Richard Wagner; Wunderkind Or Monster Diana Glazer European History AP Research Paper Richard Wagner; Wunderkind or Monster? Richard Wagner remains the most controversial genius in music, perhaps in all the arts. The controversy began during his life – over ten thousand books about him were published before Wagner’s death in 1883 – and continues still. The musical world is divided in Wagnerians (sometimes called Wagnerites) and anti-Wagnerians. Many have switched positions as the discover more about their genius, or their monster. In the case of most artists, knowledge of their private lives is not essential to an understanding of the nature of their work. Although Wagner’s life doesn’t explain his work, it cannot be ignored in an analysis of his work, because it is often the direct antithesis of his creative spirit. Furthermore, bad people are generally more interesting than good ones.
Wagner is fascinating: an incredible music-dramatic genius who was an undiluted monster. Wagner is that enigmatic blend of good and evil, great and cruel that sporadically appears in Germany, the country of Kant and Himmler, of Bach and Walter Ulbricht, of Goethe and Goebbels. Wagner’s conceit was almost pathological. He read everything aloud to his relatives and friends. He didn’t expect criticism, only applause.
In Of Mice and Music, Deems Taylor writes Wagner had the emotional stability of a six-year-old child. When he felt out of sorts he would rave and stamp, or sink into suicidal gloom..He was almost innocent of any sense of responsibility. He was convinced that the world owed him a living..He was equally unscrupulous in other ways. His second wife had been the wife of his most devoted friend, from whom he stole her. And even while he was trying to persuade her to leave her first husband he was writing to a wealthy woman, whom he could marry for her money..He had a genius for making enemies. He would insult a man who disagreed with him about the weather..
But he also concludes that this undersized, sickly, disagreeable, fascinating little man was right all the time.What if he was faithless to his friends and to his wives? There is a greatness about his worst mistakes. The miracle is that what he did in the space of seventy years could have been done at all, even by a great genius, is it any wonder that he had not time to be a man? He was a complex monster. Financially, he cheated his best friends. For example, Otto Wesendock (the man whose wife Wagner stole away) who bought the publishing rights to Rheingold and Walkre in 1859, had wide experience with Wagner’s character, and was perhaps not too startled to learn that Rheingold was sold again to Schott of Mainz without any intention on Wagner’s part of repaying the original advance. As a requital Otto was granted the rights to Gtterdmmerung – an unwritten work! But in 1865 Wagner demanded that Otto without reimbursement give up all claims to Ring (he had also paid for the incomplete Siegfried) and even surrender – amiably and generously – the orchestral score of Rheingold, his only remaining asset of these transactions, to the Ring’s newest proprietor, the Bavarian King. The climax of double dealings came, when King Ludwig’s ownership rights, for which he had paid untold thousands of marks, were ignored by Wagner, who proceeded to sell the Ring to individual theater for his own profit.
Obviously, Wagner was a crook on a scale befitting his musical genius. His duplicity extends to almost everything else he did. He extolled the virtue of chastity in his early operas while having numerous affairs. Working in his study in Haus Wahnfried in Bayreuth on the first act of his Buhnenweihfestspiel ( a stage-consecrating festival play) Parsifal allegedly a religious work, he wrote to his douce amie, Judith, to send him amber and powdered scents which he spread in his bathroom, located underneath the study so that he could breathe in the ;aromatic fumes rising from below and with them memories of Judith’s glowing embraces, while working on the pious admonitions of good, old Gurnemanz. Yet he had the audacity to refer contemptuously to Rossini as Italia’s voluptuous son, smiling away in luxury’s most luxurious lap.
Wagner’s pathological hatred of the French and the Jews is a matter of record, and made him the idol of Adolf Hitler. Wagner had incredibly bad taste; most nineteenth century anti-Semites would have been horrified by Auschwitz, but one has the uncomfortable suspicion that Wagner would have wholeheartedly approved. In 1881, Wagner wrong, about the great solution concerning the Jews, urging his fellow Germans to conquer false shame and to shrink from ultimate knowledge. To many, this is a terrifying sentence. Wagner’s letzte Erkenntnis, the ultimate knowledge, later become the Endlsung (final solution) of Himmler and Eichmann. Wagner hated nearly all fellow composers, and he hated most those from whom he learned most.
He hated Mendelssohn’s Scottish Symphony. He hated Meyerbeer and ridiculed the grand opera -and he wrote his own grand opera, Rienzi. He hated Scribe and wrote his structurally derivative Meistersinger libretto. The difference between Wagner’s aesthetic, polemical writings, and his musical and dramatic practices is bewildering. In Oper and Drama, his most important treatise about opera as an art form, published in 1851, he severely condemned, Mozart: Nothing seems more characteristic to me concerning Mozart’s career as an opera composer than the careless indiscrimination with which he approached his task; it did not occur to him to ponder over the aesthetic scruples underlying the opera; on the contrary, he proceeded with the composition of any text submitted to him with the greatest lack of self-consciousness.
One wonders whether to be infuriated b Wagner’s impertinence or amused by his stupidity and ignorance. The amazing thing is how long people were fooled by him, and how many are fooled by him to this day. Theoretically, Wagner condemned duets and ensembles because they make the words difficult to hear; according to his writings, the words are as important as the music, maybe more important. Whereupon he wrote Tristan und Isolde, with its great and wonderful love duet in the second act, in which the words were made nearly unintelligible by the overwhelming power of the passionate music. In Meistersinger, there are not only arias, choruses and a ballet (all that Wagner hated so much about eh despised Meyerbeer), but even a quintet! And because Wagner was such a genius, it happens to be the greatest quintet ever written for the operatic stage.
About the book of Gtterdmmerung, with its poisoned drinks, conspirateurs’ ensembles, massed choruses, and Scribe-inspired coups de thtre, Bernard Shaw wrote quite correctly that it has much in common with Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera. In his writings Wagner demanded that conventional arias linked by recitatives are to be replaces by what he called continuous melos )preferring the Greek word melos to melody which he considered vulgar). He argued strongly against the singers’ opera where plot and orchestra are subordinated to vocal display, as in the works of Rossini and Bellini. Wagner carried this out in Rheingold and parts of Die Walkre. But in Gtterdmmerung, Meistersinger and Parisfal, with heir powerful choruses, he wrote post-Meyerbeer super-grand opera, and in Der fliegende Hollnder and Tannhuser he often stops the action by giving the singers beautiful arias.
Wagner’s main problem was not his enemies but his friends. The closest friend was young Friedrich Nietzsche, the greatest thinker of the late-nineteenth century, who considered Wagner his ideal superman, the emanation of the eternal, who would bring about eh regeneration of all the arts in the spirit of ancient Greece. As a young philosopher, Nietzsche was overpowered by Richard Wagner the man and the artist. he saw in Wagner the herald of the new Dionysian man said Lang. The break came when Nietzsche’s romantic admiration was challenged by his critical powers.
He began, deeply shocked , to sense Wagner’s insincerity. He must have had his first doubts when he was privileged, among Wagner’s closest friends, to read the manuscript his autobiography. He later wrote That which is circulated as Wagner’s autobiography is fiction, if not worse, intended for public use. I must confess that every point we know from Wagner’s description I regard with the greatest suspicion. He was not proud enough to utter the trutheven in biography he remained true to himself – he remained an actor. In 1873, Nietzsche wrote regarding Wagner that he who believes in himself only is no longer honest toward himself.
The final break came nine years later when Nietzsche heard Parsifal, which he called Christianity arranged for Wagnerians. Nietzsche had known Wagner was a cynical atheist, and that what seemed like a conversion was due to Wagner’s wife Cosima. Nietzsche also knew that among close friends Wagner was still cynical about his wife’s beliefs. It is no secret that the editors of his letters deleted many of Wagner’s anti-Christian polemics. Nietzsche, who knew the Master better than anyone else, rightly sensed opportunistic and materialistic beliefs behind Parsifal. Wagner was keenly aware of the bourgeois sanctimonious mentality of the Germans, for God, Kaiser and Reich; Nietzsche knew this was ashamed of Wagner for pandering to the public and der Psycologie der Masse. It was the end of a beautiful relationship. Wagner survived easily, but Nietzsche brooded about the disappointment and some believe it may have contributed to his later insanity. Many say Wagner was a man of fascist mentality, colored by something essentially, if not exclusively Teutonic, and it is above all in the Ring that this side of his nature emerges.
By a fascist mentality, it is meant a preference forward against peace, for violence against gentleness, for retaliation against forgiveness; a glorification of strength and a contempt for weakness; an exaltation of health and a disdain for suffering. And by Teutonism (not for a moment to be thought as the mark of all or even of most Germans) it is mean as a predilection for vastness as against proportion, for cloudiness as against precision, for an inflated romanticism and a vague nobility. Wagner began by writing poetry and philosophical studies. In 1831, at the age of eighteen, he began to study counterpoint. Two years later, he wrote Die Feen (the Fairies), and a historical grand opera, Rienzi.
He was under the influence of his predecessors (Meyerbeer, Halvy, Spontini, Spohr, Mhul, Marschner) and borrowed freely from them. Hanslick described the first-act finales as mixture of Donizetti and Meyerbeer, and an anticipation of Verdi. Wagner was furious but then he calmed down and wrote Der fliegende Hollnder where the master’s hand becomes visible, and audible (journeying from Riga, in 1839, Wagner had experienced violent storms between Pillan and Gravesend which mad his trip, according to his own description, more terrifying than the first voyage of Columbus). There are already great moments in the Hollnder, such as the Dutchman’s appearance in the first act, Senta’s ballad and her meeting with the Dutchman, and the ghost chorus in the last act. The opera was a failure in Dresden, in 1843; the audience was bored and after only four performance of the work was dropped for twenty-two years.
Tannhuser(1845) and Lohengrin (1847) are romantic operas; but again, there are long flashes of Wagnerian genius. No romantic composer had yet written anything as exciting as the Venusberg Music. And there is drama and excitement in the schizophrenic female characters, Elisabeth and Venus, whom Wa …