- Hardcover: 256 pages
- Publisher: Princeton University Press (September 16, 1996)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0691011621
- ISBN-13: 978-0691011622
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 8 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,071,354 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Wagner Hardcover – September 16, 1996
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From Library Journal
British academic philosopher Tanner has written on music for the Times Literary Supplement and is author of Nietzsche, a volume in the "Past Masters" series from Oxford University Press (1994). Nietzsche wrote a lot about Wagner, joining a flow of opinions that became a river long ago. Tanner quotes him here, mainly in order to argue with him and many others who find fault with the complicated, controversial German music dramatist. Opening by harshly explicating some Wagner criticism as "inane," "outrageously unfair," and "priggish," Tanner then spiritedly discusses all the operas in chronological order, focusing upon effects he feels their characters, stories, and music are meant to have on thoughtful members of the audience. When these effects are contradictory, Tanner self-consciously argues with himself. A short bibliographic essay provides leads to still more views. A warm-hearted, occasionally hot-headed defense of Wagner; recommended for balance.?Bonnie Jo Dopp, Long Branch Community Lib., Silver Spring, Md.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Kirkus Reviews
Tanner, a Cambridge philosopher and opera critic for the Spectator, offers analyses of the plots of Wagner's operas, the intellectual themes projected by them, and an evaluation of the music that is (for most of us) their justification. Tanner's discussion of The Ring is superb and makes an otherwise very uneven book required reading. He often overstates (arguing, for instance, that Tristan is one of the two great religious works in Western music, along with the St. Matthew Passion), and he generally loads his analytical dice to minimize or even delete Wagner's faults. While almost all serious music lovers include Wagner on their shortlist of the ten greatest composers, Wagner is for Tanner far more serious business than merely music. For him the purpose of his art is to change our lives. That makes his life very important, and Tanner's selective treatment of it is regrettable. Except for a mention in the four-page chronology, Tanner doesn't note the twice published Jewry in Music, Wagner's ferocious demand for racial purity in German music. This omission explains the comparative shallowness of Tanner's discussion of Meistersinger, which is described as a study of human folly, whereas from the outset it was recognized as a specific and passionate statement of German nationalism, and a work happily and repeatedly embraced by the Nazis. So why did Barenboim conduct Meistersinger at Bayreuth this year, and Levine at the Met? Because the incandescence of Wagner's music transcends his personality. As Rilke (another dreadful man and magnificent artist) noted, in attempting to explain the emotions evoked by Parsifal, it drives us ``to give joyous consent to the dreadfulness of life in order to take possession of the unutterable abundance and power of our existence.'' There is no question that Tanner, by fair means as well as foul, celebrates Wagner's power to achieve that. -- Copyright ©1996, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
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Oddly, there is no mention of "Die Sieger," Wagner's prose sketch of a Hindu/Buddhist drama which closely matches Parsifal. Rather Tanner views Parsifal entirely in Christian terms, ignoring the subtle Buddhist themes. Indeed Wagner became interested in eastern religion, vegetarianism and antivivisectionism. Tanner makes no mention of this, and gives scant attention to Wagner's devotion to the Greek dramatists. Since Wagner was a gifted composer it seems unlikely that his operas can be given a just account without fully describing his use of music to fill out the psychological and philosophical aspects of the dramas.
Other reviewers have commented on the incomprehensible style in which this book is written. Did Tanner attempt to imitate Wagner's prose with some choice Anglicanisms thrown in for good measure ("vouchsafe" - really?). Occasionally sentences seem to sag under their own weight defying common rules of grammar.
In much of the Wagner literature, there is often a rather shallow discussion of the dramas in terms of character and message. Tanner seeks to remedy this, and hopefully others will follow his path as well.
The sentences are needlessly long and complex. This book cries out for a more aggressive editor. The content is good though.
This book is comparable to Bryan Magee's "The Tristan Chord: Wagner and Philosophy," not in content but in approach. Magee also takes a very pro-Wagern, apologetic approach.
Simply put, this ranks near the top of the mountain of books on Richard Wagner, and certainly as one the very best books about him released within the last 10 years.
Tanner gives some incredible insights, such as seeing Tristan und Isolde as a humanist "religious" work; this insight spurred an entire book (also well worth checking-out), called Death-Devoted Heart, by noted philosopher, Roger Scruton.
Perhaps the greatest value that this excellent book possesses is Tanner's rebuttal of the usual criticisms of Wagner. Everybody "knows" the Wagner was an amoral Casanova with proto-Nazi tendencies. Actually, the truth is far more interesting, and while Tanner doesn't whitewash Wagner's repulsive anti-Semitism, he brings it into considerably sharper focus than most Wagner scribes.
This is a welcome antidote to the shrill screeds that seem to be churned out constantly by the anti-Wagner lobby, while at the same time a measured and sober look at Wagner's artistic achievements. Highly recommended!