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I Saw the World End: A Study of Wagner's Ring (Clarendon Paperbacks) Paperback – March 12, 1992

ISBN-13: 978-0193153189 ISBN-10: 0193153181

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I Saw the World End: A Study of Wagner's Ring (Clarendon Paperbacks) + Introduction to Der Ring Des Nibelungen + Wagner's Ring: Turning the Sky Round
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Product Details

  • Series: Clarendon Paperbacks
  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (March 12, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0193153181
  • ISBN-13: 978-0193153189
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.5 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #220,516 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"An important contribution to Wagner studies."--John Warrack, Times Literary Supplement

"Extremely valuable for tracing the relationships between Wagner's sources and his libretto."--Choice

About the Author

The late Deryck Cooke, author of The Language of Music, completed Mahler's Tenth Symphony.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

58 of 59 people found the following review helpful By Ray Barnes on June 6, 2000
Format: Paperback
This book was to have been the first of a two-volume set, but sadly Deryck Cooke passed away before his monumental exposition could be fully realized. It is a great tragedy that this work was left unfinished, but we should at least be thankful for what we have. Rather than take a theological, political or sociological position and try to make the Ring fit, as many authors did, Cooke chose instead to focus on the actual construction of the libretto and orchestral score. Although there is insightful analysis on all 4 operas, this volume is devoted mostly to the realization of Das Rheingold and Die Walkure. The author presents a very convincing thesis that far from being a disjointed, poorly conceived work, Rheingold, by comparison to the extremely disparate and incoherent nature of the source material, is in fact a very compact and concentrated story. When one looks at the Nibelungenlied, the Eddic poems, and the various pieces of Norse mythology, Cooke unequivocally demonstrates that Wagner had enough material to compose a stage work requiring much longer than 4 evenings to perform. The process of refining, editing, compressing, and modifying (within reason) to adapt the writings for the stage is explained in thorough and exhaustive detail. Somehow Cooke accomplished this without the narrative dragging on or becoming too difficult, a masterly effort in exposition. He then goes on to explain how the leitmotives were conceived and transformed from one character and/or event to another. The depth of analysis is worthy of the subject matter. Anyone who reads this book should have a much greater appreciation of Das Rheingold than before.
This work offers many rewards to the serious Wagner enthusiast and also to the casual music lover, and cannot be too strongly recommended. Let us hope it comes back into circulation.
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46 of 46 people found the following review helpful By R. Albin TOP 500 REVIEWER on August 7, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is a model of thoughtful interpretation. Cooke begins by setting out why interpretation of the Ring cycle has been so difficult. This is seen as due partly to the enormous complexity of the work, partly due to the fact that prior major interpretations have been based on somewhat unrealistic preconceptions, for example, Bernard Shaw's social-political interpretation, and partly due to prior major interpretations bypassing close analysis of the music itself. Cooke develops a set of explicit criteria for an accurate interpretation of the Ring and applies them to prior major interpretative efforts. His critique of Robert Dornington's Jungian analysis, for example is moderate in tone but devastating in effect. Cooke defends Wagner against the charge that the plot and characters of the Ring are a shoddily assembled hodge-podge of myth. Cooke performs a careful analysis of Wagner's sources, using the same editions that Wagner drew from. Cooke demonstrates Wagner's careful and artful selection and modification of elements from German and Nordic mythology into a sophisticated and well integrated drama. Cooke's recurring term for Wagner's craft is masterly and he is correct. With this background, Cooke moves to a careful analysis of the plot and characters of the first 2 operas, Rheingold and Valkyrie. An essentially step by step analysis shows how Wagner used plot and character to advance his theme of the conflict of power versus love.

The only defect of this book is that it ends with the conclusion of Valkyrie. Though this book is over 350 pages long (in a small but not miniscule font), this would have been only the beginning of Cooke's projected opus on the Ring. Presumably, there would have been an equivalent amount of enlightening text on Siegfried and Gotterdamerung.
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37 of 37 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 27, 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This really is an extraordinary book - it is the most comprehensive, insightful, and consistent study of Wagner's Ring des Niblungen. It offers some musical analysis of the leitmotivs, and is one of the first books to begin a revision of von Wolzogen's grossly erroneous analysis of the leitmotivs; it provides a plethora of highly organized information about the stages of Wagner's sketches and librettos and the original myths/legends/sagas from which he drew; and a scene by scene analysis of Rheingold and Walkure.
This book actually makes sense of Der Ring des Niblungen - no easy task, as anyone familiar with the opera tetralogy is well aware. If you are interested in the tetralogy and want to know more about it, this is THE book. There are, however, two tragedies associated with this book: the first is that the author's untimely death prevented him from finishing the book (though the material printed is itself finished). The whole book should have been about three times the length of the printed material. The second tragedy is that it is OUT OF PRINT - this is absolutely disgraceful...hopefully this title will come in to print again.
Get a hold of a copy of this book if you can.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Klingsor Tristan on December 20, 2006
Format: Paperback
This book amply shows what a tragedy it was that Deryck Cooke died whilst still at the height of his powers. He was one of the most approachable and reliable of music critics and musicologists. No-one was better at tracing a path through the minefield of different editions of the Bruckner symphonies. No-one was more perceptive in elucidating Mahler's music and its interpreters. His performing edition of the 10th Symphony still stands as a paradigm for how these things should be done and how they should be presented to the world. 40 odd years later, his book, The Language of Music, remains a fascinating and significant exposition of the building-blocks of music, an exploration of how certain intervals and phrases which are the basic vocabulary of musical expression seem to retain a common 'meaning' across the work of very different composers from the Baroque era to the 60's.

But this monumental study of Wagner's Ring, which he left less than half finished at his death, would probably have been his greatest contribution to musical exegesis. What is left for us is an introduction which cogently dispenses with the narrow-minded interpretations proposed by the socialist, anti-capitalist Shaw in The Perfect Wagnerite and the Jungian psychology of Donington in Wagner's Ring and its Symbols. There then follows a tantalising look at the music itself in which he shows that one particular leitmotif misnamed by Wolzogen in his pioneering study as Flight, a mistake blindly followed by most subsequent commentators, is in fact the fundamental Love motif of the entire cycle. From this he draws the not unreasonable conclusion that this is, musically and philosophically, a crucial half of the essential dramatic conflict of the tetralogy between Power and Love.
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