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276Philosophy and Literature The Wagner Companion, edited by Peter Burbidge and Richard Sutton; 462 pp. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1979, $9.95. This book should be in the library of everyone interested in Wagner, music, nineteenth-century intellectual history, and German literature and philosophy. But it has faults and omissions. There is no detailed analysis of the music-dramas. The preface promises a second volume; presumably this gap will be filled there. The indexes are skimpy; I found them virtually useless. The bibliography is helpful, but omits works which should be in any up-to-date bibliography, e.g., the English translation of Cosima Wagner's Diaries; the recent re-issue of Newman's Wagner Nights; Derek Watson's new biography; the English translation of Carl Dahlhaus's Richard Wagner's Music-Dramas; Deryck Cooke's I Saw The World End; and the English translation of Curt von Westernhagen's two-volume biography. No work by Theodor Adorno is listed. The book is divided into three sections, each containing four essays covering background studies, Wagner as dramatist and composer, Wagner as polemicist and theorizer, Wagner criticism, and the phenomenon of Bayreuth. Peter Burbidge's "Richard Wagner: Man and Artist" is a model of its kind. The essays on the intellectual, literary, and musical background are good, but readers of this journal will find Michael Black's essay on the literary background particularly informative. Lucy Beckett's "Wagner and His Critics" is a crisp and informative piece of work. But she gives too short a shrift to Hanslick's objections to Wagner's efforts to force non-musical content into his music; there are serious philosophical issues here, and the issue is far from settled, either philosophically or historically. She also fails to discuss the important efforts of Theodor Adorno to come to terms with Wagner as, for good and ill, the primus motor of modern German culture. Her discussions of Nietzsche and Mann as critics are excellent and, rightly, she awards the palm to Mann as the more sensitive and sensible of the two. Curt von Westernhagen's "Wagner as a Writer" is informative, but spoiled by a tendency to try to clean up Wagner more than is possible. Wagner may well have regarded his Das Judentum in der Musik (1850) as only "one of his occasional pieces," but if so, this is only one more case of Wagner's lifelong habit of moral self-deception. The truth is, Wagner was an obsessed, nasty, brutal, and brutish anti-semite, and nothing redeems him for it. Fortunately, Wagner's anti-semitism is totally absent from his art, and it was his art, and not his prejudices, which he contributed to Western civilization and culture. Far too much goes on being made of the fact that Wagner was such a despicable person. Michael Tanner's "The Total Work of Art" is the only really philosophical piece in the book, and it is superb. It should be read only after the other essays have been thoroughly assimilated because it assumes an immense knowledge of the sort the other essays provide. It also has its faults. For example, his scornful judgment of Richard Strauss as incorrigibly mediocre is unjustified. Shorter Reviews277 There are too many such disdainful and oracular pronouncements in this essay. It is also marred by Tanner's attempt to cover too much territory at one go; one has to have marathon powers to follow him all the way. Unlike critics who focus either virtually exclusively on Wagner's music or superficially on the libretti as literary works, Tanner takes the philosophical content of Wagner's oeuvre seriously. He finds a (not the) key to the proper understanding of Wagner in what he argues persuasively is Wagner's refusal of transcendent redemption. Tanner's handling of this critical concept is stunningly skillful, and by its means he is able to unify and integrate material which many other Wagner critics have found incoherent or inconsistent. Parsifal, for example, became the capstone of Wagner's lifelong labors, and not, as many have thought, a bit of Christian religiosity in Wagner's spiritually relapsing senility. Tanner's way of interpreting Wagner gores many oxen...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 276-277
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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