Wagnerian Essay

WagnerianI have a friend, Matthew, who is a Wagnerian. For those of you who don’t

know what that exotic species is, “Wagnerian” denotes someone who

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listens to the operas of Richard Wagner and loves them to a degree

bordering on the unreasonable. And he’s continually amazed by the fact

that I don’t get off on Wagner to the degree that he does. He also hit

me once when I referred to Wagner as a proto-Nazi. Granted we were both

a bit drunk at the time, but even so, you may get a bit of an idea how

much respect and love Matthew has for the various works of Richard W.

Nonetheless, I stand by both of those statements. There’s no point

denying the proto-Nazi thing, since handsome Adolf said it himself:

“whoever wants to understand National Socialist Germany must first

understand Wagner.” Michael Tanner tries to minimise Wagner’s effect on

the development of Nazi Germany by saying Hitler was the only one in the

Nazi hierarchy who actually liked Wagner, and all the others had to be

dragged to Wagner productions under protest, but even so I don’t think

he denies Wagner’s influence outright. And even if anti-Semitic views

were less unfashionable in the earlier part of this century than they

are these days (certain quarters like the KKK notwithstanding) so that

Hitler could really have picked them up from anywhere, he himself speci

fically referred to Wagner as his source. So let’s stop quibbling on

this point.

I’m also going to stand by my other statement about Wagner not really

doing it for me. I don’t have problems with 19th century Romanticism.

(of which Wagner became by common consent one of the greatest exemplars

and proponents) per …

…’s still obstacles in the way of my greater enjoyment of

Wagner’s work. Still, despite the difficulty, I’m willing to make an

effort to understand him better. Having finished with the Ring, I’ll now

give Tristan and Parsifal another go, and make an attempt on Die

Meistersinger. And perhaps one day I will indeed learn to love the

Tristan prelude, as Matthew has ordered me to do. Meanwhile, Karlheinz

Stockhausen is pressing ahead with his Licht series of seven operas, due

for completion in 2002, whereupon even the Ring will be dwarfed in time

scale‹the four parts currently available already fill more CDs than any

Ring cycle I know, and there are still three more parts to be written

and/or recorded. Wonder if anyone will ever hold Stockhausen responsible

for a war? I’m sure Wagner would never have expected that honour either.

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