Friday, April 26, 2013

A to Z: Wagner

Richard Wagner can be a real slog, I will admit. He can be heavy and ponderous, and even when he's not being those things -- because he can also be light and ethereal -- he's always totally serious. He's never kidding. I hear a lot of wonderful things in Wagner's music, but humor is, for the most part, not one of them.

Wagner appeals to that part of me that still loves a big, epic story to chew on. Wagner is big stories, featuring heartbreaking sacrifices made by lovers. Wagner is epic magic, the magic that existed before the world began. Wagner is stately lines of guests entering torch-lit castle halls, and he is creatures of myth winging through the air. Wagner is a Knight of the Grail who is forbidden to reveal his name, and he is the final fall of the gods themselves.

No, Wagner is not much for the lighter things in life.

Wagner is also a stern test for the idea that an artist's art should not be judged by the artist's personality. This is because Wagner was pretty much of a shit -- an arrogant and pompous philandering ass who went through life demanding money of others that he might maintain his lavish lifestyle. He was an anti-Semite and pretty much of a boor. But his music -- oh, his music transcends.

Here is an orchestral excerpt from his masterwork, Der Ring des Nibelungen -- specifically, the fourth opera, Gotterdammerung. It is "Siegfried's Funeral Music", but it also closes with the "Redemption Through Love" music that closes out the entire saga. Wagner's not for everyone...but I sure dig him.

Tomorrow: X. I'll be doing some Googling again....


Roger Owen Green said...

You bring up an interesting topic, about Wagner's boorishness and racism. When modern people behave badly - I'm thinking Orson Scott Card - one can (and possibly should) boycott him. But what of the dead schmucks?

Unknown said...

Hi, I really enjoyed this piece. Don't know much about this sort of music but it certainly transported me to mountains and lakes - an epic voyage in my mind. I'll settle for that.