The noted philosopher and writer takes on Richard Wagner's operatic masterpiece in this thorough critical study.
The cultural resonance of "Ride of the Valkyries" has helped ensure the lasting fame of Wagner's four-opera cycle Ring of the Nibelung, which premiered in 1876, outside of the world of opera, while its continued influence on music and the dramatic arts secures its creative legacy. Though that legacy has been tainted by the historical association of Wagner's music with the Nazi regime, as well as his own anti-Semitic writings, there is no denying the greatness of his artistic achievement. Scruton (Confessions of a Heretic: Selected Essays, 2017, etc.) views the stigma attached to Wagner's work as a mistake in need of correction. Despite Wagner’s personal failings, his "vision is nevertheless as important to the times in which we live as it was to those of its creator.” The author argues that most modern productions of the cycle fail to adhere to this vision: to illuminate the truth of the human condition, with art replacing religion in that role. Though the scope of the subject matter may seem intimidating, Scruton lays out his argument in a clear, coherent, and readable manner. He addresses—but does not dismiss—the controversy over Wagner's personal views, details the cultural and historical background that informed his writing, and helpfully recaps the story before turning to his own interpretation and analysis. The author also deals with the challenge of discussing the crucial import of the music on the meaning of the drama—not merely as an accompaniment to the words, but rather "the channel through which the emotions of the drama flow." An index detailing the various leitmotifs used in the cycle, while not unique to this work, is nonetheless of great use to readers seeking further insight. Scruton’s status as a pillar of British conservatism is reflected in his analysis, but it need not discourage readers of any political stripe from appreciating his wisdom.
An admirable, welcome effort to illuminate one of the most significant artistic achievements of the modern age.