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Richard Wagner - An introduction in sound

Written By The Wagnerian on Monday 4 July 2011 | 6:52:00 am

As one or two frequent visitors may have noticed I like to"post" items occasionally for people completely new to Wagner - the following is one of those. 

In 2008 William Berger, author of "Wagner Without Fear" (an introductory guide to Wagner, which I have not read but hear is not to bad at all), was guest on a one hour special on NPR, designed to introduce the curious to Wagner and his works. You can listen to this by clicking the link below or going to the original feature by following the link at the bottom of the page. I also, include, part of the written article that went with this "special". Again, simply follow the link to continue reading.

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The Self-Help Guide to Wagner

Love him or hate him, if you're a fan of classical music, and especially opera, you have to contend with Richard Wagner, the controversial composer who made sweeping changes in the arts. His life, music, and legacy continue to inspire and confound listeners and critics.

Wagner's music contains the loftiest aspirations of humankind, yet it was also the soundtrack to tragedy. His mammoth operas have inspired composers, authors, directors, and even dictators.

He's the one who decided it would be a good idea to turn the house lights down and watch a drama in the dark. He built a radically new theater at Bayreuth, Germany, to his obsessive specifications. He exploded the length, breadth, and height of music-theater, changing it forever.

But Wagner's creative genius has been tainted by his personality — by his overzealous references to militarism and nationalism, as well as his overt anti-Semitism. It's not surprising that his works would later be adopted by Adolf Hitler to symbolize his notion of the Third Reich. Wagner's music, to this day, is taboo in Israel.

Wagner for Dummies

In his book Wagner Without Fear, William Berger tries to demystify some of the anxiety the mere mention of Wagner's name generates.

"You don't have to be a complete lunatic, you don't have to sign your life over in order to appreciate Wagner," Berger says. "If he's going to ask you to sit in the theatre for five or six hours, I would ask people to believe that he's got that much to say. So we're dealing with a difficult artist but a truly unique one."

"The entire human experience can be found in his music," Berger adds. "With Wagner, you don't just get the signs of a journey; you go through that journey."