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Aspects of Wagner Paperback – 1988

4.6 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


`you can do no better than rush out and buy Aspects of Wagner, one of the most stimulating books on music and opera it has been my priviledge to read.' Classical Music

`this set of essays makes an ideal introduction to Bayreuth's favourite son' Washington Post

`the best short book on Richard Wagner in English' New Statesman and Society

`One of the best, most illuminating, and shortest, discussions of Wagner's work ever written...one of the most stimulating books on music and opera it has been my privilege to read' Classical Music

`This 20-year-old instant classic, pithy, thoughtful, illuminating, now gains a new chapter on - oddly enough - the least discussed side of Wagner, the music itself.' Christopher Grier, London Evening Standard

`the intensely readable style as well as the interest of the subject-matter holds the attention from beginning to end ...Magee's book remains one which no-one who ventures to give an opinion on Wagner should have failed to read.' S. A. Music Teacher

`Each of these essays offer much that is thought-provoking, examining not only the musical works but also the prose works in which Wagner formulated and set out his ideas on art literature, poetry and the theatre. It is good to have a new edition of this highly readable little volume, which was first published in 1968.'

`Altogether, among the millions of pages written about one of the most complex minds in European history, this little book makes a contribution both original and thought provoking, quite out of proportion to its size.' Sir Charles Mackerras

From reviews of the first edition...

`The revised edition of this brief but near-classic analysis of Wagner's work has not lost its most distinctive quality; usually for a book of this kind, it demands to be read at one sitting - or even, one admirer has insisted, in a single bathtime.' Independent

From the Back Cover

In this penetrating analysis of Wagner's work Bryan Magee examines both Wagner's music and detailed stage directions, together with the prose works in which he formulated his ideas.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 102 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; Revised & enlarged edition (1988)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0192840126
  • ISBN-13: 978-0192840127
  • Product Dimensions: 7.7 x 0.3 x 5.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #864,292 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Despite the fact that this book was first published in 1969, it is so well written in such reasonable language that it still stands as one of the most cogent introductions to the genius of Richard Wagner. The bookstore shelves are full of volumes on the man many consider one of the most important composers ever. But many of those books are biased by quirks of each writer who preach either a love-him-or-hate-him agenda. Magee goes to the source, addressing the writings of the composer during his musical hiatus between Lohengrin and the Ring of the Niebelungen, a period (1848 - 1851) when Wagner withdrew into the works of the great German philosophers and gradually formed his world view of Opera as Drama, or, a religous happening - quite a different stance from the 'Opera as Entertainment' that was the popular consensus of the time. Magee offers translations of Wagner's words that clarify the messages that so often are lost in the verbiage that Wagner labored as he responded to the importance of mythology as a universal language, to Shakespeare as the perfect man of words, to the music of Beethoven as the writer of music that ALMOST didn't need poetry ( even though he granted that Beethoven's 9th Symphony which includes poetry was the gold standard of his time and indeed opened all the Bayreuth Festivals with that Beethoven work before presenting his own operas), and to the writings of Karl Marx, et al. Magee's essays include notes on the claims of AntiSemitism, on the influence of Wagner on the other artists of his time and after his time, and even on performance standards of his works. All this, in a book just over 100 pages in length! An invaluable tool for those who want to better understand why Wagner's music continues today to cause such profound emotional responses. Beautifully written and informative.
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Format: Paperback
More than any other figure in the classical Canon, Richard Wagner (1813 - 1883) has provoked a dichotomy of passion in regards to his music, character and legacy. Bryan Magee's *Aspects of Wagner*, a series of concise, articulate essays about the composer and theorist, confronts both sides of the polarization, examining the essential components that inspire such adulation, probing with unusual insight the negative connotations ever associated with mere mention of the name.

These aspects, in brief:

THEORY: After the success of Lohengrin, Wagner took a six-year break from composing to recharge the cylinders, theorize and re-examine the operatic form. The result of this sabbatical would shake the foundations of the Canon. For Wagner, no longer would drama be a means to a musical end - window-garnishing syntax to embellish the sonic - instead, music would be the means with which to express the dramatic ~emotion~ of the piece. Music would emphasize, shift and elucidate to the passage of the text, a notion that has proved indescribably influential: the whole of modern film-symphonic owes its debt to this innovation.

JEWS: A virulent anti-Semitist, repelled by the physical aspect of Jews and critical of their compositional abilities - "shallow and artificial" - Wagner espoused these opinions in the public forum and, in reality, reflected the mindset of mainstream German society during his time. Further propagated by Wagner's widow and offspring, these views influenced Hitler as a youth and were taken verbatim for his totalitarian platform. Wagner's demand for Judiasm to be eradicated, via renouncement of faith and conversion to Christian theism, was corrupted by the Nazi propagandists as a call for physical annihilation. More fuel for the critical fire!
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Format: Paperback
I say "second book" because other books, for example Michael Tanner's, work better as a general introduction to Wagner.
This is not a comprehensive overview of Wagner's life, work and thought, but a collection of essays on different Wagner topics. But the essays are very good. Magee is interesting on the notoriously strong emotional response, positive or negative - people have to the music, and offers some thoughts on why this is so. The essay, "Jews, not least in music" puts Wagner's (in)famous essay "Das Judentum in Musik" into perspective, as considerably less inflammatory than many people, who have perhaps only heard the title, believe. It's also interesting on Wagner's influence in literature, poetry, painting, and so on. The previous reviewer praises this book in terms that would tend to put me off it: but really Magee is not a difficult or abstruse read. His ideas are perceptive but written in absolutely plain English.
And I don't think Magee would support the idea that unless people have studied Wagner deeply they only "think" they enjoy Wagner. Actually it's like Shakespeare; you can read a library of commentary, and some of it, like Magee will be helpful, but you can also just see or listen to the work itself, and find it perfectly self-explanatory. Anyone who "thinks" they are enjoying Wagner is right.
Magee's is a short book, just over 100 pages. It's an odd thing about a man whose works are famous for their length, but the shorter books about Wagner tend to be the best.
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