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Death-Devoted Heart: Sex and the Sacred in Wagner's Tristan and Isolde Hardcover – 1 Dec 2003


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 248 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (1 Dec 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195166914
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195166910
  • Product Dimensions: 1.9 x 14.2 x 21.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 356,207 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

More About the Author

Roger Scruton is currently Research Professor for the Institute for the Psychological Sciences where he teaches philosophy at their graduate school in both Washington and Oxford. He is a writer, philosopher and public commentator. He has specialised in aesthetics with particular attention to music and architecture. He engages in contemporary political and cultural debates from the standpoint of a conservative thinker and is well known as a powerful polemicist. He has written widely in the press on political and cultural issues.



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Wagner was an artist with an agenda, and this agenda was nothing less than the redemption of humankind. Read the first page
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By D. M. Purkiss VINE VOICE on 9 Jan 2010
Format: Hardcover
I have no idea why Wagner attracts so many blowfly-like parasites, of whom one of the worst is the ubiquitous Millington, who even surfaces in such places as 1001 Recordings to Hear Before You Die to tell us all NOT to listen to Parsifal, but this book is different in a truly welcome way; Scruton loves Tristan and Isolde rather than feeling an urgent need to denounce its beauty and greatness, and the results are in every way illuminating. I did think he overstressed the distinction between eros and agape; for Wagner sensuousness is not erased but subsumed by lvoe and courage and sacrfice - and I had some doubts too about his thoughts on courtly love, but it was good to see someone at least trying to unravel the antecedents of the work. Some more on the Wesendonck lieder would have been welcome too, but it's great that this book doesn't confine itself to warming up biographical imperatives but gets on with what the work itself does with these. The book does make the incomprehensible and overwhelming beauty of this extraordinary music drama more intelligible without makeing it smaller and simpler. I recommend it very warmly (even though I'm probably at the opposite end of the political spectrum to Scruton - but that doens't matter here, and it shouldn't).
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24 of 28 people found the following review helpful By dwilson on 20 Feb 2004
Format: Hardcover
The _music_ has "touched the hearts of many" but I suspect the book won't - even if we allow that it should. I think it will be one of the most interesting and original books published this year, but I don't foresee big sales for it, because it caters to a minority interest.
Few people could have written this. This short but packed book gives evidence of such a wide command of so many different areas. Few of us could even muster such a wide reading background in musicology, literature, philosophy, anthropology, comparative religion, and sociology - let alone be as at home with the matter. The professor seems equally so with Schoenberg and with Durkheim; I'm inclined to believe he could read _Finnegan's Wake_ with the facility with which I'd tackle _Peter Rabbit_.
I imagine some could follow the table of musical motifs given as an appendix but be lost in the abstract arguments - and _vice versa_. And yet the writing is not obscure but lucid. No wonder Scruton, famed for his highbrow social conservatism, evokes such envy and hatred among certain pseudo-intellectuals on the left, who must be dimly aware that here is a man who _really_ has the intellectual grasp so many pretend to - and (in such a highly politicized world as ours) claim for their favoured political ideologies.
In the end, the message of this book is a conservative one. I say this because Scruton finds meaning, not in abstract doctrine, but in what he has elsewhere called the ordinary humble forms of human life. What happens between Tristan and Isolde is an idealized form of what can happen for us all, he seems to say. Experiencing love, and responding to it and to the sense of transcendence that comes with it is one way in which we can find meaning in life.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Raymond C. Hodgkinson on 6 Nov 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Tristan and Isolde love each other and that is all that matters, they don't care about anything else, the world its trappings their positions are little more than figments of their imagination. What they do is to be applauded says the author Roger Scruton. In each other's personality, in their physical carnal prescence they envelop each other, and they find in this love and physicality the answer to doubts about existence, doubts about immortality and doubts presumably about the judgement of morality. To Mr Scruton love is not a divine essence, a precursor of heavenly felicity, but a gazing in the eyes of one another and living for the moment. This love he implies is not an infatuation with tragic consequences for everyone else involved but the result of two human beings treating the other as a complete vulnerable and lovable personality. Nothing else has a claim, the world exists for Tristan and Isolde and their love. It's as though life is a mistake but redeemed through such a love. No room for sentimentality, no room for regrets, no room for responsibility. How the world and any religion can survive is left for the reader to ponder.
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14 of 23 people found the following review helpful By bh1986 on 10 Feb 2004
Format: Hardcover
If ever there was a book that touched the hearts of so many, this is it. Blending pure emotion with undeniable fact, Roger Scrutin manages to pull of possibly the most moving book of modern times. Tackling the subject matter with brutal dedication and showing an elite awareness of the sheer love that drove Wagner to fulfill himself, Scrutin engages the reader from the first page right to the very last. A truly astounding piece of literature.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 3 reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
deep waters 9 May 2010
By Tom Blair - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I have spent 3 months with this book. It has been worth it, but it has been sometimes very hard work. The subtitle "Sex and The Sacred in Wagner's Tristan and Isolde" is alluring. Let me add that so deep is Rodger Scruton's analysis, that there are parts of this book you will not understand without a graduate degree in music. After a while I found myself simply skimming about 1/3 of the middle.

One thing is clear - Wagner is a genius without comparison in the world of opera, classical composition, and European philosophy. His penetrating musical motiffs providing the background for this ancient pre-Chivalric tale of constrained un-requited erotic passion.

Professor Scruton analyses the historical and philosophical undercurrents of the ancient world within the story itself - and the high German Romantic world of the 19th century. As well Scruton delves into the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer and his impact upon Wagner.

I cannot imagine that Tristan and Isolde has ever been analysed so thoroughly as here in Professor Scruton's penetrating study. Be prepared for some serious academic study - that rewards with an appreciation of Wagner and Tristan & Isolde in a way never possible before this wonderful book.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Outstanding essay 17 Dec 2008
By Márcio Bezerra - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This is an outstanding essay written by one of Britain's foremost conservative philosophers. Although his conservative bias sometimes blurs the lines between criticism and moral (political?) activism, the book offers a unique perspective on Wagner and is saturated with historical information. A must for any Wagnerian.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
An erudite study of Tristan und Isolde, Wagner's music, and erotic love 23 Jan 2013
By Willie - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Death-Devoted Heart is an astounding study of Wagner's classic opera---part musical analysis, part literary criticism, and part philosophical tract. As such, it's also a very difficult book, requiring a fairly advanced knowledge of (or at least tolerance for) music theory, comparative literature, and the finer points of German philosophy. However, if you do feel comfortable with these various areas, Scruton is the perfect guide, and presents an all-encompassing interpretation of Tristan that is both eye-opening and level-headed. (It's all the more impressive that he accomplishes this in a book, without any accompanying audio.) Though I wasn't completely won over by the book's presentation or Scruton's style, I was very persuaded by his views, both musical and philosophical. In short, Death-Devoted Heart is a book I am sure I will be returning to again and again, both for its insight into Wagner and his music, and for its unparalleled discussion of erotic love.
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