WAGNER NIGHTS: An American History by Joseph Horowitz

WAGNER NIGHTS: An American History

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

An expert blend of musical and social history, illuminating one of the cultural cores of America's ""Gilded Age."" In the 1880s, as accurately depicted in Edith Wharton's Age of Innocence, the upper echelons of New York society flocked to Faust (a scene carefully retained in Martin Scorsese's recent film version). But by the 1890s, Wagner fever had overtaken America's most ardent opera patrons, and not in New York alone. This is the world that Horowitz (The Ivory Trade, 1990, etc.) reveals in his fascinating, gracefully written study of American Wagnerism. Currently executive director of the Brooklyn Philharmonic, formerly a New York Times music critic, and a long-time student of the interplay between musical art and national culture, Horowitz orders his narrative around the parallel careers of the conductor Anton Seidl and the New York Tribune critic Henry Krehbiel. He evokes an era when issues of aesthetics and musical philosophy were the common currency of middle-class discussion. From the viewpoint of today's world, in which the column inches devoted to serious arts criticism in the daily papers have shrunk to virtually nothing, finde-siècle America was, musically and intellectually, an enviably lively place. Wagner's works dominated the stage, and his music and ""ideas"" were the subject of passionate debate. To this extent, Horowitz proves his thesis that the ""Gay '90s"" were not the crass, lowbrow scene its detractors have claimed. One fascinating recurrent theme in this study is the positive impact of Wagnerism on emerging feminism at the turn of the century. It appears that a majority of American Wagnerites were women, and the idea of Brunnhilde (as well as the regal dramatic sopranos who portrayed her) fit neatly with the notion of the ""New Woman"" then sweeping the nation. A work of engrossing scholarship about an important, unjustly ignored slice of our artistic past.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1994
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Univ. of California