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Rolling Stone Magazine Includes Wagner Book In Its "Best Music Books Of 2020"

Written By The Wagnerian on Monday 7 December 2020 | 11:58:00 pm

It's not that often Rolling Stone Magazine features Richard Wagner, but I think we can never recall it featuring a book about Wagner in its "Music Books Of The Year" round-up. However, this year sees Alex Ross' "Wagnerism: Art and Politics in the Shadow of Music" on that list.

Rolling Stone supported its inclusion with these words "Not an opera fan? Unfamiliar with the works of Richard Wagner? Not to worry. The New Yorker’s Alex Ross is one of the best music writers in the business, and his latest is a sweeping (operatic?) history of artistic culture in the West during Wagner’s life. The German composer and his music serve as the focal points around which Ross constructs a nuanced cultural history involving a constellation of bright artistic lights, from Nietzsche and Cézanne to Baudelaire. The author doesn’t neglect Wagner’s vocal anti-Semitism, weaving in a cogent discussion of the complex, often messy interplay between art and artist. This is a spirited history of music — and art in general — amid a particularly fertile historical period."

We waited a long time for Mr Ross' book but it seems even Rolling Stone thinks it was worth it. Well done Alex. 

The full selection can be found here

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Richard and the revolutionaries: why did lefties love Wagner? Alex Ross

Written By The Wagnerian on Sunday 6 December 2020 | 5:58:00 pm

In 1883, the year of Richard Wagner’s death, the theatre critic William Archer noticed a red-haired, bearded youth who was sitting day after day in the British Library with two volumes open on his desk: the French edition of Das Kapital, which Karl Marx had written in the same library decades earlier, and the full score of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde. The young man was George Bernard Shaw, a staunch leftist who saw no conflict between the composer’s Romantic mythology and Marx’s historical materialism. In The Perfect Wagnerite, his anticapitalist reading of The Ring of the Nibelung cycle, Shaw wrote that the descent into Nibelheim, the realm of the enslaved dwarves, is “frightfully real, frightfully present, frightfully modern”. Both Wagner and Marx bear witness to the “predestined end of our capitalistic-theocratic epoch”.

Shaw’s perusal of Wagner and Marx must have raised eyebrows in 1883. It seems even more surprising now, given Adolf Hitler’s success in convincing posterity that the composer belongs exclusively to the extreme right. The Perfect Wagnerite was no isolated event, however. In recent decades, scholars have reconstructed a school of Wagnerian leftism, which gained purchase in Europe and America at the end of the 19th century. Socialists, communists, social democrats, and anarchists all found sustenance in Wagner’s work. After the Bolshevik revolution, Wagner had a brief vogue as a figurehead of proletarian culture.

The starting point for the Wagner left was the composer’s own revolutionary activity in 1848 and 1849, which forced him into exile for many years. His writings Art and Revolution and The Art-Work of the Future were classic, if eccentric, articulations of the idea that art could play a leading role in the struggle for social equality. His own work became a kind of dream theatre for the imagination of a future state. Of course, other ideologies exploited the composer in the same way. It would be a mistake to say that Shaw and his fellow leftists found the “true” Wagner. But it would also be a mistake to say they misunderstood him.

Although Wagner never mentioned Marx by name, he made scattered references to communism – occasionally positive, more often dismissive. The Wagner biographer Martin Gregor-Dellin heard a Marxist echo in notes that the composer made in the summer of 1849: “A tremendous movement is striding through the world: it is the storm of European revolution; everyone is taking part in it, and whoever is not supporting it by pushing forward is strengthening it by pushing back.” Wagner’s fanfare sounds more than a little like The Communist Manifesto’s introductory lines: “A spectre is haunting Europe – the spectre of communism.”

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Listen now: Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen – Explorations

Written By The Wagnerian on Saturday 5 December 2020 | 3:38:00 pm

We recommended this audio exploration of the Ring on release in 2013 - and we still do, although it's still not always easy to get outside of Australia. We noted then: "Recorded for the Decca label by Australian Wagner scholar, author and lecturer Peter Bassett, as an introduction to and commentary on Richard Wagner’s great cycle of four music dramas: Der Ring des Nibelungen. The recording uses extensive musical excerpts from the famous Decca recording featuring the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Sir Georg Solti. The set is distinguished from the fine introduction to the system of leitmotifs recorded by Deryck Cooke in 1967 by addressing Wagner’s magnum opus more broadly through its narrative, intellectual and aesthetic qualities"

If you still have not bought or listened to it, we recently discovered that it is available on only one streaming music site, the classical music only streamer, Primephonic.  Should you wish to listen to it - and try the service for two months free - a good friend of the site has provided a link to a two months free Primephonic subscription.  Click this link to take advantage of this, if you are not already a member.  Failing that, just go out and buy the four cd set. 

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