tells us, the Wagnerian revelation had influenced scores of visual artists, writers, and poets. It contributed to the Symbolist movement and led to “dream logic, mental intoxication, formless form, limitless desire.”

As the Wagner circle grew, it attracted a number of highly original (and often, at least by current standards, daft) characters. These included Théophile Gautier’s gifted daughter Judith (whom Wagner, behind Cosima’s back, called his “Beloved Amplitude”); her husband, the handsome and perverse Catulle Mendès (whom Maupassant called a “lily in urine”); and the cackling Villiers de l’Isle-Adam, author of the mystical oddball drama Axël and the unsettling Contes Crueles. In the visual arts, Renoir, Monet, Rodin, Fantin-Latour, Cézanne, and others claimed to be Wagnerites. Conductors like Pasdeloup and Lamoureux kept the flame burning, and in due time the Rosicrucians (Péladan), Les XX (James Ensor), and Satanists (Huysmans, the disturbing Camille Lemonnier, and the even creepier Marcel Batilliat) all claimed lineage from Wagner. Whether we want to believe them is another matter.

Wagnerism is a huge work, “the great education of my life,” writes Ross, and it is a claim easy to accept. After leaving the French Wagnerites, he pushes on with analyses of the composer’s influence on the Kaiserreich, modernism, Cather, Joyce, and T. S. Eliot, Mann and Nazi Germany, film, and other subjects. Despite its accumulated learning, however, Wagnerism tells only half the story. We see the effect of Wagner but not a persuasive cause. The explanation that Wagner is “a blank screen on which spectators project themselves” raises questions: Why did they want to project themselves? How did Wagner attract them? By what means did he create the astonishing sounds that won him so many distinguished converts? The explanation surely lies in the power of his music, and it is surprising that, for a music critic, the author does not better develop this seemingly fundamental element. Reading Nietzsche’s late-life admission that Wagner showed him “the fifty worlds of foreign ecstasies that only he had wings to reach” makes us all the more curious. As it stands though, Wagnerism rather mimics Gioachino Rossini’s wry description of Wagner’s work: “beautiful moments and bad quarter hours.”

—James F. Penrose lives in Paris.

This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 39 Number 1, on page 63
Copyright © 2020 The New Criterion | http://www.newcriterion.com >>


https://newcriterion.com/issues/2020/9/the-old-sorcerer
g***@gmail.com
2020-09-24 21:34:20 UTC
Permalink
Post by Oscar
<< The “old sorcerer”
by James F. Penrose
A review of Wagnerism by Alex Ross
As befits one of history’s great megalomaniacs, Richard Wagner worried deeply about his posthumous reputation. “He believes,” his wife Cosima lamented, “that after his death they will drop his works entirely and he will live on in human memory as a phantom.”
In a sense, Wagner’s fears were understandable. The acceptance of his music, particularly in Paris, took many difficult years. Rienzi, Forbidden Love, and The Flying Dutchman, despite Giacomo Meyerbeer’s generous help, went nowhere, and the spectacular failure of Tannhäuser in 1861 infuriated him for the rest of his life. He never understood how much he impeded his progress by his outlandish behavior and matchless talent for irritating people. “His life,” wrote one biographer, “resembles a ship steering with incredible recklessness among every sort of shoal and rock.” Today, though, Wagner’s concerns seem almost laughably misplaced. Even by the late 1860s, he had secured the international reputation and stature that he never relinquished. Today, Tristan und Isolde, Parsifal, Tannhäuser, and the Ring operas still play to awed and overwhelmed audiences.
Wagner’s writings anticipate and complement his music. As is generally known, Art and Revolution and Opera and Drama explain the synesthetic concept of the Gesamtkunst (“totality of art”) that he thought gave his operas their cumulative power...
But was the concept of Gesamtkunst Wagner's alone?:

https://groups.google.com/forum/#!topic/humanities.music.composers.wagner/dMghT7HCyL4
g***@gmail.com
2020-09-24 22:25:19 UTC
Permalink
Post by Oscar
<< The “old sorcerer”
by James F. Penrose
A review of Wagnerism by Alex Ross
As befits one of history’s great megalomaniacs, Richard Wagner worried deeply about his posthumous reputation. “He believes,” his wife Cosima lamented, “that after his death they will drop his works entirely and he will live on in human memory as a phantom.”
In a sense, Wagner’s fears were understandable. The acceptance of his music, particularly in Paris, took many difficult years. Rienzi, Forbidden Love, and The Flying Dutchman, despite Giacomo Meyerbeer’s generous help, went nowhere, and the spectacular failure of Tannhäuser in 1861 infuriated him for the rest of his life. He never understood how much he impeded his progress by his outlandish behavior and matchless talent for irritating people. “His life,” wrote one biographer, “resembles a ship steering with incredible recklessness among every sort of shoal and rock.” Today, though, Wagner’s concerns seem almost laughably misplaced. Even by the late 1860s, he had secured the international reputation and stature that he never relinquished. Today, Tristan und Isolde, Parsifal, Tannhäuser, and the Ring operas still play to awed and overwhelmed audiences.
Wagner’s writings anticipate and complement his music. As is generally known, Art and Revolution and Opera and Drama explain the synesthetic concept of the Gesamtkunst (“totality of art”) that he thought gave his operas their cumulative power. Believing that society could be reformed and saved through a quasi-religious approach to art, Wagner advocated for theatrical reforms that he believed would lead to a better and happier world. He shows himself as a political and musical revolutionary, a utopian even, formulating his artistic legacy, the “artwork of the future.” On a darker note, his “Judaism in Music” essay reveals him as a nasty anti-Semite, madly jealous of Felix Mendelssohn and furious with the likes of Meyerbeer and the critics that in his estimation did little to promote his music. While his rebarbative views on race made it easy for the Nazis to co-opt him, Alex Ross’s new book dryly notes that even with that huge negative, Wagner successfully “survived the ruination of Hitler’s love.”
Ross’s Wagnerism: Art and Politics in the Shadow of Music describes Wagner’s influence on the other arts: literature (Willa Cather, George Eliot, Thomas Mann), poetry (Baudelaire, Mallarmé, T. S. Eliot), painting (Van Gogh, Cézanne, Klimt), sculpture (Arno Breker), and architecture (Louis Sullivan, Josef Hoffman). In many cases, however, “influence” is perhaps a misnomer. For non-musicians, Wagner tended to be all things to all men, and Ross shows how many artists and writers identifying as Wagnerites actually projected their different styles onto him—creating a god in man’s own image, as it were. “You returned me to myself,” wrote Baudelaire, and “We found ourselves in Richard Wagner,” said Edouard Dujardin. Though his acolytes cover an impossibly large field, the thing they had in common was wanting to be revolutionary, willing, in Wagner’s words, to “[d]o something new! New! And again new!” And they took to heart his admonition that “[i]f you hang onto the old, the devil of unproductivity has you, and you will be the most unhappy artist!”
Drawing on hundreds of bibliographical sources and copiously end-noted, Ross’s Wagnerism is exhaustive, a clear labor of love but one structurally weakened by the diffusiveness of its subject matter. Ross claims too much and admits as much: “[d]ialogues between genres,”—i.e. between music and other arts—“are not always persuasive or coherent.” The consequence is a blurred narrative in parts and a sense that points are being stretched. The set designer Adolphe Appia explained the central problem: “any attempt to transfer the Wagnerian idea into a work not based on music is a contradiction of that very idea.”
The book’s strengths lie in its early chapter accounts of the development of the Bayreuth Festspielhaus and the English, American, and French responses to Wagner’s music. “Each country saw Wagner through a self-fashioned prism,” Ross writes. In England, Wagnerism replicated the Pre-Raphaelites’ search for a bucolic, Arthurian past. In the United States, Wagnerism had similarities to the “national love of wilderness sagas, frontier lore, Native American tales and stories of desperadoes searching for gold.” France, though, was another story. There, Wagnerism was modernism personified, and Ross’s accounts of the radical personalities and violent controversies churned up by the Wagner cult are colorful and occasionally disturbing. His explanation of Wagner’s magpie philosophy that drew from (and discarded when convenient) a string of thinkers including Hegel, Feuerbach, Prudhomme, Schopenhauer, and many, many others is clear and enjoyable. Ross’s description of Wagner’s dealings with Friedrich Nietzsche is another strength.
Wagner and Nietzsche first met in 1868, the year before the latter, younger man took up his professorship at the University of Basel. A talented pianist, Nietzsche worked his way as a teenager through a piano score of Tristan and was mesmerized. “Every fibre, every nerve in me is quivering,” he later wrote after hearing the Tristan prelude, and he spent much of his life wondering how Wagner did it.
Shortly after his start at Basel, Nietzsche traveled cross-country to Tribschen, where Wagner and Cosima lived. Within two years of their first lunch, Nietzsche had his own bedroom in the house (King Ludwig II, Wagner’s great benefactor, had the other room). For the first few years, the two enjoyed each other’s company, going for day-long walks in the nearby hills talking philosophy and music. Ross describes how each profited from the friendship: “Nietzsche seized on the chance to align himself with a star of European culture. Wagner, who lacked strong support in the academic world, knew the value of having a gifted and impassioned scholar at his side.”
Of course, there was more to it than that. Nietzsche agreed with Wagner’s view that culture and society could be rejuvenated through the transformative power of art. Nietzsche’s 1872 book, The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music, expanded on Wagner’s ideas in Art and Revolution. Nietzsche claimed that Greek tragedy arose out of the “spirit of music” by balancing the creative Dionysian impulse with the rules of Apollonian order. The balance, achieved in the plays of Aeschylus, was upset by the rationalist influence of Socrates and Euripides, while the corrective was a “gradual awakening of the Dionysian spirit”—an outcome which, not least because of its references to The Ring, flattered the Dionysian Wagner. The good feelings, however, did not last forever. Nietzsche had begun to chafe, in part because he was treated like a menial (being sent on occasion to town to collect caramels or Wagner’s silk underwear), in part because of Wagner’s rampant anti-Semitism and Francophobia, and (we surmise) in much greater part because of Wagner’s impossible personality.
In the early 1870s, the Wagners moved to Bayreuth, 350 miles away from Tribschen, where construction was starting on the Festspielhaus, Wagner’s shrine for the performance of his later operas. Ross describes how in 1876 Wagner dragooned Nietzsche into writing puff pieces for the first Bayreuth Festival. They did little to save the Festival from financial losses. Nevertheless, as Ross shows, in addition to exhibiting Wagner the composer and theorist, it led to Wagner’s pioneering of modern techniques of mass dissemination and publicity. Ross quotes Nicholas Vazsonyi’s remark that “Wagner’s special skill was the ability to preserve the artistic integrity of his towering works amidst the blaze of commodification to which he in the first place had subjected them”—an observation that would undoubtedly have amused Nietzsche who, by this point, was having second thoughts about Wagner’s motives and intentions.
What Wagner disliked in Nietzsche—the pitilessness, the exaltation of power—and what Nietzsche disliked in Wagner—the Teutonic chauvinism, the antisemitism—added up to an approximation of the fascist mentality. Once the better angels of their natures are set aside, Wagner and Nietzsche darkly complete each other in the Nazi mind.
Even after Nietzsche published a host of other anti-Wagner writings, however, the spell of Wagner’s music lingered. In Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche alluded to him as the “old sorcerer,” a reference to the bewitching power of his music. And in his “ultimate act of apostasy,” The Case of Wagner, Nietzsche confessed that he understood perfectly when a musician says, “I hate Wagner, but I cannot stand any other music.”
Ross shows how, over time, the English response to Wagner, moving from hostility to acceptance, was the reverse of his relationship with Nietzsche. For Wagner, nineteenth-century London was a real-life Nibelheim, the subterranean hellscape in The Ring representing everything he loathed about modern society. “[W]orld domination, activity, work, and everywhere the oppressive feeling of steam and fog,” he described it...
He was not alone in his reaction against modernity:

https://books.google.com/books?id=OYYfAwAAQBAJ&pg=PA60&dq=%22universal+symptom+of+the+growing+pains+of+modernity%22+%22overwhelmed+by+how+depressing+the+dark,+polluted+industrial+cities+of+England+had+become%22&hl=en&newbks=1&newbks_redir=0&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjhrby26oLsAhWEMewKHR-8ABgQ6AEwAHoECAUQAg#v=onepage&q=%22universal%20symptom%20of%20the%20growing%20pains%20of%20modernity%22%20%22overwhelmed%20by%20how%20depressing%20the%20dark%2C%20polluted%20industrial%20cities%20of%20England%20had%20become%22&f=false
meyers...@gmail.com
2020-09-24 23:44:40 UTC
Permalink
Post by Oscar
<< The “old sorcerer”
by James F. Penrose
A review of Wagnerism by Alex Ross
As befits one of history’s great megalomaniacs, Richard Wagner worried deeply about his posthumous reputation. “He believes,” his wife Cosima lamented, “that after his death they will drop his works entirely and he will live on in human memory as a phantom.”
In a sense, Wagner’s fears were understandable. The acceptance of his music, particularly in Paris, took many difficult years. Rienzi, Forbidden Love, and The Flying Dutchman, despite Giacomo Meyerbeer’s generous help, went nowhere, and the spectacular failure of Tannhäuser in 1861 infuriated him for the rest of his life. He never understood how much he impeded his progress by his outlandish behavior and matchless talent for irritating people. “His life,” wrote one biographer, “resembles a ship steering with incredible recklessness among every sort of shoal and rock.” Today, though, Wagner’s concerns seem almost laughably misplaced. Even by the late 1860s, he had secured the international reputation and stature that he never relinquished. Today, Tristan und Isolde, Parsifal, Tannhäuser, and the Ring operas still play to awed and overwhelmed audiences.
Wagner’s writings anticipate and complement his music. As is generally known, Art and Revolution and Opera and Drama explain the synesthetic concept of the Gesamtkunst (“totality of art”) that he thought gave his operas their cumulative power. Believing that society could be reformed and saved through a quasi-religious approach to art, Wagner advocated for theatrical reforms that he believed would lead to a better and happier world. He shows himself as a political and musical revolutionary, a utopian even, formulating his artistic legacy, the “artwork of the future.” On a darker note, his “Judaism in Music” essay reveals him as a nasty anti-Semite, madly jealous of Felix Mendelssohn and furious with the likes of Meyerbeer and the critics that in his estimation did little to promote his music. While his rebarbative views on race made it easy for the Nazis to co-opt him, Alex Ross’s new book dryly notes that even with that huge negative, Wagner successfully “survived the ruination of Hitler’s love.”
Ross’s Wagnerism: Art and Politics in the Shadow of Music describes Wagner’s influence on the other arts: literature (Willa Cather, George Eliot, Thomas Mann), poetry (Baudelaire, Mallarmé, T. S. Eliot), painting (Van Gogh, Cézanne, Klimt), sculpture (Arno Breker), and architecture (Louis Sullivan, Josef Hoffman). In many cases, however, “influence” is perhaps a misnomer. For non-musicians, Wagner tended to be all things to all men, and Ross shows how many artists and writers identifying as Wagnerites actually projected their different styles onto him—creating a god in man’s own image, as it were. “You returned me to myself,” wrote Baudelaire, and “We found ourselves in Richard Wagner,” said Edouard Dujardin. Though his acolytes cover an impossibly large field, the thing they had in common was wanting to be revolutionary, willing, in Wagner’s words, to “[d]o something new! New! And again new!” And they took to heart his admonition that “[i]f you hang onto the old, the devil of unproductivity has you, and you will be the most unhappy artist!”
Drawing on hundreds of bibliographical sources and copiously end-noted, Ross’s Wagnerism is exhaustive, a clear labor of love but one structurally weakened by the diffusiveness of its subject matter. Ross claims too much and admits as much: “[d]ialogues between genres,”—i.e. between music and other arts—“are not always persuasive or coherent.” The consequence is a blurred narrative in parts and a sense that points are being stretched. The set designer Adolphe Appia explained the central problem: “any attempt to transfer the Wagnerian idea into a work not based on music is a contradiction of that very idea.”
The book’s strengths lie in its early chapter accounts of the development of the Bayreuth Festspielhaus and the English, American, and French responses to Wagner’s music. “Each country saw Wagner through a self-fashioned prism,” Ross writes. In England, Wagnerism replicated the Pre-Raphaelites’ search for a bucolic, Arthurian past. In the United States, Wagnerism had similarities to the “national love of wilderness sagas, frontier lore, Native American tales and stories of desperadoes searching for gold.” France, though, was another story. There, Wagnerism was modernism personified, and Ross’s accounts of the radical personalities and violent controversies churned up by the Wagner cult are colorful and occasionally disturbing. His explanation of Wagner’s magpie philosophy that drew from (and discarded when convenient) a string of thinkers including Hegel, Feuerbach, Prudhomme, Schopenhauer, and many, many others is clear and enjoyable. Ross’s description of Wagner’s dealings with Friedrich Nietzsche is another strength.
Wagner and Nietzsche first met in 1868, the year before the latter, younger man took up his professorship at the University of Basel. A talented pianist, Nietzsche worked his way as a teenager through a piano score of Tristan and was mesmerized. “Every fibre, every nerve in me is quivering,” he later wrote after hearing the Tristan prelude, and he spent much of his life wondering how Wagner did it.
Shortly after his start at Basel, Nietzsche traveled cross-country to Tribschen, where Wagner and Cosima lived. Within two years of their first lunch, Nietzsche had his own bedroom in the house (King Ludwig II, Wagner’s great benefactor, had the other room). For the first few years, the two enjoyed each other’s company, going for day-long walks in the nearby hills talking philosophy and music. Ross describes how each profited from the friendship: “Nietzsche seized on the chance to align himself with a star of European culture. Wagner, who lacked strong support in the academic world, knew the value of having a gifted and impassioned scholar at his side.”
Of course, there was more to it than that. Nietzsche agreed with Wagner’s view that culture and society could be rejuvenated through the transformative power of art. Nietzsche’s 1872 book, The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music, expanded on Wagner’s ideas in Art and Revolution. Nietzsche claimed that Greek tragedy arose out of the “spirit of music” by balancing the creative Dionysian impulse with the rules of Apollonian order. The balance, achieved in the plays of Aeschylus, was upset by the rationalist influence of Socrates and Euripides, while the corrective was a “gradual awakening of the Dionysian spirit”—an outcome which, not least because of its references to The Ring, flattered the Dionysian Wagner. The good feelings, however, did not last forever. Nietzsche had begun to chafe, in part because he was treated like a menial (being sent on occasion to town to collect caramels or Wagner’s silk underwear), in part because of Wagner’s rampant anti-Semitism and Francophobia, and (we surmise) in much greater part because of Wagner’s impossible personality.
In the early 1870s, the Wagners moved to Bayreuth, 350 miles away from Tribschen, where construction was starting on the Festspielhaus, Wagner’s shrine for the performance of his later operas. Ross describes how in 1876 Wagner dragooned Nietzsche into writing puff pieces for the first Bayreuth Festival. They did little to save the Festival from financial losses. Nevertheless, as Ross shows, in addition to exhibiting Wagner the composer and theorist, it led to Wagner’s pioneering of modern techniques of mass dissemination and publicity. Ross quotes Nicholas Vazsonyi’s remark that “Wagner’s special skill was the ability to preserve the artistic integrity of his towering works amidst the blaze of commodification to which he in the first place had subjected them”—an observation that would undoubtedly have amused Nietzsche who, by this point, was having second thoughts about Wagner’s motives and intentions.
What Wagner disliked in Nietzsche—the pitilessness, the exaltation of power—and what Nietzsche disliked in Wagner—the Teutonic chauvinism, the antisemitism—added up to an approximation of the fascist mentality. Once the better angels of their natures are set aside, Wagner and Nietzsche darkly complete each other in the Nazi mind.
Even after Nietzsche published a host of other anti-Wagner writings, however, the spell of Wagner’s music lingered. In Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche alluded to him as the “old sorcerer,” a reference to the bewitching power of his music. And in his “ultimate act of apostasy,” The Case of Wagner, Nietzsche confessed that he understood perfectly when a musician says, “I hate Wagner, but I cannot stand any other music.”
Ross shows how, over time, the English response to Wagner, moving from hostility to acceptance, was the reverse of his relationship with Nietzsche. For Wagner, nineteenth-century London was a real-life Nibelheim, the subterranean hellscape in The Ring representing everything he loathed about modern society. “[W]orld domination, activity, work, and everywhere the oppressive feeling of steam and fog,” he described it. London was enemy territory in other respects, too. The Times’s critic vigorously disliked Wagner’s music, describing Lohengrin as “rank poison.” The predominant value of English music at the time was moral uplift, art that was “exempt from the trail of the serpent” and divorced from England’s rapid social change. For open-minded listeners, though, Wagner’s music eventually provided a place where they “could contemplate tensions between an idyllic past and an industrial present.”
An early lifeline came from the brilliant Mary Ann Evans—George Eliot—who wrote an admiring article about Wagner around 1854. In what must be a reference to his leitmovic construction, she wrote that opera should be “an organic whole, which grows up like a palm, its earliest portion containing the germ and prevision all the rest.” Not yet converted to his music, Eliot nevertheless praised Wagner’s dramatic construction, rejecting the “cheap ridicule” directed against him. Later, she based her own works on Wagner’s principles of organic unity. As she explained about Daniel Deronda, “everything in the book [was meant] to be related to everything else there,” and she would speak of the “roar which lies on the other side of silence”—the unspoken feelings of her characters.
Two decades after Eliot’s article appeared in England, the anti-Wagner climate there had softened considerably. The Lohengrin-hating critic at The Times had been replaced by a student of Nietzsche’s, Francis Hueffer. He and Edward Dannreuther, another transplanted German, not only did much to change English attitudes towards Wagner’s music but were also connected to the English Pre-Raphaelites. They, like Wagner, were dismayed at the spiritual erosion caused by the pace of change. “The leading passion of my life,” wrote William Morris, “has been and is a hatred of modern civilization.” Despite their similar outlooks, Morris could not bear Wagner’s music.
Ross describes how the Pre-Raphaelites took an interest in the Tannhäuser legend, in which the eponymous hero is torn between the erotic Dionysian, Venus, and the saintly Apollonian, Elisabeth. In 1861, the same year as Tannhäuser’s Parisian failure, Edward Burne-Jones painted his Laus Veneris (In Praise of Venus), Swinburne wrote a poem with the same name, and Morris began the even more explicitly titled poem Hill of Venus. Although the Pre-Raphaelites never joined the Wagner cult, Ross says, their aims and effects were largely similar.
Ross’s detailing of Wagner’s 1877 visit to London as well as his analysis of Swinburne’s and Morris’s neo-Wagnerianism make for interesting reading, but even more engaging—on an entirely different subject—are his remarks on the sanitized plot summaries that enterprising publishers prepared for the Victorian “young adult” market. Though they mostly dwell on Wagner’s “heroes and dragons” aspects, it is hard not to smile at the Cartlandesque description of the soon-to-be adulteress, Isolde, as “tall and very fair, with hair of a deep brilliant gold” and Tristan as “deeply tanned.” As the Liebesnacht begins, Ross reports, the two are “satisfying themselves and each other with assurances and proofs of their love and fidelity,” and he goes on to provide other droll examples (like Brunhilde’s live cremation in Gotterdämmerung) of the bowdlerizer’s art.
America had been considerably more receptive to Wagner’s music than some European countries, largely because of an émigré population that created “peak Wagnerism” there during the Gilded Age. Wagner reciprocated those warm feelings. Much to Cosima’s horror, he seriously considered uprooting himself from Bayreuth and moving to Minnesota. Upset by the low attendance and poor returns at the 1876 Festival, Wagner persuaded himself that the purest German stock had immigrated to the upper Midwest. These folk, he believed, were more capable of appreciating his music dramas than his unenthusiastic fellow citizens that stayed home. Ross tells us how Wagner worked with his dentist on a plan that would resettle the Wagner family somewhere with a propitious climate—so how Minnesota made the short list remains a mystery.
Wagner influenced American artists for good and for bad. After a performance of Gotterdämmerung, the artist Albert Pinkham Ryder spent two sleepless days painting his eerie Siegfried and the Rhine Maidens (1891), a picture that did much to influence Jackson Pollock. The Siegfried legend also influenced Owen Wister, the author of the archetypal Western The Virginian (1902)—a work containing, in Ross’s view, the elements of white supremacy, racism, and social Darwinism “that underlay so much of the rhetoric of Manifest Destiny.” In architecture, Ross describes how Paul Rosenfeld saw Wagner as providing theme music for America’s “vastness, its madly affluent wealth, and multiform power and transcontinental span,” and Ross expands on this with references to the work of John Wellborn Root, Daniel Burnham, and Louis Sullivan. He finishes the section by discussing the similarities between Wagner’s music and Walt Whitman’s poetry. For Whitman, the operas “attach themselves to the same theories of art that have been responsible for Leaves of Grass.”
Of Wagnerism’s various benign strains, the French variety was surely the most contagious and engulfing. “You cannot imagine the impression that this music made on those of my age,” said Alphonse Daudet to his son, “It truly transformed us.” Even though Wagner had spent a few years in Paris twenty years before, French Wagnerism really started in 1860 when he conducted three concerts at the Théâtre Italien that included the prelude to Tristan und Isolde, his dreamlike opera of love and death.
As was the case in England, admiration for Wagner grew slowly and attracted few admirers at first. Berlioz was in the nay camp, disparaging the prelude as a “sort of chromatic moaning.” Baudelaire, however, was an early devotee. Similar to how George Eliot defended Wagner in England, Baudelaire stood up for him after the Tannhäuser flop in late 1861 and helped turn public opinion against the “convocation of imbeciles blocking progress” and towards a new Wagner partisanship. But Baudelaire made an even longer lasting contribution. When the critic Paul Scudo heard “the qualities and defects of an epoch of decadence” in Wagner’s music, Baudelaire adopted the term, likening “decadence” to the synesthetic shocks of recognition that the music provoked in his own creative processes. By the end of the century, Ross tells us, the Wagnerian revelation had influenced scores of visual artists, writers, and poets. It contributed to the Symbolist movement and led to “dream logic, mental intoxication, formless form, limitless desire.”
As the Wagner circle grew, it attracted a number of highly original (and often, at least by current standards, daft) characters. These included Théophile Gautier’s gifted daughter Judith (whom Wagner, behind Cosima’s back, called his “Beloved Amplitude”); her husband, the handsome and perverse Catulle Mendès (whom Maupassant called a “lily in urine”); and the cackling Villiers de l’Isle-Adam, author of the mystical oddball drama Axël and the unsettling Contes Crueles. In the visual arts, Renoir, Monet, Rodin, Fantin-Latour, Cézanne, and others claimed to be Wagnerites. Conductors like Pasdeloup and Lamoureux kept the flame burning, and in due time the Rosicrucians (Péladan), Les XX (James Ensor), and Satanists (Huysmans, the disturbing Camille Lemonnier, and the even creepier Marcel Batilliat) all claimed lineage from Wagner. Whether we want to believe them is another matter.
Wagnerism is a huge work, “the great education of my life,” writes Ross, and it is a claim easy to accept. After leaving the French Wagnerites, he pushes on with analyses of the composer’s influence on the Kaiserreich, modernism, Cather, Joyce, and T. S. Eliot, Mann and Nazi Germany, film, and other subjects. Despite its accumulated learning, however, Wagnerism tells only half the story. We see the effect of Wagner but not a persuasive cause. The explanation that Wagner is “a blank screen on which spectators project themselves” raises questions: Why did they want to project themselves? How did Wagner attract them? By what means did he create the astonishing sounds that won him so many distinguished converts? The explanation surely lies in the power of his music, and it is surprising that, for a music critic, the author does not better develop this seemingly fundamental element. Reading Nietzsche’s late-life admission that Wagner showed him “the fifty worlds of foreign ecstasies that only he had wings to reach” makes us all the more curious. As it stands though, Wagnerism rather mimics Gioachino Rossini’s wry description of Wagner’s work: “beautiful moments and bad quarter hours.”
—James F. Penrose lives in Paris.
This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 39 Number 1, on page 63
Copyright © 2020 The New Criterion | http://www.newcriterion.com >>
https://newcriterion.com/issues/2020/9/the-old-sorcerer
Just received as a gift from my brother - can't wait to read it
Oscar
2020-09-25 00:32:43 UTC
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Post by ***@gmail.com
Just received as a gift from my brother - can't wait to read it
Cool! Nice gift. Tackling it, but working long hours and not making much progress as yet. Ross is an engaging writer. Loved The Rest Is Noise. High expectations for this one.
g***@gmail.com
2020-09-25 00:38:10 UTC
Permalink
Post by Oscar
<< The “old sorcerer”
by James F. Penrose
A review of Wagnerism by Alex Ross
As befits one of history’s great megalomaniacs, Richard Wagner worried deeply about his posthumous reputation. “He believes,” his wife Cosima lamented, “that after his death they will drop his works entirely and he will live on in human memory as a phantom.”
In a sense, Wagner’s fears were understandable. The acceptance of his music, particularly in Paris, took many difficult years. Rienzi, Forbidden Love, and The Flying Dutchman, despite Giacomo Meyerbeer’s generous help, went nowhere, and the spectacular failure of Tannhäuser in 1861 infuriated him for the rest of his life. He never understood how much he impeded his progress by his outlandish behavior and matchless talent for irritating people. “His life,” wrote one biographer, “resembles a ship steering with incredible recklessness among every sort of shoal and rock.” Today, though, Wagner’s concerns seem almost laughably misplaced. Even by the late 1860s, he had secured the international reputation and stature that he never relinquished. Today, Tristan und Isolde, Parsifal, Tannhäuser, and the Ring operas still play to awed and overwhelmed audiences.
Wagner’s writings anticipate and complement his music. As is generally known, Art and Revolution and Opera and Drama explain the synesthetic concept of the Gesamtkunst (“totality of art”) that he thought gave his operas their cumulative power. Believing that society could be reformed and saved through a quasi-religious approach to art, Wagner advocated for theatrical reforms that he believed would lead to a better and happier world. He shows himself as a political and musical revolutionary, a utopian even, formulating his artistic legacy, the “artwork of the future.” On a darker note, his “Judaism in Music” essay reveals him as a nasty anti-Semite, madly jealous of Felix Mendelssohn and furious with the likes of Meyerbeer and the critics that in his estimation did little to promote his music. While his rebarbative views on race made it easy for the Nazis to co-opt him, Alex Ross’s new book dryly notes that even with that huge negative, Wagner successfully “survived the ruination of Hitler’s love.”
Ross’s Wagnerism: Art and Politics in the Shadow of Music describes Wagner’s influence on the other arts: literature (Willa Cather, George Eliot, Thomas Mann), poetry (Baudelaire, Mallarmé, T. S. Eliot), painting (Van Gogh, Cézanne, Klimt), sculpture (Arno Breker), and architecture (Louis Sullivan, Josef Hoffman). In many cases, however, “influence” is perhaps a misnomer. For non-musicians, Wagner tended to be all things to all men, and Ross shows how many artists and writers identifying as Wagnerites actually projected their different styles onto him—creating a god in man’s own image, as it were. “You returned me to myself,” wrote Baudelaire, and “We found ourselves in Richard Wagner,” said Edouard Dujardin. Though his acolytes cover an impossibly large field, the thing they had in common was wanting to be revolutionary, willing, in Wagner’s words, to “[d]o something new! New! And again new!”...
Could Wagner have lived simply at the right time?:

https://groups.google.com/forum/#!topic/soc.history.early-modern/tFBWcMmFKns
Al Eisner
2020-09-25 20:44:20 UTC
Permalink
Newly available in the Berlin Philharmonic Digital Concert Hall archive,
from a Sept. 19, 2020 program (orchestra socially distanced, only
glimpses provided of front row of audience):

Berg, Violin Concerto, Frank Peter Zimmermann, Kirill Petrenko

Program also includes Dvorak's 5th Symphony, which I'll surely lisen
to later. The Concerto was impressive.
--
Al Eisner
number_six
2020-09-26 17:52:02 UTC
Permalink
Ross' new book could make an interesting companion to J-J Nattiez' WAGNER ANDROGYNE, an as yet unread copy of which I have on hand.
g***@gmail.com
2020-09-26 14:42:35 UTC
Permalink
Post by Oscar
<< The “old sorcerer”
by James F. Penrose
A review of Wagnerism by Alex Ross
As befits one of history’s great megalomaniacs, Richard Wagner worried deeply about his posthumous reputation. “He believes,” his wife Cosima lamented, “that after his death they will drop his works entirely and he will live on in human memory as a phantom.”
In a sense, Wagner’s fears were understandable. The acceptance of his music, particularly in Paris, took many difficult years. Rienzi, Forbidden Love, and The Flying Dutchman, despite Giacomo Meyerbeer’s generous help, went nowhere, and the spectacular failure of Tannhäuser in 1861 infuriated him for the rest of his life. He never understood how much he impeded his progress by his outlandish behavior and matchless talent for irritating people. “His life,” wrote one biographer, “resembles a ship steering with incredible recklessness among every sort of shoal and rock.” Today, though, Wagner’s concerns seem almost laughably misplaced. Even by the late 1860s, he had secured the international reputation and stature that he never relinquished. Today, Tristan und Isolde, Parsifal, Tannhäuser, and the Ring operas still play to awed and overwhelmed audiences.
Wagner’s writings anticipate and complement his music. As is generally known, Art and Revolution and Opera and Drama explain the synesthetic concept of the Gesamtkunst (“totality of art”) that he thought gave his operas their cumulative power. Believing that society could be reformed and saved through a quasi-religious approach to art, Wagner advocated for theatrical reforms that he believed would lead to a better and happier world. He shows himself as a political and musical revolutionary, a utopian even, formulating his artistic legacy, the “artwork of the future.” On a darker note, his “Judaism in Music” essay reveals him as a nasty anti-Semite, madly jealous of Felix Mendelssohn and furious with the likes of Meyerbeer and the critics that in his estimation did little to promote his music. While his rebarbative views on race made it easy for the Nazis to co-opt him, Alex Ross’s new book dryly notes that even with that huge negative, Wagner successfully “survived the ruination of Hitler’s love.”
Ross’s Wagnerism: Art and Politics in the Shadow of Music describes Wagner’s influence on the other arts: literature (Willa Cather, George Eliot, Thomas Mann), poetry (Baudelaire, Mallarmé, T. S. Eliot), painting (Van Gogh, Cézanne, Klimt), sculpture (Arno Breker), and architecture (Louis Sullivan, Josef Hoffman). In many cases, however, “influence” is perhaps a misnomer. For non-musicians, Wagner tended to be all things to all men, and Ross shows how many artists and writers identifying as Wagnerites actually projected their different styles onto him—creating a god in man’s own image, as it were...
If Wagner's art and ideas "...tended to be all things to all men...", is it because of this?:

https://groups.google.com/forum/#!topic/humanities.music.composers.wagner/wCawd5Fku4w
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