Wagner, the repulsive giant
September 3, 2005 1:56 PM   Subscribe

Wagner, the repulsive giant If, on one hand, you ever wanted to know what a swine Richard Wagner was, this is the book to tell you. It does so at length, in reliable detail, calmly, without prurience, perfectly backed with documentation, and in a translation whose only fault is in giving no Translator’s Notes for in-house German references. Joachim Köhler sustains his story with new ideas, revises other interpretations and modestly deconstructs Cosima née Liszt’s creation of “Richard Wagner Enterprises Inc”. (This she developed so far as to keep Parsifal exclusive to Bayreuth, prompting George Bernard Shaw to remark in 1889 that it “would almost reconcile me to the custom of suttee”!).
posted by matteo (11 comments total)

Both Richard and Cosima Wagner hinted that there were secrets in Parsifal. Certainly, it is a work with many levels, dimensions and external references. One of the most fascinating of these references is to an opera by another composer who had at one time been Wagner's mentor and benefactor. It has been suggested that Wagner had modelled the second act of Parsifal upon part of an opera by Giacomo Meyerbeer.
posted by matteo at 1:58 PM on September 3, 2005

(with thanks to MeFi's in-house classical music scholar, naxosaxur)
posted by matteo at 1:59 PM on September 3, 2005

from the same author: Nietzsche and Wagner : A Lesson in Subjugation
posted by matteo at 2:03 PM on September 3, 2005

Wagner was very compassionate about animal rights. He wrote a book about the terrible injustices we humans visit on our animal brothers. (I have it around here someplace, can't lay my hands on it just now.)

But sending Nietzsche on an extended multi-day shopping trip in search of the perfect bear-doll for a gift, that was wrong.
posted by StickyCarpet at 2:13 PM on September 3, 2005

I heard Hitler wept when his dog died. Seriously, not Godwinizing or anything.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:29 PM on September 3, 2005

I had to do a paper on Wagner when I was a freshman in college. The biography I read-- nineteen years ago, don't remember the title-- said that his stepfather's last name was Geyer, which was a common German Jewish surname, though this man was not. However, the boy Wagner was taunted for being a perceived Jew, which must have led to his anti-Semitism.
posted by brujita at 4:47 PM on September 3, 2005

Swine, indeed, but Der Ring des Nibelungen is fucking awesome.
posted by Kwantsar at 5:45 PM on September 3, 2005

Which is pretty much the point of the book review except for the opening paragraph quoted in the FPP.
posted by pmurray63 at 12:24 AM on September 4, 2005

> Swine, indeed, but Der Ring des Nibelungen is fucking awesome.

Awesome indeed, as an act of sustained creation.

Nevertheless. As gorgeous as the music is in many places, it makes me feel claustrophobic, almost imprisoned. That cascade of motifs--the man is telling the listener exactly what to think and feel at every instant throughout the whole immense epic, with never a letup. Can music be totalitarian? And, mein Gott, the things he wants us to think and feel. And admire! Superman with a brat's temperament. This may be superficial but jeez, no wonder Hitler ate it up.

I say this both as a music junkie and a fantasy fan of forty-odd years' standing. Awesome as it is, Der Ring is not on my list of desert-island recordings. (That would be Mozart, mostly, and the Bartok string quartets.)

Thanks for the link, matteo.
posted by jfuller at 4:35 AM on September 4, 2005

I don't care much for Wagner, and will never view Bayreuth as Mecca.

But maybe one day I will be lucky enough to garner a new appreciation for him when I become a delusional, cantankerous, senile & bitter senior citizen...my soggy diaper, blinding cataracts, and pinching dentures clouding my previously unblemished musical judgment…to make me think that the shit flowing from a virulently anti-semitic composer's wand is the absolute realization of operatic romanticism.

But then again, I’m a true Rossinian…so I’m probably just too lowbrow to grasp the lofty spewings and sloppy candor of Wagner.
posted by naxosaxur at 1:32 AM on September 5, 2005

Btw: Grazie for the links, matteo. I have a default killfile set to staunch "all things Wagner," so I probably would have never caught this.
posted by naxosaxur at 1:37 AM on September 5, 2005

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