Mini Review: Raymond Furness' 'Richard Wagner".

Written By The Wagnerian on Thursday, 18 July 2013 | 11:52:00 pm

It should probably come as little surprise that this year would produce a veritable deluge of books about Wagner and his work (indeed, apart from the book under discussion, I am reading another 5 for review shortly). However, what has surprised me, is the lack of straightforward biographies  in English - for there as only been one. That one is Raymond Furness 'Richard Wagner".

Now, if I am honest, this was the one I was least looking forward to reading. There are two reasons for this: the fact that it is a relatively slim volume at just over 200 pages and that it is prefaced with the words "critical lives". I have read enough slim volumes that have similar titles to know that this normally means a superficial examination of Wagner's life and work that exists for only the most vaguely curious of readers. I am sure many of you have come across such works and know what I mean.  What a surprise then, to find one of the most intelligent, insightful, detailed and frankly enjoyable books on or about Wagner and his work that I have read for sometime. 

Dr Furness (who has published much about Wagner and German literature - among other related subjects) is one of those few writers who is both intelligent and knowledgeable about his subject yet who also writes in an engaging style that make it a pleasure to be in his company. Add to this the ability to provide insightful analysis of Wagner and his work but to do so in a concise manner reminiscent of  Bryan Maggee's classic "Aspects of Wagner" and one is left with a book that I would wholly recommend to those both new to Wagner and those with a life long interest. 

While nothing of Wagner's life is excluded (even down to including analysis of Wagner's visits to London) to keep the book to its length means that Furness has had to "sacrifice" certain details. And so, while Wagner's every move that may have influenced his work and thought are detailed, there is little of the the more "salacious"  moments so beloved by many authors.  Equally, while there is always some discussion of those close to Wagner's life, unless Furness considers them to be of great impact on Wagner's thought or music they are only briefly mentioned.  This is a book about Wagner, with those in his life only making brief, sometimes ghost like, appearances. This may lead to a less than fully rounded view of all of the influences on Wagner (Minna is alas, only mentioned occasionally where perhaps a more detailed investigation of her life both before and with Wagner would be of great benefit). If there is a fault in this book then it is this, but the rest makes up for it in a world of Wagner scholarship where conjecture - often weak conjecture - rule the day.

Over all, a highly enjoyable read and highly recommended to those both new to Wagner and those, like myself, with shelves  buckling under the weight of Wagner literature.

Note. This review was written after reading  the Kindle version of the book. Like many kindle  "first additions" (V1.0) there were a few rather irritating "typos" or "printers" errors". However, having briefly  scanned the paperback edition these were not found there.

Click below to read a sample