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Richard Wagner and the Centrality of Love

Richard Wagner and the Centrality of Love

Barry Emslie
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Richard Wagner and the Centrality of Love
    Book Description:

    Richard Wagner and the Centrality of Love is a bold book which argues that Wagner's music dramas cannot be understood if treated separately from his essays, his life, the intellectual and artistic climate of his day, and the broader history of Germany. Wagner attempts a range of reconciliations that are radical in content and form and appear to succeed partly because he is in well-nigh complete command of the aesthetic product; not only text and music, but also production practice. Nonetheless, all the reconciliations ultimately break down, but in a manner that is illuminating. This is not a celebration of the seamless work of art, but a radical unpicking of the seemingly seamless. 'Love' is the central organising concept of the whole Wagnerian project. Love - sexual and spiritual, egotistical and charitable, love of the individual and of the race - is the key Wagnerian driving force. And therefore so is hate. Of course Wagner cannot employ love without its opposite, and it is critically significant that his anti-semitism is based upon his view that the Jews are 'loveless'. The book handles Wagner's anti-semitism (and the ongoing row about it) in a unique way, in that it is shown to be aesthetically and intellectually productive (for him!). This leads to a radical reinterpretation of Wagner's music dramas. BARRY EMSLIE is an independent scholar who lives and teaches in Berlin.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-808-7
    Subjects: Music, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. Author’s Note
    (pp. vi-viii)
  4. Chapter 1 Introduction, or the Uses of Love
    (pp. 1-7)

    Even among major creative figures Richard Wagner is a special case. This is not simply because so much is written about him, although that does mean that every new book is compelled – as here – into an act of self-justification. Rather it is the result of two other factors which the publication plethora merely reflects. The first is that we know so much about him, a good deal of which has emerged relatively recently, following struggles within the Wagner clan. Now there are thousands of letters, copious diaries (above all those of his second wife Cosima) alongside Wagner’s own ambitious and...

  5. Chapter 2 Sensuality and Spirituality in the Early Music Dramas
    (pp. 8-20)

    There are many possible ways of approaching both the dichotomy formed by the conflicting claims of sensual and spiritual love, and Wagner’s attempts to resolve them. No doubt this reflects its status as the most fundamental and far-reaching tension in Wagner’s intellectual, personal and artistic struggles. For Wagner must have it both ways. That is, the indulgence of sensual ecstasy is not to lead for the Wagnerian hero and thus by implication to his creator, to any diminution in his status as a lofty and spiritual figure whose fundamental agenda is to recognise and save his own soul, the soul...

  6. Chapter 3 Music and the Eternal Feminine
    (pp. 21-54)

    Wagner is an interesting figure with respect to German idealist philosophy, in that he brings two qualities to it that are wholly apposite but might not seem to be necessary. They are music and the idealised woman.

    It is true that the most influential German idealist philosopher, Kant, did not rank music as highly as the other arts, and that Hegel, who both continued the idealist tradition and gave it, additionally, considerable purchase in explaining how the narrative course of actual lived history was motored, wasn’t obsessed by it either. But thereafter it was to come into its own. Schopenhauer...

  7. Chapter 4 The Ring of the Nibelung
    (pp. 55-127)

    There are two obvious but frequently overlooked points which should be immediately mentioned with respect to Wagner’sRing cycle. The first is that it is ostensibly pagan and the second that it is a mess. Both will emerge in what follows as not only striking, but important. Perhaps it is best to begin with the latter not least because it will allow us to say something about Wagner’s musical language without stepping outside the – admittedly broad – theoretical parameters of this book.

    There are many reasons whyThe Ringis a mess. However, when raising this matter one consideration immediately surfaces,...

  8. Chapter 5 Love and Death: Tristan und Isolde
    (pp. 128-166)

    In 1862 wagner suggests a programme of his own music for a symphony concert in Leipzig. He proposes something which is now standard in the concert hall: the prelude to the first act ofTristan und Isolde(the work was completed in 1859), which would then be followed ‘without a break’ by the ‘closing section of the opera (without singing)’ . Interesting are the titles he gives to these two orchestral pieces. The latter, which Wagnerians have come to call theLiebestod(the love-death), he refers to as the ‘transfiguration’, while, at least for the purpose of a concert performance,...

  9. Chapter 6 The Mastersingers of Nuremberg
    (pp. 167-222)

    This masterpiece is going to function quite differently from the others simply because it is a comedy. Wagner got his ideas of comedy from, in particular, Shakespeare, whom he read avidly, and from Goldoni, whose plays he attended in Venice in 1859 and which, he tells us inMy Life, he greatly enjoyed. That is, Wagner is not likely to think of a comedy as merely, or even essentially, a story with a happy end. After all, in Wagnerian termsThe Flying Dutchmanhas a happy end, but it is not very funny. Rather, the sort of comedy Wagner had...

  10. Chapter 7 Parsifal
    (pp. 223-254)

    There is an obvious solecism in approachingParsifalin the manner I have already flagged. It is the common solecism to which all explanations of an artist’s career that are structured around a chronological account of his or her work are vulnerable. And this is so even if that structure is, as here, played with fairly freely and certain works (in this case most obviously the three operas beforeThe Flying Dutchman) and certain essential matters (in this case a technical musical analysis) are neglected. It is the solecism of seeing the final work as some kind ofipso facto...

  11. Chapter 8 Contradictions and Speculations
    (pp. 255-294)

    Wagner is trapped in contradictions of his own making because he is, in the first instance, intellectually brave and highly imaginative. But he is also uncompromising. He pursues his objectives ruthlessly and, as a result, he seldom shirks the dilemmas into which his own theories and praxis lead him. That is, he does not avoid those contradictions with which he is confronted as a result of hisowncreative fecundity, although he might well attempt to rationalise them away. So while he evolved for the music dramas a particular aesthetic form (the so-calledGesamtkunstwerk) which allegedly gave him a coherent...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 295-300)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 301-306)
  14. Index
    (pp. 307-312)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 313-313)