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  • Wagner and Wagnerism in Nineteenth-Century Sweden, Finland, and the Baltic Provinces: Reception, Enthusiasm, Cult
  • Luke Benjamin Howard
Wagner and Wagnerism in Nineteenth-Century Sweden, Finland, and the Baltic Provinces: Reception, Enthusiasm, Cult. By Hannu Salmi. (Eastman Studies in Music.) Rochester: University of Rochester Press, 2006. [x, 310 p. ISBN 1-58046-207-3. $65.] Maps, illustrations.

Hannu Salmi's work on Wagnerism in the Baltic region documents the phenomenon with extraordinary detail. This book not only enlarges the understanding of Wagnerism in general in the nineteenth century, it also supplements the music histories of Baltic countries with a wealth of information and copiously detailed references. The text is delightfully illustrated with historical postcards, drawn primarily from the author's own collection.

Salmi claims that Wagner's relationship to Baltic Europe was not limited to his years as a conductor in Königsberg and Riga at the start of his career. Neither were these places insignificant in the larger Wagner phenomenon that engulfed Europe in the later nineteenth century, with Riga perpetually emerging as a leading center of interest in Wagner.

In his "Prelude," Salmi notes the potential problems in researching Wagner reception in this region. Countries on the Baltic coastline differ culturally, linguistically, and aesthetically, making this book a collection of several reception histories rather than a single, monolithic documentary.

The choice of countries may seem somewhat arbitrary at first. Including Sweden but omitting Norway and Denmark, for example, focuses on the Baltic coast region as a geo-cultural unit at the expense of a real discussion of pan-Scandinavian Wagnerism. Why focus on the Baltic coast countries, then? In the first of eight chapters, Salmi maintains that "musical links between the coastal towns of the Baltic Sea remained close" up until the middle of the nineteenth century (p. 13), and that the emergence of Wagnerism as a phenomenon coincided almost exactly with a critical shift in the cultural relationships between these countries, facilitated by the telegraph, steamboat, and railway.

When Wagner was in Königsberg and Riga, he was already becoming aware of the local folk culture, but even more importantly was recognizing "the dramatic possibility of myth" (p. 18). Salmi argues, with considerable evidence to back him up, that Wagner's Baltic years should not be considered as "a kind of prehistory" (p. 30) to the Paris and Dresden Wagner. Many of the features of Wagner's later music have their roots in these early experiences.

The second chapter discusses the commoditization and distribution of Wagner's music in the region, through the publication of scores, arrangements, and extracts from the operas. These "low-brow" arrangements introduced Baltic audiences to Wagner's music before they heard any of his operas performed, with Tannhäuser becoming a particular favorite through excerpts.

The next chapter opens with an account of Riga's centrality in Baltic Wagnerism. It was, for example, the first city after Dresden to stage a performance (in 1843) of Der fliegende Holländer. Salmi claims (p. 60) that the tremendous success of this opera in Riga may even have convinced Wagner to follow the more Germanic style of Dutchman rather than the French style of his earlier opera, Rienzi.

A summary of Wagner's 1863 tour to Russia is not really part of this story, but is smuggled in as a separate chapter under the author's claim that this tour influenced Wagner reception in neighboring Finland. He also examines in some detail the rumor (now almost certainly debunked) that Wagner visited the famous Imatra rapids in Finland during his Russian tour.

Wagnerism in Sweden followed a very different path than in the other Baltic countries. In chapter 5, Salmi tracks Sweden's relatively unenthusiastic response to Wagner, which he notes was partly due to Rienzi (rather than one of the later operas) being the first Wagner opera performed in Sweden. Influential Swedish critics like Wilhelm Bauck were also repeatedly critical of Wagner's work.

In chapter 6, a summary of Wagner's involvement with German politics in the [End Page 613] 1860s and the attempts to solicit state support for his Bayreuth dream leads to a discussion of Wagner as...


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