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Alex Ross, renowned New Yorker music critic and author of the international bestseller and Pulitzer Prize finalist The Rest Is Noise, reveals how Richard Wagner became the proving ground for modern art and politics--an aesthetic war zone where the Western world wrestled with its capacity for beauty and violence. For better or worse, Wagner is the most widely influential fig Alex Ross, renowned New Yorker music critic and author of the international bestseller and Pulitzer Prize finalist The Rest Is Noise, reveals how Richard Wagner became the proving ground for modern art and politics--an aesthetic war zone where the Western world wrestled with its capacity for beauty and violence. For better or worse, Wagner is the most widely influential figure in the history of music. Around 1900, the phenomenon known as Wagnerism saturated European and American culture. Such colossal creations as The Ring of the Nibelung, Tristan und Isolde, and Parsifal were models of formal daring, mythmaking, erotic freedom, and mystical speculation. A mighty procession of artists, including Virginia Woolf, Thomas Mann, Paul C�zanne, Isadora Duncan, and Luis Bu�uel, felt his impact. Anarchists, occultists, feminists, and gay-rights pioneers saw him as a kindred spirit. Then Adolf Hitler incorporated Wagner into the soundtrack of Nazi Germany, and the composer came to be defined by his ferocious antisemitism. For many, his name is now almost synonymous with artistic evil. In Wagnerism, Alex Ross restores the magnificent confusion of what it means to be a Wagnerian. A pandemonium of geniuses, madmen, charlatans, and prophets do battle over Wagner's many-sided legacy. As readers of his brilliant articles for The New Yorker have come to expect, Ross ranges thrillingly across artistic disciplines, from the architecture of Louis Sullivan to the novels of Philip K. Dick, from the Zionist writings of Theodor Herzl to the civil-rights essays of WEB Du Bois, from O Pioneers! to Apocalypse Now. In many ways, Wagnerism tells a tragic tale. An artist who might have rivaled Shakespeare in universal reach is undone by an ideology of hate. Still, his shadow lingers over twenty-first century culture, his mythic motifs coursing through superhero films and fantasy fiction. Neither apologia nor condemnation, Wagnerism is a work of passionate discovery, urging us toward a more honest idea of how art acts in the world.


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Alex Ross, renowned New Yorker music critic and author of the international bestseller and Pulitzer Prize finalist The Rest Is Noise, reveals how Richard Wagner became the proving ground for modern art and politics--an aesthetic war zone where the Western world wrestled with its capacity for beauty and violence. For better or worse, Wagner is the most widely influential fig Alex Ross, renowned New Yorker music critic and author of the international bestseller and Pulitzer Prize finalist The Rest Is Noise, reveals how Richard Wagner became the proving ground for modern art and politics--an aesthetic war zone where the Western world wrestled with its capacity for beauty and violence. For better or worse, Wagner is the most widely influential figure in the history of music. Around 1900, the phenomenon known as Wagnerism saturated European and American culture. Such colossal creations as The Ring of the Nibelung, Tristan und Isolde, and Parsifal were models of formal daring, mythmaking, erotic freedom, and mystical speculation. A mighty procession of artists, including Virginia Woolf, Thomas Mann, Paul C�zanne, Isadora Duncan, and Luis Bu�uel, felt his impact. Anarchists, occultists, feminists, and gay-rights pioneers saw him as a kindred spirit. Then Adolf Hitler incorporated Wagner into the soundtrack of Nazi Germany, and the composer came to be defined by his ferocious antisemitism. For many, his name is now almost synonymous with artistic evil. In Wagnerism, Alex Ross restores the magnificent confusion of what it means to be a Wagnerian. A pandemonium of geniuses, madmen, charlatans, and prophets do battle over Wagner's many-sided legacy. As readers of his brilliant articles for The New Yorker have come to expect, Ross ranges thrillingly across artistic disciplines, from the architecture of Louis Sullivan to the novels of Philip K. Dick, from the Zionist writings of Theodor Herzl to the civil-rights essays of WEB Du Bois, from O Pioneers! to Apocalypse Now. In many ways, Wagnerism tells a tragic tale. An artist who might have rivaled Shakespeare in universal reach is undone by an ideology of hate. Still, his shadow lingers over twenty-first century culture, his mythic motifs coursing through superhero films and fantasy fiction. Neither apologia nor condemnation, Wagnerism is a work of passionate discovery, urging us toward a more honest idea of how art acts in the world.

30 review for Wagnerism: Art and Politics in the Shadow of Music

  1. 4 out of 5

    Tosh

    Probably one of the 'fun' reads this year is "Wagnerism" by Alex Ross. And to be honest I don't care about Wagner. What I do find fascinating is how a 19th-century composer can transform not only the music world, but also in the visual and literary arts. And of course that Hitler connection. Ross is an amazing music historian, and like his other book "Rest is Noise," "Wagnerism" has at least five great stories per page. This mega-book is huge and is probably one of the great reads on how art can Probably one of the 'fun' reads this year is "Wagnerism" by Alex Ross. And to be honest I don't care about Wagner. What I do find fascinating is how a 19th-century composer can transform not only the music world, but also in the visual and literary arts. And of course that Hitler connection. Ross is an amazing music historian, and like his other book "Rest is Noise," "Wagnerism" has at least five great stories per page. This mega-book is huge and is probably one of the great reads on how art can have an effect on culture. One doesn't have to be a Wagner fan to appreciate this book. It's interesting that like The Beatles, who had a strong impact on pop - both high and low culture, Wagner did the same in the 19th-century. He even had his own merch shop when he was alive! Kimley and I discuss this book on our podcast BOOK MUSIK. You can hear it here: Book Musik podcast.

  2. 5 out of 5

    lark benobi

    It's not an exaggeration to say that Ross's 2007 book THE REST IS NOISE forever changed the way I think about and listen to music. What a glorious, exalted, human experience it was to read his earlier book, and to have a companion website there to hear in real time of all of the music I was learning about. Apart from the music itself, and apart from Ross's always-fascinating, never-condescending approach to explaining the significance of a given composition, another thing that really made this e It's not an exaggeration to say that Ross's 2007 book THE REST IS NOISE forever changed the way I think about and listen to music. What a glorious, exalted, human experience it was to read his earlier book, and to have a companion website there to hear in real time of all of the music I was learning about. Apart from the music itself, and apart from Ross's always-fascinating, never-condescending approach to explaining the significance of a given composition, another thing that really made this earlier book soar and sing for me was Ross's historical scene setting--his extraordinary ability to make these composers come alive as human beings who were living through a moment in history, and influencing that history. Ross's scenes are as vivid as Barbara Tuchman's and they call to mind Tuchman's humanity and her uncanny ability to revivify the past. Ross's previous book also included a tantalizing, brief examination of Wagner's music and influence, that left me wanting to know more. And now Ross has devoted himself fully to Wagner, and Wagnerism in this next book. The book begins with a vivid scene of Wagner's death, and follows on with even more vivid detail about the way the world reacted to the news of Wagner's death. It's stunningly written. The moments come alive on the page. And then comes a bald statement of Ross's thesis about Wagner and his influence. I suggest you just accept it. Dive in, rather than trying to this-or-that his thesis, or debate it on the page as you read. Just go with it. Put aside any conclusions you may have made about Wagner and his art, prior to reading this book, and let the book lead you. I was exhilarated by the journey. I felt warmly taken care of, but never condescended to. Ross gave me so much to think about. I'm assuming that Ross will put up a companion listening web site as the publication date draws nearer, with links to all of the music he refers to in the text, but I was able to find all of it fairly easily online and to listen as I read. It really enhances the reading experience and it's one of the best intermedia experiences I could recommend. I could not have been more grateful, when I got to the end of this book, for the way Ross introduced me to new thoughts about Wagner, about music, about history. Thanks to FSG for making this book available to me in electronic ARC.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Hadrian

    The chaotic posthumous cult that came to be known as Wagnerism was by no means a purely or even primarily musical event. It traversed the entire sphere of the arts. -Alex Ross Kill da wabbit, kill da wabbit, kill da wabbit! -Elmer Fudd One of Alex Ross' previous books, The Rest is Noise, was a broad tour through the world of modern classical music. Chapters were devoted to movements or individual composers and their works, and how they inspired generations of future artists -- but Wagner gets his o The chaotic posthumous cult that came to be known as Wagnerism was by no means a purely or even primarily musical event. It traversed the entire sphere of the arts. -Alex Ross Kill da wabbit, kill da wabbit, kill da wabbit! -Elmer Fudd One of Alex Ross' previous books, The Rest is Noise, was a broad tour through the world of modern classical music. Chapters were devoted to movements or individual composers and their works, and how they inspired generations of future artists -- but Wagner gets his own book. He has "Wagnerism", where other composers might not have their own "isms". Wagner passes away less than 200 pages in, and nearly all the text is devoted to the "shadow of music", or how Wagner's own techniques in composition, staging, mythology, and depiction of emotion influenced a bewildering array of other artists, writers, and thinkers. His use of the leitmotif may be the ancestor of the use of music in film - where Leni Reifenstahl used Wagner in the Triumph of the Will, Charlie Chaplin used him to mock Hitler. Ross is sure to include other musicians, but also - in this music critics' phrase - the "artists of silence" - poets, writers, and painters. Wagner's appeal was broad, and Ross's telling of this is almost overwhelming. It would be easy to say that the book in this way almost resembles a performance of Wagner, with a bombardment of facts. His popularity was astonishing. At his height, tens of thousands of concerts of his works were played in a decade. Imagine anybody who's music was played live that much. The performances at the Bayreuth Festspielhaus drew devotees from all over the continent and the United States. They are of all classes and backgrounds - from middle-class ladies to such figures as W.E.B. DuBois or Theodor Herzl. Much of the book is devoted to Wagner's enduring and broad influence across generations of artists. Baudelaire, the French poet, saw in him a gift for the otherworldly, an understanding of dreams. Artists from the French Symbolists to high modernists, from Willa Cather to James Joyce, saw something in him. Not everybody who heard him was a fan, of course. W.H. Auden thought he was not respectable as a person and Mark Twain felt out of place at Bayreuth, like a "heretic in heaven". Yet Ross also, in his wide scope of searching for Wagner's devotees and listeners, finds some on the radical left, of a few brief visits by Mikhail Bakunin, and of his association with gay camp and lesbians who took on the iconography of Brünnhilde. Unavoidably, there is also the intersection between Wagner's art and his politics. As we leave the 19th and move on to the 20th century, Wagnerism takes on sinister connotations. Wagner's own disgusting anti-Semitism looms over his life and art, and Ross to his credit does not avoid or deny it. Wagner's distinct aesthetics and eccentric lifestyle would have made him a pariah or an unreliable element in Nazi Germany, but his gleeful use by the Third Reich and the extreme right is his "Nosferatu shadow", and the retread of his own prejudices and of his appropriation by some of the worst evil in human history. That said, Ross goes on to say that "Wagner served the Nazi state only when he was shorn of his ambiguities," and it was partly due to this own rewriting of his story and his own family's complicity that the Third Reich had gone so far in its identification with him as it did. Attempts to mandate Wagner into the life of Nazi Germany were unsuccessful. Soldiers of the Wehrmacht who were given tickets to the opera did as you'd expect soldiers to act. They sold the tickets for beer money or fell asleep in the seats. It would be too easy to say: First Wagner, then Hitler. Ross is right to assert you'd be better off looking at all the history of the West to find where Hitler came from. Wagner has "near-infinite malleability", and interpretations of his work defy easy categorization or description. His legacy is beyond the "chaotic posthumous cult" of what "Wagnerism" was in the late 19th century, and ranges from the heights of idealism to the worst of concealed hatred. Ross takes us on a grand lecture tour of them all, and shows the composer and the artist, through his vast, conflicted, ongoing legacy.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Wiom biom

    As Tony Kushner wrote, Wagnerism is as magnificently realised as it is monumentally ambitious. It is a compelling cultural history of the modern world that Wagner's music helped augur, perhaps beginning in 1848, the year European monarchies faced widespread republican revolts, the year Wagner conceived of the Die Nibelungen in its very formative shape. Sometimes a fervent admirer and sometimes a vicious hater of Wagner, Nietzsche wrote in 1888 that "Wagner sums up modernity. There is no way out, As Tony Kushner wrote, Wagnerism is as magnificently realised as it is monumentally ambitious. It is a compelling cultural history of the modern world that Wagner's music helped augur, perhaps beginning in 1848, the year European monarchies faced widespread republican revolts, the year Wagner conceived of the Die Nibelungen in its very formative shape. Sometimes a fervent admirer and sometimes a vicious hater of Wagner, Nietzsche wrote in 1888 that "Wagner sums up modernity. There is no way out, one must first become a Wagnerian.” How and why was Wagner a torchbearer of modernity? That is a question that Ross answers in detail in Wagnerism, a book that thrillingly ranges across various artistic disciplines and disparate historical phenomena, from the architecture of Louis Sullivan (check out his jewel boxes) to the novels of Virginia Woolf, from the Zionist writings of Theodor Herzl (father of modern political Zionism) to the civil-rights essays of W. E. B. Du Bois, from O Pioneers! to Apocalypse Now (Vietnam War film). Interestingly, in the preface, Ross introduces us not to the world in which Wagner lived, but the world which he left behind. Death in Venice, which is also the title of a work by Thomas Mann, seems to establish the core thesis of the book -- Wagner's impact was/is most profoundly observed and felt after his death, not during his lifetime. And that brings us back to the title of the book: Art and Politics in the Shadow of Music. Just like how Wagner's revolutionary music served as the soundtrack to the modern world of his time and its aspiring intellectuals, we, the reader, are left to navigate and grapple with his multifaceted and protean legacy (aesthetic, philosophical, political, etc.). What makes Wagner's music so compelling seems not to be any intrinsic quality but instead the way it has been interpreted and acted upon by his contemporaries and those who grew up in a Post-Wagnerian world. Thus, the focus of Wagnerism is not on appraising Wagner's music or the man himself (though there are brief analyses) but on his legacy in all its complexity. While this means that we aren't really getting to know Wagner on his own terms, the kaleidoscopic portrayal of his legacy nonetheless offers layers of insights that cannot be found in a biography. Being neither distorted by hagiography nor demonology, Wagnerism is an honest and critical attempt at making sense of the world Wagner left behind. In the final paragraph, Ross writes that "In Wagner's vicinity, the fantasy of artistic autonomy falls to pieces and the cult of genius comes undone. Amid the wreckage, the artist is liberated from the mystification of 'great art'. He becomes something more unstable, fragile, and mutable. Incomplete in himself, he requires the most active and critical kind of listening." Perhaps that is why Wagner was and is so fascinating -- because he is such a contentious yet towering figure in the history of the modern world. If you're interested, here is a non-exhaustive list of the topics that Wagnerism touches on: philosophy (Nietzsche), art (French Symbolists, Post-Impressionists, abstract art à la Kandinsky, Futurism, Dadaism), occultists, anarchists, modern literature (Baudelaire, Whitman, TS Eliot, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf), cinema (Triumph of the Will, Matrix), theatre, LGBTQ+, feminists, Jews, African-Americans, WWI, Nazism. Specific to modernism, which is defined as a body of work that cuts against prevailing modes of representation, broaches transgressive themes and threatens zones of bourgeois comfort, Wagner's legacy is best observed in three areas: 1) the gesamtkunstwerk, 2) the use of stream of consciousness and interior monologue, and 3) the juxtaposition of myth and modernity. Having read Wagnerism, which was such an engrossing read, I have come to appreciate Wagner's preludes, especially the Tristan, as well as the fact that he was and still is a force to be reckoned with. Admittedly, I never liked Wagner's music (mainly because his pieces are so long and I much prefer Brahms) but this book has opened my eyes to the bewildering and perhaps seismic scale of his impact on the world through modernism. However, I'm not sure his music is as great as the interaction between it and the world he lived in; perhaps if not for the revolutionary circumstances of his time, he would not be such a colossal figure in music history. Also, reading about the literary/artistic elites of his time and afterwards has reinforced an opinion of mine that some intellectuals just utter whatever provocative idea comes to their mind in an attempt to make their mark. Take for example, the ridiculous manifesto of the Futurists (who repudiated Wagner in a Wagnerian style) or the various remarks that "theatre must be..." or the invention of words like "erotical" as in "erotical-poetical-political" if I remember correctly. Basically, they come across as pretentious individuals desperate to be remembered for something. Also I think I'm interested in the fin de siècle and its art and literature so hopefully it's not just something I'll dip my toes in and decide it's not for me. Really recommend this book! Professional review: "Alex Ross deftly teases out the tremendous and often polarising impact that Wagner's music and theories had on modern culture and history. He underscores a paradox at the heart of modernism itself: the tension between the retrograde and the avant-garde and thus, the political right and left, themes of even greater relevance in our present times." - Vivien Greene, Senior Curator, 19th- and Early 20th-Century Art, Guggenheim Museum

  5. 4 out of 5

    Kimley

    Wow! Just, wow! Tosh and I discuss this on our Book Musik podcast. A famous quip goes “Wagner’s music is better than it sounds.” Whether you find Wagner’s music to be sublime or bombastic, this is an essential read. It is not a biography or an examination of his music but, more interestingly, it’s a very deep dive into the enormous cultural and political influence Richard Wagner has had on his contemporaries and everyone since, from writers to painters, dancers, philosophers, politicians, and fil Wow! Just, wow! Tosh and I discuss this on our Book Musik podcast. A famous quip goes “Wagner’s music is better than it sounds.” Whether you find Wagner’s music to be sublime or bombastic, this is an essential read. It is not a biography or an examination of his music but, more interestingly, it’s a very deep dive into the enormous cultural and political influence Richard Wagner has had on his contemporaries and everyone since, from writers to painters, dancers, philosophers, politicians, and filmmakers. The diversity of those who’ve come under the spell of Wagnerism is beyond compare. And this is despite Wagner’s well-known antisemitism and association with Hitler and the Nazi regime. Cancel culture hasn’t quite figured out what to do with Wagner but Ross leaves no stone unturned in this enormous and hugely satisfying read.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Chris Molnar

    Robert Ashley or Kanye West engage me viscerally with their loose reimaginings of the form, using the word "opera" to harness history while pushing into the unknown. Puccini or Mozart, on the other hand, I appreciate strictly on an intellectual basis. Precisely because it understands this attitude and connects it to the radical innovations of Richard Wagner, this book is a masterpiece which rewards readers at any level of familiarity with opera or Wagner specifically. In many ways it reminds me o Robert Ashley or Kanye West engage me viscerally with their loose reimaginings of the form, using the word "opera" to harness history while pushing into the unknown. Puccini or Mozart, on the other hand, I appreciate strictly on an intellectual basis. Precisely because it understands this attitude and connects it to the radical innovations of Richard Wagner, this book is a masterpiece which rewards readers at any level of familiarity with opera or Wagner specifically. In many ways it reminds me of The Power Broker, Robert Caro's peerless biography of Robert Moses, insofar as it is the kind of all-consuming, exhaustively researched tome that turns the reader into a paranoid font of bizarre historical tidbits, fully convinced that the subject of the book created modern society (either physically, for Moses, or psychically, for Wagnerism) and are, as such, visible everywhere. Moses and Wagner were both idealistic, hard-working, power-hungry racists who just so happened to define the framework for modern society in a completely inescapable way - that one became a caricature of hidden Jewish power and the other of rancid Germanic anti-Semitism is a topic for someone else's doctoral thesis. That said, this is a book about Wagnerism, not Wagner, about an idea of influence which is completely subjective and ghostly, not a person. Caro is the apotheosis of research as discipline-cum-religion, and so is uniquely suited to write about Moses, and later, LBJ - two 20th century masters of bureaucracy who were (operatically) responsible for sweeping actions of pure good and pure evil that we all have to deal with the ramifications of every single day, and who both compulsively left massive paper trails. Alex Ross, on the other hand, professionally gives his opinion about musicians for the New Yorker, and despite the voluminous Wagner literature he is building on, Wagnerism is a rather loose term that he is continually adding to and redefining over 650+ pages. Ross is an expert who earlier wrote a well-regarded book synthesizing the history of classical music in the 20th century, but in many ways this is breaking the sound barrier, so to speak, of music criticism - trying to capture not the art but its emanations, the sound of the music, sure, but more so the echolocation of it, passionately and dispassionately following it through the convoluted mess of time. Wagnerism, in the tradition of all great works of criticism, most obviously Nietzsche’s own writing about Wagner, reveres its subject until it is completely beside the point, less a topic of conversation than a fact of life that must be dissected because it is so unavoidable. This is a book about “art and politics in the shadow of music,” and keeping with that promise Ross tracks Wagner’s art as it arises in the ferment of mid-19th century revolution, nationalism and reawakening of mythos in the dawn of the age of mechanical reproduction. He lays persuasive claim to the idea that Wagnerism, even as it dissolves ever more imperceptibly into our cultural bloodstream, is sufficiently complex to be harnessed, though never coopted, by all ideologies and artforms, and that no matter what our conscious influences are, it is always already at work behind the good and the ill. Yes, Hitler was a Wagner fanatic, but most Nazis were bored stiff by it and the music just didn’t juice the volk in the same way that American pop music did. Yes, Wagner was a raging anti-Semite, but in a pre-modern way that didn’t stop him from hiring and being hired by Jews his entire life. At length Ross explores the competing claims laid to Wagner by leftists and Jews who point to his revolutionary beginnings and utopian ideals, and an avant garde which continues to mine his work as a precursor, counterpoint, and antithesis. The bulk of the book takes place while the effects of Wagnerism were most obvious, between Wagner’s death and the fall of Hitler, about sixty years that Ross knows very well and about which much has been written. Among others we follow James Joyce, W.E.B. DuBois, Thomas Mann, Virginia Woolf and Willa Cather, all of them perfect emissaries of Wagnerism, bridging as they do the 19th century and the 20th, radicalism and conservatism, the old world and the new, straight and queer, othered and mainstream, woke and pre-woke. Crucially none of them are musicians or even music critics, they are writers and thinkers for whom Wagner represented in a visceral way the possibility and downfall of art, who all wrote about him or were influenced by him in ways that reverberate still, perhaps more so than the music itself. The vagaries of influence (made more vague once we get all the way to Joseph Beuys and Star Wars) are saved from tendentiousness by the simple fact of the imagery, the narratives, the songs, the leitmotifs themselves. You can theorize all day about the idea of totalizing art and myths and human identity but at the end of the day there are catchy ideas and tunes that you associate with Bugs Bunny, or Frodo Baggins, or marriage, or Apocalypse Now, or any number of continually multiplying fractal cultural memories, and the dazzling array of intentions and results driving their use in culture and politics accumulates a totemic over-meaning that Ross never belabors or even attempts to make sense of beyond what is readily apparent. In fact, the tidbits just keep coming at you, exhausting every possible angle of approach, until the very end. The fact that in the penultimate paragraph Ross is still going on about Terrence Malick’s use of Wagner in the little-seen, little-loved Ben Affleck vehicle To The Wonder, with no sign given that we are about to slam into the brick wall of finality, is maybe the perfect summation of what he’s going for here – the idea that Wagnerism is neverending, that like Shakespeare or Jane Austen or Dostoevsky or the Buddha or Mohammed or Bob Marley or Bob Dylan or David Lynch, Richard Wagner is an imperfect vessel for pure inspiration that will be interpreted and misinterpreted and mangled and bettered until the end of time, justifying atrocities and inspiring those dreaming of a better world over and over again until the thing itself is forgotten for good.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Harris

    Probably once or twice a year I read one of these massive yet easy-to-read pop history books about a topic that catches my interest for whatever reason. I always enjoy them, but this one is truly fantastic. You got a chapter about Baudelaire and the Symbolists, one about occult appreciation of Wagner, one about Jewish appreciation of Wagner and Black appreciation of Wagner, one about feminist appreciation and gay appreciation, and of course more than one about Hitler. Thomas Mann features heavily Probably once or twice a year I read one of these massive yet easy-to-read pop history books about a topic that catches my interest for whatever reason. I always enjoy them, but this one is truly fantastic. You got a chapter about Baudelaire and the Symbolists, one about occult appreciation of Wagner, one about Jewish appreciation of Wagner and Black appreciation of Wagner, one about feminist appreciation and gay appreciation, and of course more than one about Hitler. Thomas Mann features heavily, as does Joyce, Woolf, and Cather. Gaddis' JR makes an appearance, so does Carl Schmitt, and so does W.E.B. Dubois. If there's an artist or thinker you like or dislike, they're probably in here (especially if they're European) and you can read about how Wagner and Wagnerism informed them. This book made clear some of the murkier thinkings of Walter Benjamin, Frederic Jameson, Anselm Kiefer, Proust, Derrida... Ross deals with the complexities and dualities of art (and the artist) so well. There are tons of reasons to read this book, but, for me, it was an extended meditation on what it means to like art created by troublesome people. Wagner swung left and right and so did his appreciators. He was anarchic and fascist. This is a truly detailed exploration of Wagner's cockamamie legacy and it left me with a profound understanding that I can do whatever the hell I want with other peoples art and ideas.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Dan Graser

    This is the most thorough examination of the panoply of lenses through which Wagner's effects on art and society have been viewed. Speaking as a musician there are certainly composers who have had a larger effect directly through their music, (Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, etc...) there are no composers who are even in the same league in terms of their effect on broader artistic movements and societal workings. Ross deftly analyzes what it is about Wagner's music, his person, his writings, his This is the most thorough examination of the panoply of lenses through which Wagner's effects on art and society have been viewed. Speaking as a musician there are certainly composers who have had a larger effect directly through their music, (Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, etc...) there are no composers who are even in the same league in terms of their effect on broader artistic movements and societal workings. Ross deftly analyzes what it is about Wagner's music, his person, his writings, his family's work at Bayreuth, and the tumultuous time period following his death that have contributed to such a huge array of movements and views dealing not just with the music but with true, "Wagnerism." In our clickbait reductionist simplistic culture of simply declaring a composer cancelled this is a 700+ page riposte that in no way shies away from any possible controversy. Rather, the controversy of Wagner is examined right from the source and its context, and then in proper order as opposed to the ceaseless, "backshadowing," we hear from armchair social-media level, "musicologists," and, "historians." That so many today accept that Houston Stewart Chamberlain's view of Wagner and, through several connecting threads, Hitler's view of the composer and his work are the correct one and a result of an inevitable causal thread from Wagner's gesamtkunstwerk is an affront to any serious discussion of the workings of history at the level of civilization. It is also to posthumously award such disgusting figures with a cultural credit of perception of which such stultified lunatics are not deserving. As with his previous writings, Ross is a wonderful guide through this incredible list of cultural figures all of whom have had their own perception and interactions with Wagnerism for over 150 years. Despite the fact that Wagner himself had such terrible views on race and society, his work lives on because of the sheer range of human experience and transcendence it relates to listeners and opera-goers, and because the works themselves are such a better expression of humanity than the figure who created them.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Bill FromPA

    Wagnerism Audiovisual Companion Ich weiß allein, / daß die Stücke mir nichts nützten I hope after some reflection to write a fuller review, though I think the five star rating is likely to stand. Ross has given us the fruits of a vast amount of research in an absorbing narrative, a synoptic overview of the many disparate strands of Wagnerism. In the meantime, here are my chapter-by-chapter notes, which take up just about all the space Goodreads allows for a review. Prelude: Death in Venice Excellen Wagnerism Audiovisual Companion Ich weiß allein, / daß die Stücke mir nichts nützten I hope after some reflection to write a fuller review, though I think the five star rating is likely to stand. Ross has given us the fruits of a vast amount of research in an absorbing narrative, a synoptic overview of the many disparate strands of Wagnerism. In the meantime, here are my chapter-by-chapter notes, which take up just about all the space Goodreads allows for a review. Prelude: Death in Venice Excellent research in digging out obituaries and reactions to Wagner’s death from the US and Europe. This is a book about a musician’s influence on non-musicians – resonances and reverberations of one art form into others. Wagner’s effect on music was enormous, but it did not exceed that of Monteverdi, Bach, or Beethoven. His effect on neighboring arts was, however, unprecedented, and it has not been equaled since, even in the popular arena. He cast his strongest spell on the artists of silence – novelists, poets, and painters who envied the collective storms of feeling that he could unleash in sound. A musician, yet on the previous page Ross says He became the Leviathan of the fin-de-siecle in large part because he was never merely a composer. An idiosyncratic but potent dramatist … He was a prolific, all-too-prolific essayist and polemicist whose menagerie of concepts … overran intellectual discourse for several generations. He was a theater director and theorist who reshaped the modern stage … Finally, and fatally, he dabbled in politics … The sum of all these energies cannot be fixed. “The essence of reality lies in its endless multiplicity,” Wagner wrote in 1854. “Only what changes is real.”Anthony Burgess gives Wagner credit for a fairly significant musical influence in his introduction to Universe Opera Guides: Don Giovanni and IdomeneoStravinsky’s The Rakes’ Progress is, like most of his work, genius happy in pastice, a deliberate return to the opera buffa as Mozart was to practice it in Don Giovanni. The rest of twentieth-century opera is derived from Wagner. The Singspiel survives as musical comedy. 1. Rheingold: Wagner, Nietzsche, and the Ring Much more about Wagner than I expected – an extended essay on the composition of the Ring - The Birth of the Ring from the Spirit of Revolution -> Schopenhauer, Bayreuth, leading up to the friendship and falling out with Nietzsche. Siegfried as a model of the “overman”. This furiously conflicted relationship is best understood in terms of the Greek agon – the contest between worthy adversaries, in athletics or the arts. Nietzsche wrote about the agon in his 1872 essay “Homer’s Contest,” saying that the Greeks abhorred the predominance of a single figure and desired, “as a means of protection against genius – a second genius.” 2: Tristan Chord: Baudelaire and the Symbolists Ross gives strange emphasis at the beginning of this chapter to summarizing Tristan and its effect, while Tannhäuser seems to be the work most provoking and appealing to French sensibility. Judith Gautier, Villiers de l’Isle-Adam, La Revue wagnérienne, Verlaine, Mallarme; Fantin-Latour, Cezanne, Manet, Van Gogh, Gauguin. 3. Swan Knight: Victorian England and Gilded Age America England: George Eliot and Daniel Deronda, Swinburne, by way of Baudelaire. In the case of the Pre-Raphaelites, Tennyson, William Morris, and Matthew Arnold, their “Wagnerism” consists of treating themes from Arthurian romance, the Eddas and Volsung Saga, and the Tannhauser legend that were also used by Wagner but don’t take direct inspiration from his treatments. Swinburne, again: Tristram of Lyonesse. America: More musical history than other sections. Sidney Lanier, Owen Wister and The Virginian. Architects. Mark Twain, a reluctant Wagerian, and Whitman, who accepts the purported parallels between their arts without knowing Wagner. 4. Grail Temple: Esoteric, Decadent, and Satanic Wagner The 1888 Bayreuth Festival. Josephin Peladan: Kabbalistic Order of the Rose + Cross, Rops. Belgian Wagner: Khnopff Maeterlinck, Redon, Ensor. Elemir Bourges and Le Crepuscule des Dieux , Huysmans, Camille Lemonnier, Marcel Batilliat and Chair Mystique. Theosophy and Willian Ashton Ellis -> Katherine Tingley, Theosophical Society in America -> Rudolf Steiner, Anthroposophy. George Moore and Evelyn Innes, Yeats, “unmusical” (Moore), but influenced by Wagner’s drama and theater. 5. Holy German Art: The Kaiserreich and Fin-de-Siecle Vienna Wagnerism transformed from radical to establishment. Jugendstil and Viennese Secession, German painters cited are more illustrative than self-expressive. Fontane as anti-Wagnerian, Stefan George, Gabriele d’Annunzio, the Mann brothers. Alfred Roller designs. Antisemitism in Wagner, antisemites and Wagner, anti-Wagnerian antisemites: Houston Steward Chamberlain. Jewish Wagnerians: Hermann Levi, Theodor Herzl, Otto Weininger and Sex and Character: a continuum of gender and “race”. Black Wagner: W. E.B. Du Bois, Luranah Aldridge, Shirley Graham. 7. Venusberg: Feminist and Gay Wagner Brunhilde and Chriemhilde are authentic archetypes of old German female characters, before whose powerful appearance we must bow even today; and presenting these characters on stage I believe to be very appropriate to our times. After all, Brunhilde is the representation of the free, brave woman who does not wish to be the slave of any man; and who, as she nevertheless does become one, sees herself pressed into the harsh realities of slavery, and her only means of help – insidiousness. Meanwhile the noble, delicately loving Chriemhilde, from whom her beloved has been snatched and to whom justice is denied in his death, resorts to revenge and transforms from a loving maid to a blood-thirsty wolf. Many women in our time have experienced Chriemhilde’s fate – and also in this sense it is time to introduce our female readers to this old Saga. – Louise Otto, Die Nibelungen: Text zur eine großen heroischen Oper in 5 Acten (1852), quoted in Laurie McManus, “Feminist Revolutionary Music Criticism and Wagner Reception: The Case of Louise Otto” - 19th Century Music (Vol 37, #3, pg. 175) Ross doesn’t point out the irony that Wagner transforms Krimhilde, the “blood-thirsty wolf”, one of the fiercest and most determined heroines of literature, into the mild Gutrune, his most traditionally feminine character. Ross cites a number of literary examples where the music of Tristan und Isolde both awakens sexual desire and weakens inhibitions, but, like all other commentators on Wagnerian influence I’m aware of, he fails to note the role Tristan plays in the failed seduction of the eponymous heroine of Ann Veronica. His section on homosexuality goes over much the same territory as Wagner and the Erotic Impulse with additional discussion of Beardsley, Wilde, Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice, and a brief mention of Wagnerian lesbians. A last section discusses Wagner and psychoanalysis: Freud, Jung, Rank, and Sabina Spielrein. 8. Brünnhilde’s Rock: Willa Cather and the Singer-Novel A mini-monograph on Willa Cather and Wagner, concentrating in particular on The Song of the Lark. This seems to be too much attention paid to a single figure in a work of this kind. A brief section on “singer-novel” consists mostly of material covered in earlier chapters, unnecessarily recapitulated here. 9. Magic Fire: Modernism, 1900 to 1914 Dance: Fuller & Duncan. Adolphe Appia. Painting: Theosophy -> Kandinsky. Ford Madox Ford, writers from Richard Wagner And The Modern British Novel. Proust. 10. Nothung: The First World War and Hitler's Youth Parsifal around the world after copyright expires. War: Wagner as enemy alien or prophet of Germany’s doom. Ford Madox Ford: Parade’s End, Willa Cather: One of Ours (Parsifal). Wagner in the air: Valkyries, Liebestod. The stab in the back: Hagen and Siegfried. Hitler’s early Wagnerian experiences: Lohengrin, Rienzi, Tristan. 6. Nibelheim: Jewish and Black Wagner 11. Ring of Power: Revolution and Russia Leftist Wagnerism. The revolutionary origin of the Ring revived by Shaw. Russian Wagnerism: Andre Biely, Alexander Blok, Diaghilev as creator of Gesamtkunstwerk. Russian Symbolism recreates French movement, including Wagnerism. Bolshevik Wagner: Taitlin, Meyerhold. Weimar Wagnerism: reaction against Kaiserreich Wagnerism, Brecht, Kroll Opera. Robert Musil and Franz werfel as anti-Wagnerians: playing Wagner is a turn-off for a musician's wife in The Man Without Qualities 12. Flying Dutchman: “Ulysses,” “The Waste Land,” “The Waves” Literary essays on: Joyce and Ulysses, Eliot and The Waste Land, Woolf and The Waves (with a bit on Jacob's Room), mini-essay on Finnegans Wake. 13. Siegfried’s Death: Nazi Germany and Thomas Mann Thomas Mann: “Sorrows and Grandeur of Richard Wagner”, The Magic Mountain, Joseph and His Brothers, Doctor Faustus: The Life Of The German Composer Adrian Leverkuhn As Told By A Friend. The reopening of Bayreuth, Hitler and Bayreuth; Wagner seen as a taste inflicted on Germans, including Reich officials, from above. Ross looks at the question of whether Wagner was played in the death camps (probably not very much, if at all). Ant-Nazi Wagner in the US: Toscanini and the Met, Anti-Nazi anti-Wagnerism accepts Hitler’s appropriation of the composer. 14. Ride of the Valkyries: Film from “The Birth of a Nation” to “Apocalypse Now” A fairly comprehensive list of movies about Wagner or featuring Wagner’s music, much more complete than Peter Conrad’s similar survey in Verdi and/or Wagner: Two Men, Two Worlds, Two Centuries, though Ross neglects to mention the rather unusual, or perhaps “off-brand” use of Siegfried Idyll in the Peter Lorre film Mad Love. As this chapter covers almost the entire 20th century, some of the material on the prewar and wartime years might have fit better into earlier chapters. Some tropes, such as Wagner’s music being used as a tool of seduction or symbol of intense passion, carry over from literary examples earlier in the book. 15. The Wound: Wagnerism after 1945 A rapid run through roughly the last 70 years of Wagnerism, each topic could have been a separate chapter and this may stand in place of a sequel. Topics: The Chéreau Ring; the New Bayreuth; Late 20th Century Philosophy and Wagner (as opaque to me as most philosophical summaries); Lévi-Strauss; Wagner and Literary Criticism; Wagner in Postwar German Literature and art: Anselm Kiefer and Ingeborg Bachmann; Wagner and Painting; Wagner and Literature (Ross mentions the Wagnerian themes in J R, but does not note its Rheingold-like structure nor the way that, unlike other books he’s discussed, Gaddis’ use of leitmotiv becomes essential for the reader to grasp in order to understand the novel on the most basic level); the Israeli Wagner ban; Wagner and neo-Nazis and white supremacy (in these movements, as among the general population, it remains a specialized taste); Wagner and Fantasy Culture (Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Star Wars, The Matrix - interesting that Lewis came to Wagner in a similar way to me, encountering Arthur Rackham’s Ring illustrations beside Margaret Armour’s translation); Wagner in comic books; Werner Herzog and Terence Malick (though I haven’t seen the film, the closing account of Malick’s To the Wonder seems a bit artificially rhapsodic as if Ross felt that a properly Wagnerian conclusion was required). Postlude In this brief afterword, Ross gives a short autobiographical account of his history with Wagner. Though he says that in childhood “the great classical tradition from Bach to Brahms occupied me to the exclusion of almost all other music,” except for an unsuccessful stab at listening to Lohengrin, he didn’t listen to Wagner until he was in college, and only fell in love with the composer when his “life veered in a chaotic, self-destructive direction.” And only on seeing the operas on stage did he begin to see them as dramas rather than “simply a phenomena of sound”. I wonder whether Ross’ childhood “great classical tradition” included Liszt or, as I suspect, he didn’t see Wagner as fitting into it because his musical education followed the Brahms side of the post-Chopin Brahms / Wagner split. It’s amazing how something like that late 19th century split, though it was extremely bitter, can carry over into musical experience a century later and an ocean away; perhaps it’s a sign that some fundamental aesthetic difference did divide the two parties. My own tastes took me to the Wagner side of the divide, and I was even later in coming to Brahms than Ross to Wagner. Perhaps because I came to the operas a s stories first and heard the music afterward, I also always related to them as narratives, and listening to Wagner seemed an experience between that of reading Shakespeare and listening to Beethoven – powerful stuff in combination. Ross says that The endlessly relitigated case of Wagner makes me wonder about the less fashionable question of how popular culture has participated in the politics and economics of American hegemony. I think I sense the stirrings of his next book in that statement.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Marks54

    This is a book by the music critic of the New Yorker about the life and work of Richard Wagner. It is much more than that. It is a study of the impact of Wagner’s work on the broader political and cultural environment in which it was performed. Wagnerism is the broader impact of Wagner on culture and politics. Mr. Ross argues that Wagner has had a huge impact and that this impact has been most notable outside of music per se and on the broader cultural milieu. This is an amazing book that spans t This is a book by the music critic of the New Yorker about the life and work of Richard Wagner. It is much more than that. It is a study of the impact of Wagner’s work on the broader political and cultural environment in which it was performed. Wagnerism is the broader impact of Wagner on culture and politics. Mr. Ross argues that Wagner has had a huge impact and that this impact has been most notable outside of music per se and on the broader cultural milieu. This is an amazing book that spans the time during which Wagner was active up through his death in 1883 and continues through Gilded Age America and Fin de Siecle Europe through the World Wars and the interwar period - including Wagner’s adoption by Hitler’s regime through the Cold War and up to the present. So you have operas - long operas - that come in bunches (The Ring cycle). They are long complex works that combine, music, singing, acting, and stagecraft all in an integrated whole. Opera is often an acquired taste. You also have politics and culture and how opera is put to use in supporting politics and culture. And then you have how the plots and subplots of Wagner’s operas, the various songs and themes/leitmotifs have been adapted for use in a wide range of other cultural works from high fiction, to comic books, movies and television, art movements, and pop art. While there are some opera aficionados who will be familiar with much in this book, I strongly suspect that most readers who have any interest in Wagner’s operas will find this book fascinating and valuable. Readers should have their tablets handy to look up the stray references and terms that are dropped on nearly every page. I started reading this because I am still in mourning for the cancellation of the Ring Cycle that I was supposed to see last April. Opera, like choral music, has not had a good record in the age of COVID. Hard to social distance both on stage and in the audience! After reading this book, my regret is that I had not seen a couple of Wagner’s operas, which I now need to track down and listen to. If you are interested in opera, I highly recommend this book The book is so rich, however, that I will need to think more about this and come back to the review.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Mark

    Among the many themes explored here, one seems perpetually undervalued---the impact and influence of aesthetics in just about everything. Alex Ross's exhaustive survey of the cultural proliferation of Wagner's music (and his writings) shows us how we collectively move toward goals dressed in more "sensible" garb, when really the driving impetus is often to be found in our response to art. Or sometimes not. (Hitler scolded his officers and aides for falling asleep during performances of Wagner.) W Among the many themes explored here, one seems perpetually undervalued---the impact and influence of aesthetics in just about everything. Alex Ross's exhaustive survey of the cultural proliferation of Wagner's music (and his writings) shows us how we collectively move toward goals dressed in more "sensible" garb, when really the driving impetus is often to be found in our response to art. Or sometimes not. (Hitler scolded his officers and aides for falling asleep during performances of Wagner.) We jokingly (sometimes) argue whether the Sixties would have happened without the music. Well, we can hear something different inherent in much of that music which subsequent imitations simply lack. Whatever it is, it seems to go with the politics, the cultural upheavals, and the shifting of values. It seems here Ross offers a good reason to pay better attention to the soundtracks of eras. Excellent.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Dr. Andrew Higgins

    This has to be one of the most comprehensive and excellent books I have read on my favourite composer Richard Wagner. Ross gives an in-depth analysis of the influence Wagner and his works had on all forms of culture throughout the 20th and 21st century. Ross had opened up new vistas in this influence for me to explore. Despite its Wagnerian length I did not want it to end and Ross supplements his incredible research on his website with a brilliant audio-visual companion at https://www.therestisn This has to be one of the most comprehensive and excellent books I have read on my favourite composer Richard Wagner. Ross gives an in-depth analysis of the influence Wagner and his works had on all forms of culture throughout the 20th and 21st century. Ross had opened up new vistas in this influence for me to explore. Despite its Wagnerian length I did not want it to end and Ross supplements his incredible research on his website with a brilliant audio-visual companion at https://www.therestisnoise.com/2013/0.... I highly recommend this work and enjoyed many hours of re-visiting the Ring and Parsifal while reading a highlight of my 2020 reading and a shining light of fantastic scholarship in these dark times. Bravo Alex Ross.

  13. 4 out of 5

    David C Ward

    Not the book of linked topical essays I was expecting but a huge, sprawling examination of everyone affected by Wagner both during his lifetime and after. Can you write about Wagner without becoming “Wagnerian?” Apparently not. In this case, encyclopedic isn’t necessarily a virtue. Ross has to rely on the secondary sources and potted histories because he has so much ground to cover. (His lens is almost always biographical which enforces its own limitations.) The result is a study that is too thi Not the book of linked topical essays I was expecting but a huge, sprawling examination of everyone affected by Wagner both during his lifetime and after. Can you write about Wagner without becoming “Wagnerian?” Apparently not. In this case, encyclopedic isn’t necessarily a virtue. Ross has to rely on the secondary sources and potted histories because he has so much ground to cover. (His lens is almost always biographical which enforces its own limitations.) The result is a study that is too thin for the specialist and too diffuse for the general reader. Also, just asking: we now have the technology to embed audio (and visual) clips in e texts. Is not doing so a rights and expense issue? As it stands, there is something weird about the ongoing attempt to render music into words. Of course, one of the reasons music mystifies (in both the common and philosophical senses) and is seen by some as a higher language, is because it’s non verbal.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    It's difficult not to view this book as a bit of a let down because I enjoyed The Rest is Noise so much. The problem, I think, is that Ross strays from his twin strengths, which are making abstruse pieces of music accessible and storytelling. Instead, what you get here is a lot of literary criticism Chapters on French Symbolism and Modernism drag on and on. (even for someone who has a PhD in English). It's not that Ross's interpretations are inaccurate; they're just not exciting. He also feels c It's difficult not to view this book as a bit of a let down because I enjoyed The Rest is Noise so much. The problem, I think, is that Ross strays from his twin strengths, which are making abstruse pieces of music accessible and storytelling. Instead, what you get here is a lot of literary criticism Chapters on French Symbolism and Modernism drag on and on. (even for someone who has a PhD in English). It's not that Ross's interpretations are inaccurate; they're just not exciting. He also feels compelled to compile every reference to Wagner in Western Civillation, which might work as a reference source but not as book to read cover to cover. With that said his chapters on gay Wagner, Willa Cather, and Wagner and Nazism--where he engages in more storytelling.--are illuminating. Not a bad book, but not earth-shattering either.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Austin

    Comprehensive, informative, thought-provoking, analytical at times look into how and why Wagner permeates culture. Not a biography of the man - but a journey into various art forms and philosophies that have adopted his practices and innovations. Not just for musicians!

  16. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    I couldn't really get into the subject matter regarding an overbearing, obnoxious, odious (racist), tortured (mostly in his mind) artist desperately seeking for the world to recognize his "genius' while he uses others (for their money, their devotion, or whatever he wants) until they no longer blindly give him what he demands and then they are cut off from the "genius'" favor/circle. Yes, he and his sycophants bamboozled the world into recognizing him as the "genius" he always wanted to be recog I couldn't really get into the subject matter regarding an overbearing, obnoxious, odious (racist), tortured (mostly in his mind) artist desperately seeking for the world to recognize his "genius' while he uses others (for their money, their devotion, or whatever he wants) until they no longer blindly give him what he demands and then they are cut off from the "genius'" favor/circle. Yes, he and his sycophants bamboozled the world into recognizing him as the "genius" he always wanted to be recognized as ... zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz As for Alex Ross, he is no doubt an indefatigable researcher, mapper of the artistic threads and a writer of talent. Two stars for that.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Glenn

    A remarkable and groundbreaking piece of multi-disciplinary cultural criticism. Essential.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Michael Reilly

    I am woefully ignorant about classical music. My few uneducated opinions on the subject include that Wagner's music is ponderous, his opera's are wooly headed and his opinions and writings were misguided and dangerous. Despite those prejudices, I found this book to be fascinating. Ross sets out to show Wagner's influence on all of the arts during his life and after. This is a big, well written book full of great stories and nuggets. Willa Cather, the quintessential author of the American Midwest I am woefully ignorant about classical music. My few uneducated opinions on the subject include that Wagner's music is ponderous, his opera's are wooly headed and his opinions and writings were misguided and dangerous. Despite those prejudices, I found this book to be fascinating. Ross sets out to show Wagner's influence on all of the arts during his life and after. This is a big, well written book full of great stories and nuggets. Willa Cather, the quintessential author of the American Midwest, was a devout Wagnerian. Her novels are full of explicit and subtle references to him. Theodore Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, was completely infatuated with Wagner despite Wagner's notorious Anti-Zionism. Herzl saw parallels to his life in Wagner's operas. I knew vaguely that James Joyce had an interest in Wagner but Ross makes the case that Wagner was strongly influenced by him. Ross does a close reading of "Ulysses." I was not completely convinced. This is a big book and I was most interested in the American and English authors whose work I knew, but Ross covers a huge territory. He does detailed examinations of Wagner's influence on painters, poets, architects , philosophers and religious thinkers. He surveys French, German, Spanish, Polish, Russian, Italian, and Latin American examples. Ross is very good at quick character portraits and has no problem calling out silly or shoddy work. Ross makes the case that a major reason for Wagner's influence was that his pieces were so intellectually inconsistent and vague at the same time that they were so emotionally powerful. A listener felt moved by a Wagner opera but the point was so amorphous that the message could go in many directions. Wagner had some general themes that resonated in the late 1800s and early 1900s. He was suspicious of modernism and rationality. He felt it was too narrow. He embraced the idea that folk memories and myths had power. He had a foggy idea of spiritualism and spirits which lead to him being taken up by a wide assortment of cranks and phonies. Ross has fun telling those stories. Wagner embraced what we call multimedia presentations. He had a theater designed in Bayreuth so he could present his operas exactly as he wanted with perfectly integrated story, song, music, singing and scenery. Ross, of course, acknowledges Wagner's anti-Semitism and its role in Nazi Germany. This book seems to be an attempt to make the case that Wagner had other more benign influences also. The book is long. Ross spends a good amount of time summarizing novels and stories and tracing the lives of obscure Wagnerians. Some of those lives are fascinating, but many are not.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Maximilian Gerboc

    4.5 stars - Wow. In Wagnerism, Alex Ross delivers an exhaustive (and sometimes exhausting) delve into Richard Wagner, his work, and the impact of his existence and output on art, politics, philosophy, and civilization and society in general. As with most towering historical figures, but especially with one like Wagner, so closely associated with so many controversies, one cannot reduce the person or his works into reductionist black and white categories. There are myriad contradictions both in W 4.5 stars - Wow. In Wagnerism, Alex Ross delivers an exhaustive (and sometimes exhausting) delve into Richard Wagner, his work, and the impact of his existence and output on art, politics, philosophy, and civilization and society in general. As with most towering historical figures, but especially with one like Wagner, so closely associated with so many controversies, one cannot reduce the person or his works into reductionist black and white categories. There are myriad contradictions both in Wagner and his philosophy/art and these contradictions are played out in their interpretations and utilizations: ultra-right and ultra-left political activists, middling bourgeois society, radical artists at the periphery, mainstream film and pop music, all appropriate Wagner and mold their interpretations of the man and his art to suit whatever justification they need. While I think Ross's strength as a writer lies more in broader surveys like "The Rest is Noise" and "Listen to This," I was increasingly convinced of power of insight. One of my favorites is "To blame Wagner for the horrors committed in his wake is an inadequate response to historical complexity: it lets the rest of civilization off the hook. At the same time, to exonerate him is to ignore his insidious ramifications." Ross asks that if Wagner is to blame for Hitler's Nazism, what about American pop music influences our own war crimes? This isn't to diminish the effect that Wagner had on Hitler, which is well-documented, but even the Nazis admittedly ignored and scoffed at Wagner's pacifism, his aversion to standing armies, the lessons of the corrupting influence of power in The Ring cycle and the ultimate attainment of knowledge through compassion shown in Parsifal. We all pick and choose (especially those in power) which emotionally powerful pieces of art represent us, but as we never entirely overlap with any one philosophy, and art, like the humanity that creates it, is ultimately flawed, the connection we have with them is personal and subjective. I think this quote, really hit the hardest: “In the end, the lack of a tidy moral resolution should make us more honest about the role that art plays in the world. In Wagner’s vicinity, the fantasy of artistic autonomy falls to pieces and the cult of genius comes undone.” No art exists in a vacuum. The "genius" we impart on certain people is only sort of objective and more often than not self-serving. The consumption of art, like the consumption of anything in our society, should be done with a critical eye, an open mind, and a striving towards social responsibility.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Richard Thompson

    This is a monumental book. Its almost 800 page bulk is a testament to the extent of Wagner's influence. I am not a fan of opera, and I have never seriously listened to Wagner's music, but of course I familiar with his most famous and ubiquitous pieces such as the Ride of the Valkyries and the Bridal Chorus. We all know Wagner from Looney Tunes and Apocalypse Now. We all know about his anti-Semitism and his deification by the Nazis. But as this book demonstrates, Wagner's influence on art, cultur This is a monumental book. Its almost 800 page bulk is a testament to the extent of Wagner's influence. I am not a fan of opera, and I have never seriously listened to Wagner's music, but of course I familiar with his most famous and ubiquitous pieces such as the Ride of the Valkyries and the Bridal Chorus. We all know Wagner from Looney Tunes and Apocalypse Now. We all know about his anti-Semitism and his deification by the Nazis. But as this book demonstrates, Wagner's influence on art, culture and society is much deeper and more complex than this. I found it fascinating to learn how I have been exposed to Wagner in places that I didn't even notice in, among other places, the works of Virginia Wolff, James Joyce and Thomas Mann. Wagner's music and the stories of his operas are triumphal, heroic, grand and emotionally stirring. Many people are moved to tears by his works. But he is also excessive. Sometimes he is just too much. He goes over the edge and descends into self-parody and kitsch. And then there is his extreme German nationalism and anti-Semitism, which sit on his works like an ugly black smudge. It is a measure of Wagner's greatness that he has found admirers even among people who one might expect to be least forgiving of his failings. And both lovers and haters of Wagner sometimes have shifting points of view over time and different circumstances. Is he great or his he horrid? He's both. Does he deserve our admiration or disdain? Yes, he merits both. It's complicated. One interesting thing about this book is how little it focuses on the actual music. I would have liked to have had more musical analysis so that I could have a greater understanding of Wagner's techniques and musical ideas and forms beyond the Leitmotiv and Gesamtkunstwerk. I would have liked to know more about his influence on subsequent music. Alex Ross is a music critic who is certainly professionally qualified to write about these things. I guess he thought 800 pages were enough, and he wanted to write a book of more general cultural relevance. It was a valid choice, but still I felt the absence of more direct consideration of the music.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jim Razinha

    I received a review copy of this from the publisher through NetGalley back at the end of April. Two weeks ago my e-reader couldn't validate the license, and when I redownloaded it, most of my notes for some reason went ...{poof}. I only had the last chapter to go, too. This is a huge work. Rather fitting...if you anyone who is familiar with Wagner's music, I think of several words that comes to mind, one certainly is long! Mr. Ross covers so much history, political impacts, cultural impacts... h I received a review copy of this from the publisher through NetGalley back at the end of April. Two weeks ago my e-reader couldn't validate the license, and when I redownloaded it, most of my notes for some reason went ...{poof}. I only had the last chapter to go, too. This is a huge work. Rather fitting...if you anyone who is familiar with Wagner's music, I think of several words that comes to mind, one certainly is long! Mr. Ross covers so much history, political impacts, cultural impacts... he packages his analyses around the operas and has more than a few technical expositions of his works. For exampleMore words have been spilled about the first three bars of Tristan - a rising minor sixth in the cellos, a two-step descent, a pungent chord of cellos and winds - than about any short passage in music, with the possible exception of the first notes of Beethoven's Fifth/Ross is a New Yorker music critic and knows his stuff - a lot of which I don't get, despite spending the last year and a half listening to Great Courses on concert music (Classical was only one period), theory, composition, forms, and more. When Ross said, "Just as Wagner's music consists of a succession of motifs that suggest psychological states..." well, I have to take his word for that. And you'll also get the art that was inspired by Wagner's work and philosophy. And the political histories. This is an unfair review as there is too much here to even begin to summarize. I don't doubt that there are some who will devour this book and chew on Mr. Ross's observations. I read a lot, across a wide spectrum of topics and I'm not daunted by depth; this book was daunting.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Thomas S

    Despite a deeply developed aversion to opera -- or maybe even because of it -- this book astounded me. It is deeply researched along every path of study relating to how Wagner affected the world, both before and after his death in 1883. The author, Alex Ross, is indefatigably curious. From architecture and dance to poetry and painting, Wagner's larger-than-life willingness to break rules, limits, and standards -- to create his own, if necessary -- sets a model and example for individuals of ever Despite a deeply developed aversion to opera -- or maybe even because of it -- this book astounded me. It is deeply researched along every path of study relating to how Wagner affected the world, both before and after his death in 1883. The author, Alex Ross, is indefatigably curious. From architecture and dance to poetry and painting, Wagner's larger-than-life willingness to break rules, limits, and standards -- to create his own, if necessary -- sets a model and example for individuals of every category of religious or political or personal-behavior belief. Theft, murder, incest,betrayal, every extreme of human behavior can be justified within the myth-world Wagner shows in his operas. Not just humans, but gods, too. Blood sacrifices that can serve as lessons for every occasion. That which terrorizes you invites you to face it and transcend all Fear -- or submit to it if you fail. So, if Wagnerism is an idea, in its essence it replaces wisdom, prudence, and rationality with raw, compulsive passion and sheer willpower. This is the power of much art, from "Frankenstein" to "Scarface" and "Apocalypse Now." And Wagner defined it, heedless of barrier and speed-breaks. So he was a mentor to radicals, anarchists, rigid counter-revolutionists -- every extreme of human behavior and belief followed from his principle of going beyond the borders, crossing the red lines wherever they exist. Ross lays this out with an incredibly, deeply detailed journey into psychoanalysis, philosophy, myth, totems primitive and modern. Ross asks the questions I would ask, if I could even think of them. Then he writes an entertaining dissertation on each subject. It is a magnificent intellectual accomplishment, and constantly entertaining.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Ashley

    I received a digital copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This is a really fascinating, often in-depth look at what Wagner's music has meant throughout its history. Parts of the book read as a biography of Richard Wagner, but it's far more a biography of, to put a little flippantly, the Wagnerian "fandom" both during the composer's life and long after his death. The book does a very good job of presenting the breadth of Wagner's impact in various places, times, and in I received a digital copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This is a really fascinating, often in-depth look at what Wagner's music has meant throughout its history. Parts of the book read as a biography of Richard Wagner, but it's far more a biography of, to put a little flippantly, the Wagnerian "fandom" both during the composer's life and long after his death. The book does a very good job of presenting the breadth of Wagner's impact in various places, times, and in different intellectual and political circles--positive and negative. It doesn't shy away from Wagner's more unpleasant views, or from the ways his work has been used for ill--but it also presents a complicated, sometimes apparently contradictory Richard Wagner who cannot so easily be dismissed as any one thing and whose work has influenced countless others. I did not know very much about Wagnerian opera going into this book. I knew the general themes and basic outline of parts of the Ring cycle, Tannhäuser, etc.; like anyone, I can recognize the Ride of the Valkyries and, though I didn't know what it came from, the Bridal Chorus from Lohengrin. I've had a recording of Tannhäuser on my iPod for years but I'm not sure I've ever listened to it in full. I've come out of reading this book with a much greater appreciation for the wide-ranging impact of Wagner's work--I had never realized just how much of an impact he had on so many other artists, or how many different things his work has meant to different groups of people.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Will White

    This is a tough one to rate. I can't say it was always a compelling reading experience. In some ways, it's a reference book in the guise of a popular history. At times I felt like I needed a philosophy Ph.D. to parse the writing, and I'll be honest, I skipped around quite a bit in the book. I'm a professional musician and I speak 4 languages; I needed every last bit of that skill set and more to get through the parts of this thing that I did. Having said that, there are some great stories in here This is a tough one to rate. I can't say it was always a compelling reading experience. In some ways, it's a reference book in the guise of a popular history. At times I felt like I needed a philosophy Ph.D. to parse the writing, and I'll be honest, I skipped around quite a bit in the book. I'm a professional musician and I speak 4 languages; I needed every last bit of that skill set and more to get through the parts of this thing that I did. Having said that, there are some great stories in here, and lord knows Alex Ross did his due diligence. He must have read like every book in every language from Wagner's time to now. And watched every movie. So with that in mind, I feel a little bad giving this an A+++ for effort because it was so exhaustive; on the other hand, in terms of reading it, it was exhausting. Let me put it this way: this is a book that doesn't have a subject; it has a lens. The lens is Wagnerism. So, just like you could do a feminist reading of, say, Anna Karenina, it turns out you can do a Wagnerist reading of just about anything. And that's what he does. He uses the Wagnerist lens on literally every single thing. The result is a book that is extremely erudite and rather academic, but not without some bread crumbs. This would be the foundational tome of a Wagnerist Studies department at a university. Oh and one more thing: if anyone is reading this to learn about Wagner's life or his music, this really isn't the place to turn. This book is about everything that's NOT Wagner, through the lens of Wagner's aesthetics and philosophy.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Brian

    As with Alex Ross' The Rest is Noise, this is a very well-researched and well-written book. To me, Noise was much more interesting than Wagnerism, since I am a fan of Cage, Boulez, Reich, Messiaen and many other 20th century composers. So my personal rating is 3 stars but the intrinsic quality of Wagnerism is 4 or 5 stars. (In recent years I have seen about half his operas because I do like his music, but as with most operas the plots and libretto bore me tremendously). At 650 dense pages (750 wi As with Alex Ross' The Rest is Noise, this is a very well-researched and well-written book. To me, Noise was much more interesting than Wagnerism, since I am a fan of Cage, Boulez, Reich, Messiaen and many other 20th century composers. So my personal rating is 3 stars but the intrinsic quality of Wagnerism is 4 or 5 stars. (In recent years I have seen about half his operas because I do like his music, but as with most operas the plots and libretto bore me tremendously). At 650 dense pages (750 with endnotes) Ross gives himself plenty of space to explore every possible aspect of Wagner's influence. It was much greater than I thought, and so I had much to learn. Ross makes it very clear that there is far more to Wagner than just, as he says, "the muzak of genocide". Sections of Wagnerism that interested me the most included the ones about his influence on Willa Cather's and James Joyce's writing, as well as his subsections "Russian Wagnerism" and "Gay Wagnerism". Many readers will also enjoy the coverage of Wagner's influence on film. If you start the book but don't think you will finish, at least turn to the brief and sweet Postlude at the very end. For what it's worth, I tried listening to the Ring cycle while reading this book but after a couple hours it was just too much, and I mostly ended up with Britten, Schoenberg and Faure.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Philip Koslow

    This is an astonishing book! Why 4 stars instead of 5? Before venturing into my decision to not be on board with many erudite responses already expressed by the very learned observers of all things Wagnerian, let me say that I admire immensely the authors' scope, intention, resoluteness and research into the Wagner legacy as reflected in its impact during Wagner's lifetime and through to the 21st century. His sightings of literary trends, philosophical meanderings, visual artist's renderings, po This is an astonishing book! Why 4 stars instead of 5? Before venturing into my decision to not be on board with many erudite responses already expressed by the very learned observers of all things Wagnerian, let me say that I admire immensely the authors' scope, intention, resoluteness and research into the Wagner legacy as reflected in its impact during Wagner's lifetime and through to the 21st century. His sightings of literary trends, philosophical meanderings, visual artist's renderings, political leanings (both right and left), etc. is , well, Wagnerian. A limited list of those with a shout out or more include Aeschylus, Woody Allen, J.S. Bach, L v. Beethoven, Mark Twain, Bizet, Boulez, Bernstein, Bugs Bunny, Thomas Mann, Willa Cather, Joseph Campbell, Frank Capra, F. Nietzsche, T.S. Eliot, Valery, Queen Victoria and the always Familia Wagner. Even more await your perusal if you endeavor to wade through this massive door stopper. And be forewarned, this is not a musical excursion with full theoretical analysis but rather a legacy hunt that, alas does very little to sway opinions of Wagner either positive or negative. To get a hint at this, before embarking on page one, proceed directly to the author's postlude on pages 657-660. If convinced that the preceding 656 pages are worth your attention, carry on. But I suggest that the conundrum of Wagner the man and his decided flaws will be something that good cult members in Bayreuth will continue to defend, ignore and sidestep in their adulation. After all, we are all supposed to separate the art from the artist, right. Well, wrong. Yes Wagner was anti-Jewish (an easy call), an opportunist of the first order (ask Liszt and "Mad" King Kudwig II), a skirt chaser extraordinaire (ask Cosima Wagner and Mathilde Wesendonck) and well ask Hitler about the rest of the 20th century. So, are we to give a pass on all of this and sit back at the opera and luxuriate in the sound machine? And let by-gones be just that? I refer the reader to the 3,500 year old Ten Commandments for guidance in most things moral and uplifting in life's journey. Wagner, himself seemed to have missed that one. This book, however, is a much needed compendium of valuable Wagnerism and a welcome addition on any musical thinkers' book shelf. My recollections as a student in Vienna in the mid-seventies and feeling compelled to endure 4 nights of the vaunted Ring Cycle at the State Opera, I am thus reminded that as I exited back into the "real" world I was struck as this book's author describes his personal feelings on page 660 that Wagner's vision is "only a shadow on the wall, an echo from the pit. The vision fades, the curtain falls, and we shuffle back in silence to the world as it is." That world is Verdi's. Where I prefer to dwell. Thus 4 stars for results but 5 stars for effort. Your call.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Myles

    Oh my god, this was such a gloriously researched mess! I bought it thinking I’d get a comprehensive biography of a towering and controversial figure I didn’t know a lot about. It’s not that! About a quarter of it is that. The rest are the ripples of Wagner’s art through space and time. Having read over six hundred pages on the guy, I’m still not sure I like Wagner’s work (let alone the anti Semitic, egotistical, silk festooned ass himself...), but Ross isn’t on the payroll at Bayreuth. He doesn’ Oh my god, this was such a gloriously researched mess! I bought it thinking I’d get a comprehensive biography of a towering and controversial figure I didn’t know a lot about. It’s not that! About a quarter of it is that. The rest are the ripples of Wagner’s art through space and time. Having read over six hundred pages on the guy, I’m still not sure I like Wagner’s work (let alone the anti Semitic, egotistical, silk festooned ass himself...), but Ross isn’t on the payroll at Bayreuth. He doesn’t care if you love the guy (who could?) or if you buy all Ross’s takes on him (I didn’t...). But by laying out “Black Wagner” and “Queer Wagner” and “Dada Wagner,” “Pre-Raphaelite Wagner,” “Socialist Wagner,” “Bolshevik Wagner,” “Hitlerized Wagner,” “Wagner Noir,” “Israeli Wagner,” and “Satanic Wagner” (among many others...) he provides a pretty compelling cultural biography of the last two hundred or so years. If you’re in for a sweeping epic not set to music, this could be the one.

  28. 5 out of 5

    D.S.

    An epic feat of cultural synthesis that manages to offer that rarest of things: a compelling survey course on the importance (even centrality) of a cultural icon without condescension or superficiality, appealing even to people who haven’t seen a single Wagner opera. In short: I can only hope to one day know as much about anything as Alex Ross knows about the development of post-1848 music and art and their role in our current culture and political moment, from the Matrix to the Pre-Raphealites, An epic feat of cultural synthesis that manages to offer that rarest of things: a compelling survey course on the importance (even centrality) of a cultural icon without condescension or superficiality, appealing even to people who haven’t seen a single Wagner opera. In short: I can only hope to one day know as much about anything as Alex Ross knows about the development of post-1848 music and art and their role in our current culture and political moment, from the Matrix to the Pre-Raphealites, from Willa Cather to Kandinsky. Alternately absorbing and perplexing and gossipy and dull and violent and crazy, the book mirrors its topic and I have no idea how he wrote it any more than I understand how Wagner wrote his operas.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Jane

    Wagnerism One of the best examinations of Wagner and his influence I have read. It mainly della with Wagner's influence on literature and the visual arts, discussing in detail the works of Thomas Mann, James Joyce, T.S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf, Willa Cather.....the list is endless. He also discusses Wagner's influence on cinema. He investigates in great detail the disastrous association of Wagner with Hitler, and how his grandsons, Wieland and Wolfgang, tried to repair the reputation of Bayreuth wh Wagnerism One of the best examinations of Wagner and his influence I have read. It mainly della with Wagner's influence on literature and the visual arts, discussing in detail the works of Thomas Mann, James Joyce, T.S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf, Willa Cather.....the list is endless. He also discusses Wagner's influence on cinema. He investigates in great detail the disastrous association of Wagner with Hitler, and how his grandsons, Wieland and Wolfgang, tried to repair the reputation of Bayreuth when the Festival re-opened in 1951. I especially liked tge discussion of Regietheater productions, starting with Patrice Chereau's Centenary RING in 1976. Highly recommened.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Miguel

    At the end of the day, it would be hard to get through this very long work without either a healthy interest in either Wagner or opera in general. Ross never explicitly lets the reader in on the secret that opera was created for the sole purpose of audial torture and in fact the audio version has quite a few snippets of Wagner’s work included. That made it impossible to finish the book. However, if one is so inclined they can make the journey: it’s not a standard chronological biography and the At the end of the day, it would be hard to get through this very long work without either a healthy interest in either Wagner or opera in general. Ross never explicitly lets the reader in on the secret that opera was created for the sole purpose of audial torture and in fact the audio version has quite a few snippets of Wagner’s work included. That made it impossible to finish the book. However, if one is so inclined they can make the journey: it’s not a standard chronological biography and the chapters are fairly dense with some assumed knowledge of the master (cough, cough) and his times.

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