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Wagner's Ring: A Listener's Companion and Concordance Hardcover – May 1, 2003
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It is said that more books have been written about Wagner's life, operas, and theories of drama than about any other artist and his oeuvre. One might ask why a writer would attempt yet another discourse on the Ring and Wagner's mighty labor in producing it. The answer might simply be that the very complexity and variety of existing sources provides an embarrassment of riches to the Wagnerian neophyte, while veteran Wagnerians with a couple of Ring performances under their belts, and a few more in their CD libraries, may want a single volume that contains most of the information one might otherwise have to pursue through half a dozen different references.
Holman's approach to the work is refreshingly straightforward. Neither a professional musician nor a journalist--in real life, he's a banker--he brings insights to this work that have perhaps escaped those who spend their entire lives working with music. While he gives a passing nod to Jungian interpretations of the text, and the many self-indulgent realizations that have been seen on-stage during the post-World War II period, his aim in analysis and explanation is to decipher Wagner's intention. For the neophyte, no method could be better calculated to begin understanding this epic. Both in his discussion of the historical sources that inspired Wagner and in his careful rendering of the motivations of each character appearing in the Ring, Holman is like a restorer of fine antique furniture, stripping off a century's accretion of sometimes ill-chosen varnishes.
The no-nonsense attitude toward interpretation is carried over admirably into the bibliography and discography. Not simply listing books and recordings, Holman makes cogent comments on the strengths and weaknesses of the sources he discusses. Two examples are Holman's apt observation on Robert Gutman's biography of Wagner, in which he points out that, at the end, "Gutman appears to lose his grip"; and in the discography and the excellent discussion of the various Ring recordings, including why the Solti/Decca recording is the benchmark recorded performance. The most novel component of the book is the concordance. More than an index, it painstakingly catalogs each circumstance and context under which over 160 significant characters, objects, or ideas occur in the entire text of the libretto. Most people think of a concordance as a tool for biblical study, but considering the almost religious fervor Wagner inspires in his admirers, perhaps the term is appropriate.
From Library Journal
This is indeed a "listener's companion" and will be of value both to scholar and neophyte. Included is a fascinating overview of the mythological and literary sources for the text of Wagner's four-opera cycle, Der Ring des Nibelungen; a chronology of the composer's creative process; and a brief but vivid history of the first Bayreuth festival. Of special interest is the chapter devoted to the operas' characters, tracing their mythological roots and clarifying their relationships and significance. The discography is the one weakness, because Holman, a member of the Washington Opera's board of trustees, has chosen to include only recordings that have been released on CD and devotes considerable space to defending his personal favorites. As the first English-language concordance to the Ring, this is an important book for scholars and students, but its attractive price and straightforward writing style make it accessible for the lay reader and the many who have discovered the Ring on videotape. Highly recommended.?Kate McCaffrey, Onondaga County P.L., Syracuse, N.Y.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top customer reviews
If you have still have breath, Wagnerian or not, treat yourself to this amazing experience.
That point made, this book is a wonderful tool to improve one's understanding of Wagner's Ring. The concondance lists the appearance of all the important themes, issues, emotions, and characters. This would be particularly useful for students or others anaylzing the work. The organization and presentation of this section is clear. The addition of plot summaries, reviews of productions, and various discussions create a well-rounded volume.
The fact that the book is written by a non-specialist is most refreshing: discussions of characters, plot developments, and so forth are wonderfully lucid. They are insightful, without being burdened by some of the heavy jargon found in some works. Every page reveals the author's love and respect for his subject. His reviews of stage productions and sound recordings are informative and fresh. Here again, common sense prevails over musicological jargon.
In short, this book gives a wealth of practical knowledge about Wagner's vast opera cycle, and is a pleasure to read.
Wagner's "Ring" cycle can be daunting to even the well initiated. The four-opera, 18-hour tale takes us from the watery pianissimo beginnings of the world itself to its fiery, fortissimo end. In between there's no shortage of high adventure, murder, forbidden love, treachery and greed - and that's just among those in the audience!
But Holman deftly avoids the usual heavy-handedness and technicalities as he guides us through the complex tale with entertaining plot summaries and cogent explanations. His analysis of the work's many gods, mortals, dwarfs, heldentenors and their musical themes is masterful.
An added bonus is the extensive concordance which lets the reader quickly look up references to more than 160 key words or names from the dramas. Your snobby musical friends will be very impressed! They probably think a concordance is a ballet aboard an SST.
You could spend years perusing the hundreds of volumes and millions of words that have been written about the "Ring" in its 120 years of life. But why? Just read Holman's book and get a life! The Master of Bayreuth himself would approve.