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Reviewed by:
  • Richard Wagner and His World
  • Stephen Thursby
Richard Wagner and His World. Edited by Thomas S. Grey. (Bard Music Festival Series.) Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009. [xv, 542 p. ISBN 9780691143651 (hardcover), $70; ISBN 9780691143668 (paperback), $26.95.] Music examples, photographs, illustrations, index.

Many have written about Richard Wagner, his ideas, influence, and music. In the preface to Richard Wagner and His World, a new addition to the Bard Music Festival series, editor Thomas Grey concedes that "no single volume can hope to encompass the whole range of [Wagner's] musical and cultural legacy" (p. ix). He affirms, however, that this collection represents an attempt to "address the whole range" of Wagner's activities: "musical, theatrical, critical, polemical" (p. x). Grey defines the scope of the composer's world as the entire nineteenth century, and his times as the period extending beyond his death until just after the turn of the century. He observes that there is still much primary material that remains unavailable to the English reader, and many of the writings appear in English here for the first time. In addition to essays on Wagner, [End Page 328] source materials include reviews of performances at Bayreuth and elsewhere during or shortly after the composer's lifetime, reminiscences of the composer, and writings by Wagner on his music and that of other composers. The volume is divided into six sections.

The first section consists of seven essays. Katherine Syer examines Wagner's legacy as a theatrical director, his attempts to build his own theater, the demands he made upon his singing actors, and the legacy of those who studied under his tutelage, especially Anton Seidl ("From Page to Stage: Wagner as Regisseur "). Kenneth Hamilton traces the changing relationship between Franz Liszt and his son-in-law from the 1840s through Wagner's death in 1883 ("Wagner and Liszt: Elective Affinities"). He examines the changing style of Liszt's Wagner transcriptions, possible borrowings by each composer from the other's work, and their opinions on each other's character and music. Hamilton provides a solid overview of the musical aesthetics of both composers, balancing analytical discussion of the music with other issues. He writes with a sense of humor and a more informal tone than do the other contributors to this volume. Lydia Goehr examines Wagner's complicated stance towards naming his works, both in terms of title and genre ("From Opera to Music Drama: Nominal Loss, Titular Gain"). Following Theodor Adorno, she argues that a title is most effective when it remains "elusive, suggestive, and nonconceptual" and "refuses to give away the work's secret" (Theodor Adorno, "Titel," Noten zur Literatur, in Gesammelte Schriften, vol. 11 [Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1974], 327). One minor quibble: Goehr discusses Barry Millington's The New Grove Guide to Wagner and His Operas (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006) and muses over his use of "operas" instead of "music dramas." Only in an endnote does she mention that this was part of a series of studies by multiple authors, all including [Composer] and His Operas in the title. This practical reason is likely why Millington "chose" his title. This should have been mentioned in the text of the article rather than "ignored" for the sake of argument and tucked away in an endnote.

Grey discusses a fascinating oddity in Wagner's output, a farcical operetta mocking the French leadership during the Franco-Prussian War ("Eine Kapitulation: Aristophanic Operetta as Cultural Warfare in 1870"). He considers Eine Kapitulation a companion to the essay "Judaism in Music," because Wagner attacked the French almost as much as he attacked the Jews, observing also that this anti-French rhetoric was more controversial than his anti-Semitism in the nineteenth century (p. 94). In a brief philosophical essay, Karol Berger examines the protagonists' longing for death in Tristan und Isolde ("A Note on Tristan's Death Wish"), concluding that Wagner's aim was "not to teach us how we should live," but to "erect a monument to a particularly glorious and terrifying divinity" (p. 127), as mentioned in a letter to Liszt from 1854. In a particularly insightful essay ("Guides for Wagnerites: Leitmotifs and Wagnerian Listening...


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