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Richard Wagner and His World

Richard Wagner and His World

Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 576
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    Richard Wagner and His World
    Book Description:

    Richard Wagner (1813-1883) aimed to be more than just a composer. He set out to redefine opera as a "total work of art" combining the highest aspirations of drama, poetry, the symphony, the visual arts, even religion and philosophy. Equally celebrated and vilified in his own time, Wagner continues to provoke debate today regarding his political legacy as well as his music and aesthetic theories.Wagner and His Worldexamines his works in their intellectual and cultural contexts.

    Seven original essays investigate such topics as music drama in light of rituals of naming in the composer's works and the politics of genre; the role of leitmotif in Wagner's reception; the urge for extinction inTristan und Isoldeas psychology and symbol; Wagner as his own stage director; his conflicted relationship with pianist-composer Franz Liszt; the anti-French satireEine Kapitulationin the context of the Franco-Prussian War; and responses of Jewish writers and musicians to Wagner's anti-Semitism. In addition to the editor, the contributors are Karol Berger, Leon Botstein, Lydia Goehr, Kenneth Hamilton, Katherine Syer, and Christian Thorau.

    This book also includes translations of essays, reviews, and memoirs by champions and detractors of Wagner; glimpses into his domestic sphere in Tribschen and Bayreuth; and all of Wagner's program notes to his own works. Introductions and annotations are provided by the editor and David Breckbill, Mary A. Cicora, James Deaville, Annegret Fauser, Steven Huebner, David Trippett, and Nicholas Vazsonyi.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3178-4
    Subjects: Music, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    Thomas S. Grey
  4. Permissions
    (pp. xv-xvi)

    • From Page to Stage: Wagner as Regisseur
      (pp. 3-26)

      Nowadays we tend to think of Richard Wagner as an opera composer whose ambitions and versatility extended beyond those of most musicians. From the beginning of his career he assumed the role of his own librettist, and he gradually expanded his sphere of involvement to include virtually all aspects of bringing an opera to the stage. If we focus our attention on the detailed dramatic scenarios he created as the bases for his stage works, we might well consider Wagner as a librettist whose ambitions extended rather unusually to the area of composition. In this light, Wagner could be considered...

    • Wagner and Liszt: Elective Affinities
      (pp. 27-64)

      In biographies of Wagner and Liszt the figure of the other always looms large, whether as supported or supporter, borrower or lender, unlikely son-in-law or reluctant father-in-law. At the first Bayreuth Festival Wagner effusively claimed that “not a note” of his music would have been known were it not for the faith of his friend, while in an apocryphal version of Liszt’s death the ailing maestro expires with the word “Tristan©” on his lips.¹ Their destinies had been closely entwined since the late 1840s, when Wagner was enduring one of the deepest of his self-inflicted sloughs of despair, and Liszt...

    • From Opera to Music Drama: Nominal Loss, Titular Gain
      (pp. 65-86)

      A recent contribution to Wagner scholarship is aNew Grove GuidetitledWagner and His Operas.¹ In each chapter devoted to the individual works, the author, Barry Millington, opens with a descriptive name, given in German, with mention thereafter of the work’s number of acts. Usually that number is three, although there are some exceptions, as the following chronological list makes explicit. Millington designatesDie Feen,first, as agrosse romantische Oper(grand romantic opera); second,Das Liebesverbot oder die Novize von Palermoas agrosse komische Oper(grand comic opera) in 2 acts; and, third,Rienzi, der Letzte der...

    • Eine Kapitulation: Aristophanic Operetta as Cultural Warfare in 1870
      (pp. 87-122)

      In the seclusion of his Swiss villa Tribschen on the shores of Lake Lucerne, Richard Wagner enjoyed the Franco-Prussian War immensely. Of course, the war against France aroused patriotic, not to say chauvinistic enthusiasm in Germans of all stripes, Brahms no less than the young Friedrich Nietzsche, for instance. Especially following the strategic defeats of the French at Sedan, Strasbourg, and Metz in the late summer and autumn of 1870, German support for the war was vigorous and nearly universal. For Wagner, however, it was a personal as well as a national affair: the Prussian-led campaign against the French Second...

    • A Note on Tristan’s Death Wish
      (pp. 123-132)

      Tristan und Isolde,a story of love’s consummation in a transfiguring death, raises two obvious questions. Is death as inevitable an issue of love as this opera suggests? And what exactly is the sense of the “transfiguration” at the end, how does it differ from deathtout court?The first of these questions is answered within the opera; the second is not, and hence is more challenging. The final orchestral cadence, by providing the ubiquitous Tristan chord for the first and only time with a tonic resolution (but one a whole tone higher than what had been implied throughout the...

    • Guides for Wagnerites: Leitmotifs and Wagnerian Listening
      (pp. 133-150)

      It is July 1876, in Bayreuth. In the weeks preceding the premiere of Wagner’s long-awaited “stage festival drama,” Hans von Wolzogen publishes a one-hundred-page booklet titledThematischer Leitfaden durch die Musik zu Richard Wagners Festspiel “Der Ring des Nibelungen”(Thematic guide through the music to Richard Wagner’s festival dramaThe Ring of the Nibelung;see Figure 1). Together with an introduction to the mythological plot, thisLeitfadenoffers a detailed musical analysis of the entire work. By naming, systematizing, and interpreting all of the principal musical motives of Wagner’s score, Wolzogen weaves a “leading thread” through the fourteen–hour cycle...

    • German Jews and Wagner
      (pp. 151-198)

      In his lectures on Richard Wagner at the University of Vienna held during the 1903–4 academic year, the music historian Guido Adler felt obliged to confront the claims in Wagner’s notorious essay “Das Judentum in der Musik” (Judaism in Music). He characterized them as reprehensible political commonplaces, part of a social tirade unbecoming a great artist. Adler and his audience were keenly aware of the electoral successes of Vienna’s charismatic Christian Socialist mayor, Karl Lueger, who during the 1890s had deftly exploited a potent populist and political anti–Semitism in the city.¹ Adler, who was born a Jew, conceded...


    • Wilhelmine Schröder-Devrient and Wagner’s Dresden
      (pp. 201-229)

      Throughout his life Richard Wagner consistently attributed a decisive influence on his career as a “musical dramatist” to the early example of operatic performances by Wilhelmine Schröder-Devrient. The daughter of an accomplished operatic baritone, Friedrich Schröder, and his wife, Sophie (née Bürger), perhaps the most celebrated German actress of her day, Wilhelmine was trained from earliest childhood in all aspects of the theater: ballet, pantomime, and acting as well as singing. She was catapulted to fame in November 1822 when, not quite eighteen, she electrified Viennese audiences as the heroine in a revival of the revisedFidelio,a production at...

    • Catulle Mendès Visits Tribschen
      (pp. 230-236)

      Although the hard-fought production ofTannhäuserin Paris in 1861 was a notorious fiasco,¹ Wagner’s presence in Paris at this fertile moment in French cultural history captured the attention of several notable literary figures, above all Charles Baudelaire, whose essay “Wagner andTannhäuserin Paris” (Révue européenne, 1 April 1861) proved to be the cornerstone of an illustrious Wagnerian legacy among French poets of the pioneering generation of modernism. The Symbolist movements, led by Stéphane Mallarmé,is often traced back to Baudelaire’s essay.² Of the same generation as Mallarmé and Paul Verlaine was the poet, playwright, and novelist Catulle Mendès (1841...

    • Recollections of Villa Wahnfried from Wagner’s American Dentist
      (pp. 237-248)

      Toward the end of his life Wagner frequently entertained the fantasy of moving himself, his family, and his whole artistic enterprise to America. The principal motive was financial. Continually harassed and depressed by the debts incurred through the Bayreuth festival of 1876, which of course had entailed the construction of an entire custom-designed theater, Wagner imagined that the New World of infinite enterprise and commerce might easily take up the reins of patronage that had slackened in the hands of Ludwig II, and which Bismarck and the Kaiser had disdained to take over in the name of the German nation....


    • The Overture to Tannhäuser
      (pp. 251-268)

      Early in 1842, Wagner knew he had failed to conquer Paris. In April of that year, he crossed the Rhein with Minna, relieved to return to Saxony and turn his back on the erstwhile dream of an eye-watering success at the Opéra. “This is something I must now leave behind me forever,” he admitted to his friend, the minor philologist Samuel Lehrs in 1843; “we opera composers cannot be European—so the question is—eitherGerman or French!”¹ Of course, this was something of a Hobson’s choice for Wagner as he assumed his post as royal Kapellmeister at the court...

    • Letters to a Young Composer About Wagner
      (pp. 269-310)

      The flautist, music theorist, composer, and writer Johann Christian Lobe (1797–1881) embarked on a career in music criticism as early as 1826 as co-editor of theMusikalische Eilpost, and would work as correspondent,columnist, reviewer, and independent writer for a host of the most respected music journals and newspapers in Germany before editing theAllgemeine musikalische Zeitungin its final years (1846–48) and the music section from theLeipzig Illustrirte Zeitung(1861–63). By the mid-1840s, needless to say, he was intimately enmeshed in the debates about the purpose of music criticism, as well as acting as one of...

    • Franz Brendel’s Reconciliation Address
      (pp. 311-332)

      Franz Brendel (1811–68) took over the editorship of theNeue Zeitschrift für Musikfrom Robert Schumann at the end of 1845—Schumann had founded the journal in Leipzig in 1834, to provide an alternative to the conservativeAllgemeine musikalische Zeitung(1798–1848). The twenty-fifth anniversary of the journal’s founding was the occasion for the Leipzig Tonkünstler-Versammlung (musicians’ assembly) of June 1859, at which Brendel delivered the opening address: “Advancing an Understanding.”¹ The talk’s historical importance resides in Brendel’s coinage of the designation “New German School” for the music of Wagner, Liszt, and Berlioz, to replace the term “Zukunftsmusik” (music...


    • Wagner Admires Meyerbeer (Les Huguenots)
      (pp. 335-346)

      The vituperation heaped upon the German-Jewish composer of French grand opera, Giacomo Meyerbeer, by Richard Wagner in such writingsas “Judaism in Music” (1850) orOpera and Drama(1852) knew no bounds. Professional envy mixed with an element of persecution mania, exaggerated aesthetic convictions, and racial bigotry all contributed to this astounding flow of invective. In the notorious “Judaism in Music,” Wagner does not even deign to speak the name of Meyerbeer, but merely refers to “a widely renowned Jewish musician of our time” who has made a business of catering to the boredom and confused musical tastes of the contemporary...

    • Debacle at the Paris Opéra: Tannhäuser and the French Critics, 1861
      (pp. 347-371)

      By the time the curtain rose on the Paris production of Richard Wagner’sTannhäuseron March 13, 1861, French artists and critics had been discussing the German composer and his aesthetic ideas for almost a year. As the overture started in the pit of the splendid opera house in the rue Le Peletier, audiences and critics alike knew that they were attending a historic event in a theater that had seen the premieres of such stalwarts of French opera as Fromental Halévy’sLa juiveand Giacomo Meyerbeer’sLes Huguenots. Here was a mid-career German composer—who had had some success...

    • TheRevue wagnérienne: Symbolism, Aestheticism, and Germanophilia
      (pp. 372-388)

      “I felt as if released from gravity, with rekindled memories of voluptuous pleasures that circulate in lofty places.”¹ Thus wrote Charles Baudelaire on March 18, 1861, recalling the dream state triggered by theLohengrinOverture performed at one of Wagner’s Parisian concerts the previous year. Although Baudelaire’s advocacy for Wagner’s music did nothing to resuscitateTannhäuserfrom its inglorious demise at the Paris Opéra that very week, his essay remained a touchstone for French Wagnerians until the end of the century. And thus, it also initiated a remarkably resilient double-track in the ensuing French reception of Wagner. Official and institutional...


    • Press Releases from the Bayreuth Festival, 1876: An Early Attempt at Spin Control
      (pp. 391-408)

      As final preparations for the first launch of the Bayreuth festival got under way, J. Zimmermann, editor of the local paper, theBayreuther Tageblatt,began a series of what ended up as twenty-three press releases to report on the events. Every fourteen days between May and August 1876, these articles, under the heading “Bayreuther autographische Korrespondenz,” were distributed by the festival board to approximately 180 press outlets throughout Germany.¹ The releases covered a wide variety of topics: the arrival of the performers, preparations by the town for the anticipated massive influx of visitors, the progress of the final rehearsals, listings...

    • Hanslick contra Wagner: “The Ring Cycle Comes to Vienna” and “Parsifal Literature”
      (pp. 409-425)

      “Actually, Wagner had no foes in the sense of absolute, one-sided enmity”—thus wrote Eduard Hanslick in a short obituary piece commemorating the composer’s passing on February 13, 1883. “I have never met a musician so obtuse, or so violently partisan, as to overlook his brilliant endowment and his astonishing art, or underestimate his enormous influence, or to deny the greatness and genius of his works, even granting personal antipathy. Wagner has been fought, but he has never been denied.”¹ It is only natural that Wagner’s death might elicit a sympathetic note of appreciation from his celebrated nemesis. But by...

    • Hans von Wolzogen’s Parsifal (1887)
      (pp. 426-434)

      With the foundation of the Bayreuth theater in 1872 and the first Bayreuth Festival in 1876, there began to form around Wagner in Bayreuth a group of followers known as the “Bayreuth circle.” The publication organ of the Bayreuth circle was theBayreuther Blätter,which was published from 1878 to 1938. With this periodical the members of the Wagner circle intended to discuss and spread Wagner’s views on art and society. The composer, however, never fully identified himself with what was published in the journal, which remained the pet project of Hans von Wolzogen (he remained the sole editor up...

    • Cosima Wagner’s Bayreuth
      (pp. 435-476)

      “Der grosse Todte lebt!” (The great dead man lives!) With this slogan—the conclusion of his lengthy essay-review for theMusikalisches Wochenblattof the 1886 Bayreuth Festival, a portion of which appears below—Arthur Seidl deftly captures the meaning of Bayreuth for a significant swath of Wagnerians in the years just following Wagner’s death. Seidl himself spelled out the matter more specifically in another, slightly later review. After listing and critizing numerous shortcomings in Munich’sRingproduction of August 23-29, 1886, Seidl was moved to claim:

      It will always seem to me that Wagner is still not sufficient understood and...


    • Wagner Introduces Wagner (and Beethoven): Program Notes Written for Concert Performances by and of Richard Wagner 1846–1880
      (pp. 479-520)

      A common denominator of Wagner’s activities as a composer, a dramatist, and a writer might be identified as “the urge to communicate,” as James Treadwell has put it. “Addressing readers as urgently and powerfully as possible seems to be a habit he was born with,” he remarks of Wagner the writer.¹ Such influential critics as Nietzsche and Adorno expressed similar reactions to Wagner the composer. It would be fair to suggest that his central commitment to musical drama as a medium or a genre reflects this urge to speak to his audience at once articulately (through language), immediately (through dramatic...

  11. Index
    (pp. 523-536)
  12. Notes on the Contributors
    (pp. 539-542)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 543-544)