- Wagner's Meistersinger: Performance, History, Representation
This collection of essays (it is not a conference proceedings) promises an unusual degree of diversity: at one extreme, a brief but sagacious contribution from Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau called 'Richard Wagner's Cobbler Poet' whose insights include the comment that 'it will have been beneficial if the singer [of the role of Sachs] availed himself of the opportunity to lie down during the intermission before Act III' (p. 55); at the other extreme, from Lydia Goehr a further instalment of the cultural-philosophical analysis of Die Meistersinger that she began in the second chapter of The Quest for Voice: Music, Politics, and the Limits of Philosophy (Oxford, 1998). In fact the diversity is not as great as might at first appear. Nicholas Vazsonyi is a Germanist, not a musicologist, and indepth responses to Wagner's musical procedures and compositional strategies are not much in evidence, except, up to a point, in the contributions of the two musicologists involved, Thomas Grey and Eva Rieger. That is not to say that the historians and linguists ignore the music, but their concerns are fundamentally textual and contextual, and most of them are drawn to the topic that the editor's introduction identifies when he writes that a 'satisfactory resolution' of the debate about who and what Beckmesser represents 'seems unlikely, as the disagreement centers not so much on Richard Wagner—who was unquestionably an anti-Semite—but on the way in which a work of art should be read' (p. 10).
The prominence of this topic is the main difference between the present volume and the Cambridge Opera Handbook on Die Meistersinger (1994), edited by John Warrack and written by him with contributions from Lucy Beckett, Michael Tanner, and Patrick Carnegy. But the last decade or so has seen considerable critical and scholarly activity in the areas represented by such publications as Richard Wagner im Dritten Reich (Munich, 2000), Richard Wagner und die Juden (Stuttgart, 2000) and Deutsche Meister—Böse Geister? Nationale Selbstfindung in der Musik (Berlin, 2001), as well as by Dieter Borchmeyer's Richard Wagner: Ahasvers Wandlungen (Frankfurt and Leipzig, 2002). The concluding bibliography assembled by Vazsonyi is commendably complete and informative, though it is regrettable that he did not make more effort to harmonize the many bibliographical references of his authors, especially with respect to English translations of German texts.
Vazsonyi's own introductory survey of the field shows an exemplary alertness to the work's ambiguities: 'when read carefully, Die Meistersinger often seems to undermine or at least question the arguments it so boldly and emphatically presents' (p. 5): and he provides an efficient summary of its contents, as well as some basic historical context for the materials to come. The first of the three main sections, headed 'Performing (in) Die Meistersinger', includes the essays by Goehr and Fischer-Dieskau already mentioned, alongside an interview with the director Harry Kupfer and a lavishly illustrated piece by the conductor Peter Schneider. Schneider's discussion of thematic materials in terms of a handful of basic interval patterns might seem naive, and finishes almost as soon as it starts, but, in connection with his eminently practical references to matters of texture and tempo, it bears witness to an intimate acquaintance with the details of the score and an enthusiasm for the work undiminished by the travails of rehearsing and conducting actual performances. Kupfer also has an abundance of practical experience, though—to put it mildly—his approach to the opera is several degrees more dogmatic than Schneider's, as in its claims about Eva's 'infinite brazenness' (p. 46). There is little sign of complexity and multivalence here.
The inclusion of Lydia Goehr's chapter in this section reflects her concern with the topic of performance in the work's subject matter, especially with the rehearsal and repetition of songs. Here we are soon confronted with 'one particular philosopher preoccupied with repetition, namely Adorno, because for him, repetition works for or against our...