WAGNER: A Case History by Martin van Amerongen

WAGNER: A Case History

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Sketchy, rambling musings on assorted Wagner life-and-work topics--adding up to a far-from-original conclusion: the man was truly awful, but the music is pretty darn good. Most of the 19 mini-essays (5-10 pages each) come in no particular order. There's a chronological group on the history of Bayreuth--from Cosima's reign (bigot Richard Strauss was ""by far the most unsavoury member at court"") to Hitler's friend Winifred Wagner (esthetically not reactionary) to the postwar attempts at overcoming the past, with ""Grandpa's racial hatred"" still ""a festering wound in Bayreuth's flesh."" (One interesting point: the ways in which the Wagner carton's philosophy runs counter to Nazism.) Several chapters feature Wagner's anti-Semitism: a sarcastic browsing through Cosima's Diaries; a few paragraphs on the relationship between Wagner and his Jewish supporters (""a good deal of masochism on both sides""); passing remarks on Wagner's attitude toward Offenbach, Meyerbeer, and Heine. There are quick ponderings of Wagner's kinky eroticism (though ""I have certainly no intention of going sniffing under his bedclothes""), of his often-hushed-up politics: ""as a social insurrectionist Wagner really represents the ultra-left-wing, popular Marxist, anti-worker, terrorist tradition. . . ."" And the works themselves receive slightly offbeat attention: the text of Die Meistersinger is ""an extremely unsympathetic work, involving a good deal of drivel""; Parsifal is ""really a paean to the sexual drive""; Tristan is an unpretentious favorite; but no matter how lousy the poetry, the music is ""neither banal nor uninteresting."" Though twitting assorted Wagner scholars here and there (sometimes quite rightly), van Amerongen offers nothing substantially new in any of these testy, unscholarly, occasionally sophomoric pot-shots. But followers of the endless Wagner debates may be sporadically amused, even provoked.

Pub Date: March 12th, 1984
Publisher: Braziller