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A Concerned Author Suggests What Form The New, 1914, Covent Garden Ring Cycle Might Take

Written By The Wagnerian on Sunday 28 May 2023 | 2:15:00 pm

Those who critique the arts are ever-abounding in opinions. And the question of what constitutes a “superior” rendition of the Ring Cycle has long been a source of contention. As proof, presented here is a page from “The Illustrated London News" of the 25th April 1914, which employs both words and images to examine various possibilities for the scenic design of Wagner’s magnum opus. Also included is a schedule of all the operas by Wagner that would grace the stage of Covent Garden in the forthcoming season. To complement this, they offer two portraits of the esteemed Herr Johannes Sembach, portraying Siegmund in Die Walküre and the eponymous hero in Lohengrin. Clicking on the image should allow you to read the text. From the archives of the V&A

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Review: "The Cambridge Companion to Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen

This is a review that has been long in the making, as long as Wagner spent on the Ring Cycle - or so it has seemed to me. It started and changed many times in the most stiff and formal way. An early draft begins something like this:

"The Cambridge Companion to Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen is a valuable and comprehensive guide to one of the most complex and influential works of art ever created. The book consists of fifteen chapters, divided into four parts: Myth, Aesthetics, Interpretations, and Impact. The contributors are experts in various fields, such as musicology, literature, philosophy, history, and performance studies, and they offer a range of perspectives on Wagner’s tetralogy and its reception.

The first part, Myth, explores the sources and meanings of the myths that Wagner adapted for his epic drama. Jason Geary examines the influence of Greek tragedy and myth on Wagner’s conception of drama and music, while Stefan Arvidsson traces the origins and development of modern mythology in the nineteenth century and its impact on Wagner’s worldview."

Dull! Dull! You could read as much on the publisher’s website. And for those readers that would prefer to read as such, there are many to find. But for us - and by being here I hope to include you - the Ring is a living work of art. The ultimate union of music and theatre, literature and philosophy, mythic and social, the conscious and unconscious. It lights up the dawn of modernity. Without it, and Wagner’s other work, there are no giants such as Strauss, Schoenberg, and Mahler - or at least as we know them. Here lie the seeds of psychoanalysis, maybe cinema and surely the film soundtrack. So any good book on this masterpiece deserves something else. And by goodness is this the book that at last, after many, many tries, begins to do this work justice. Is it perfect? The only perfection can be found on the shining, unreachable heights that hold Plato’s Forms. Nothing on this earth can ever be perfect. But in the wise editorial hands of Mark Berry and Nicholas Vazsonyi, with only a few slips, this is the best we have got so far. So with that wandering, opening out of the way, onto: 

The Cambridge Companion to Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen"
Editors: Mark Berry · Nicholas Vazsonyi
Sep 2020 · Cambridge University Press

Der Ring des Nibelungen is a great work of art, a living thing that breathes and burns with the fire of Wagner’s soul. It is a drama of myths and men, of gods and heroes, of love and power, of life and death. It is a music that speaks to the blood and the nerves, that stirs the passions and the senses, that awakens the spirit and the mind. It is a vision that challenges and transforms, that inspires and provokes, that reveals and conceals.

This book is a guide to that work, a companion for those who want to know it and feel it. It has four parts, each with different voices and views. The first part tells of the myths that Wagner used for his drama, how he took them from the Greeks and the Germans, how he made them his own. It shows how Wagner was influenced by the tragedy and the myth of ancient Greece, how he admired the art and the philosophy of Aeschylus and Sophocles. It also shows how Wagner was fascinated by the saga and the legend of medieval Germany, how he explored the history and the culture of the Nibelungs and the Volsungs. It explains how Wagner combined these sources into a new mythology, a modern mythology that reflected his own ideas and feelings.

The second part tells of the music and the drama, how Wagner wrote them and shaped them, how he made them one. It shows how Wagner developed his theory and practice of music drama, how he aimed to create a total work of art that integrated music, poetry, action, and spectacle. It also shows how Wagner composed his music and his drama, how he used leitmotifs, themes, and motifs to create a musical narrative that expressed his thoughts and emotions. It explains how Wagner structured his music and his drama, how he formed a cycle of four operas that spanned from the beginning to the end of the world.

The third part tells of the meanings of the Ring, how Wagner saw the world and the people in it, how he showed their struggles and their choices. It shows how Wagner portrayed the characters in the “world” of the Ring, how he gave them depth and complexity, how he made them human and divine. It also shows how Wagner explored the political implications of the Ring, how he engaged with contemporary issues such as nationalism, revolution, democracy, and capitalism. It explains how Wagner expressed the metaphysical dimensions of the Ring, how he used music to create a sense of depth and transcendence, how he searched for a new religion and a new morality.

The fourth part tells of the responses to the Ring, how people have heard it and seen it, how they have loved it or hated it. It shows how Wagner’s work has been received and interpreted by critics and commentators from its premiere to the present day, how it has generated debates and controversies over its artistic value and its social impact. It also shows how Wagner’s work has influenced subsequent composers and musical genres such as Mahler, Strauss, Schoenberg, film music, and musical theatre. It explains how Wagner’s work has inspired other arts and media such as literature, visual arts, cinema, television, and video games.

The book is well done, well made, well filled. It has many things to say and show about Wagner’s masterpiece. It has many things to learn and enjoy for those who care for it. It is written by experts in various fields who share their knowledge and insight with clarity and passion. It is edited by scholars who have organized it with care and skill. It is illustrated by images and musical samples that enhance its beauty and meaning. It is referenced by notes that provide sources and suggestions for further reading.

It is for everyone who loves or wants to love Wagner’s great work of art. It is for those who are familiar with it or unfamiliar with it. It is a friend for those who seek to understand and appreciate Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen.
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Reviews Of Solti's Recording of the Ring Cycle by: AI, Fredrick Nietzsche and Hanslick.

Written By The Wagnerian on Wednesday 17 May 2023 | 7:23:00 pm

It is nearly impossible to peruse a newspaper these days without encountering someone expressing fear regarding the rise of AI. Much of this apprehension, a concept that science fiction has been exploring since Issac Asimov's works in 1939, seems to have emerged recently due to advancements in AI language models like CHAT-GPT and its main competitor, Google Bard. Considering this, we pondered what insights this program would offer if we requested a review of Solti's recording of the Ring. You can find the review below. But reviewers are fickle creatures and we thus asked it to write a negative review, which it quickly did. However, our curiosity extended further. What if  Wagner's, at first, most ardent admirer, Nietzsche, and most infamous critic, Hanslick were alive in the present day? What opinions would they express regarding Solti's recording? The following results, although their accuracy is uncertain, provide captivating reading.
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Parsifal Study Day 13 May 2023 Manchester

Written By The Wagnerian on Monday 8 May 2023 | 11:26:00 pm


Should you be in Manchester, well worth attending


13 May 2023

9.30am until 16.30

Anthony Burgess Centre, Manchester, M1 5BY.

The Societ's president,Derek Blyth, will guide us through

this complex work.

Cost £20 for members, £25 for non-members, £5 for students.

For tickets contact

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New Edition Of The Wagner Journal Published

The March 2023 issue (vol.17, no.1) of The Wagner Journal has been published and contains the following feature articles:

• Wolfgang Mende on Wagner’s compositional process as revealed in his sketches
• Genevieve Robyn Arkle on Wagner’s use of the turn
• Derek Hughes on new witnesses of Toscanini’s Bayreuth
• Chris Walton on a bizarre legal case involving wire-netting at Tribschen
• Interview with Keith Warner about his new Meistersinger for Vienna

Plus reviews of: the Ring at the Berlin Staatsoper, Die Meistersinger in Vienna and Der fliegende Holländer in Toronto; Parsifal Suite (constructed and conducted by Andrew Gourlay) and Wagner by Arrangement, vol. 3 (arr. Ben Woodward); DVDs of the Ring from the Deutsche Oper (2021), dir. Stefan Herheim, and Bayreuth (1979/80), dir Patrice Chéreau; Laurence Dreyfus’s novel Parsifals Verführung and Charles Ellis: Wagner’s ’Ring’
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Wagner & Desire

All things partake in the Oneness of Reality and therefore all things are interconnected. The sacred threads that weave through the various art forms reveal this truth. The interconnectivity of the ancient art forms is best depicted in the paintings of the nine muses of Greek mythology, who dance in a circle with joined hands to the music of Apollo’s lyre. The 19th century German composer, Richard Wagner had excelled in the binding of all art forms into a coherent whole. Through his works, he delved to the essence of the human condition, and along the way, presented a synthesis of the arts such as had never been experienced before. In this short essay, we will explore some of the spiritual and philosophical inspirations for Wagner’s operatic works and how the underlying themes of the Will and Desire can not only shed light on our human drama but reveal the correspondence of music with Nature.


Often the profoundest insights into the mysteries of existence appear to us in the simplest of guises: a crimson-petalled rose, a fractured prism of light, the rotating symbol (e.g. Tai Chi and the Ouroboros). But intimations of such deep significance also appear to us through the most familiar of sounds. In many cultures, the sounding of bells marks life’s transitions---from celebratory marriage bells to the sombre tolling of funeral bells. However, Buddhist temple bells (called Bonsho), have always carried the analogy of the impermanence of Man. The reverberations begin from an indefinable moment and resonate until dissipating into the silence from which it emerged. This interval comprises the totality of a person’s earthly life; a life which comes into being with a great cry, makes a noise in the world for a brief time, and comes to an end as its energy dims and diminishes toward Death. Such reminders of our transient nature impel us to regard life as valuable and intensely meaningful. It also reinforces the need to view ourselves with humility in the face of the cosmos.

The 19th-century German philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer was one of the first Europeans to encounter the ancient writings of Buddhism and Hinduism. These teachings informed his worldview and his contributions to philosophy. Although his understanding of these religious systems was not particularly orthodox, Schopenhauer became an instrumental philosophical link between the East and West—a divide much spoken about, but ultimately illusory in its deepest analysis. Schopenhauer’s incorporation of Buddhist and Hindu ideas heavily influenced the trajectory of Western philosophy as well as the life and work of German composer, Richard Wagner.

Many Buddhistic themes regarding reincarnation and karmic energies course through Wagner’s operas, particularly in Der Ring des Nibelungen (referred to here simply as The Ring Cycle) and Parsifal. In fact, many scholars, including a practising Buddhist monk, have hypothesized quite compellingly, that Parsifal is in fact the final opera of the Ring Cycle.1 It is argued that several of the major characters from the Ring Cycle reappear in reincarnated form as the main actors in the Parsifal opera, having to counterbalance, through specific meritorious (kusala) karmic deeds, the evil or non-meritorious (akusala) karma they brought into being at the beginning of the drama. These Buddhist notions were not accidentally stumbled upon. Wagner became familiar with Buddhist writings through the works of Schopenhauer which he industriously read and reread throughout his life.

It should be noted that Wagner’s intentions for the Ring Cycle (including Parsifal) was the creation of what he termed a “Bühnenweihfestspiel” or “stage festival play”. Combining the sacred symbolism and ritual of ancient Greek stage tragedy, with the musicality of Beethoven and poetic genius of Shakespeare, and further informed by Buddhist-inspired metaphysics and philosophy, he aimed at a “total synthesis of the arts” (Gesamtkunstwerk). In his operatic works music, theatre, aesthetics, philosophy, and mysticism hold hands and share the stage in portraying the human drama.

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