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Richard Wagner: A Life in Music Hardcover – 18 Oct 2013

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press; Tra edition (18 Oct. 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226924610
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226924618
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 3.3 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 450,233 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"A fine biography.... This is the most balanced account of Schumann's life and work for more than a generation, one that makes us want to relisten to Schumann's music, knowing better the man behind it." -Wall Street Journal, on Robert Schumann"

About the Author

Martin Geck is professor of musicology at the Technical University of Dortmund, Germany. His other books include Johann Sebastian Bach: Life and Work and Robert Schumann: The Life and Work of a Romantic Composer, the latter also published by the University of Chicago Press. Stewart Spencer is an independent scholar and the translator of more than three dozen books.

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By M. Raynes on 26 May 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have given this book five stars and I did really enjoy reading it but before going any further I need to mention that this is a seriously demanding read. Martin Geck is an academic, a professor of musicology at the University of Dortmund. He was one of the leading players in the compilation of the Wagner catalogue of authenticated works (the WWV catalogue) and he is the editor of Parsifal in the Edition Eulenburg study scores series (the yellow covered miniature scores that many of us will have used in our music studies). He addresses his readers as he might his PHD students. He uses and expects us to understand an academic vocabulary that had me reaching for my dictionary on a few occasions.

The subtitle of the book is "a life in music" and this is what you get. The book examines Wagner's thought musical, dramatic, philosophical, social and political in the creative processes that brought each of his musico-dramatic works into being. He includes all the operas from Die Feen to Parsifal. Professor Geck uses his unrivaled knowledge of the original sources to tease out what Wagner was trying to express in his works and in the course of this he considers a wide range of Wagner reception from the early days through to our times. This review takes into account consideration of productions old and new as well as critical writings on Wagner from Hanslick, Baudelaire and Nietzsche onward. Professor Geck's technique is to explore the many lines of thought of these many commentators. Then he will comment and criticise where he sees the argument diverging from the evidence and then he comes up with more convincing explanations which debunk the earlier commentator.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 9 reviews
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
Richard Wagner: Martin Geck guides us through A Life in Music 23 Nov. 2013
By Daniel B. - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I first encountered the German musicologist, Martin Geck, through his book on Bach. His writing was so thorough, so knowledgeable and so sympathetic that I assumed he was a baroque specialist. But last summer, as I began reading Richard Wagner A Life in Music, I found the same virtues applied to Wagner's romantic realism. This is not a huge book, it's under 500 pages. However, Geck has the ability to make every word count, to suggest more than he says and compress much meaning in each page. His focus in each chapter is very tight; he doesn't let his writing sprawl. Still, he manages to relate events in Wagner's life and details of his character which are new to me. Although the main purpose of this volume is biographical, I find his comments on the individual music dramas as they unfold chronologically to be original and perceptive. One touchstone in evaluating the quality of an artist's biography is: Does it make you want to return to the artist's work and experience it informed, refreshed and excited. Geck's book achieves this excellence. Geck's biography was published in Germany last year. This year another book on Wagner was published in England and the U.S. It is The Wagner Experience by Paul Dawson-Bowling. I have already reviewed this title for Amazon, so I won't repeat my enthusiastic gushing about it. But Dawson-Bowling's book makes Geck's seem, well, conventional. There is space enough in the Wagner Universe for both types of books, and I would encourage anyone who passionately admires Wagner's music and dramas to read these two books in tandem. I have been doing so for the past few months. I am purposely reading slowly, with many interruptions to play Wagner's music, reflect on the meaning of the Wagner Experience and write my own commentary on these inexhaustible works of creative imagination. I can't think of a better way to pay homage to this art we love, that enriches us and renews us continually.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Erudite, Balanced, and Focused on the Music 15 Oct. 2013
By John Deignan - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The title of this book is (for once!) an accurate indication of what it contains - an in-depth, detailed, and extremely knowledgeable discussion of the music, rather raking over the coals of the the (over?) familiar biographical details. So for example, the early years of Wagner's life (up to Leubald) are addressed in a couple of pages, which is something of a surprise if you are expecting (as I was, initially) a more "conventional" biography. This pattern is repeated for all subsequent works - some essential details are provided, but the focus is always on the music, of which the author has a deep understanding. I found this book insightful, informative, and a pleasure to read. To take one example of many - this book makes a very persuasive case in presenting how early Wagner's artistic "vision" was formed, and how he remained faithful (!) to this vision throughout his life (in music, of course). A must for anybody interested in understanding Wagner's music.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
ANOTHER book about Wagner?! 22 Oct. 2013
By randolph fischer - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In a field filled to overflowing with new studies of Wagner (surely the most written-about artist in history), Martin Geck's 444-page work paddles desperately to keep from sinking under the hundreds of other volumes. Geck's book (translated bravely and capably from the 2012 German original by Stewart Spencer, a specialist in this composer) blends a chronological account of Wagner's developing intellect with analyses of each of his operas. In those analyses, Geck tries -- and largely succeeds -- in finding something new and important to say about each work. The result is a valuable, if not INvaluable, addition to the groaning shelves of Wagneriana.

Further, his book gives non-German-speaking readers access to many of the scholars whose books and articles remain untranslated -- scholars listed in Geck's bibliography: 21-pages long, all in fine print!

Sidebars offer details about Wagner's interactions with many of the JEWISH composers and impresarios whose lives interwove with his career. Here Geck uncovers many fascinating and little-known facts and anecdotes.

The book's interior graphics (in black-and-white) include many of Wagner's portraits, well known or otherwise, beginning with the book's front cover: a close-up profile of Arno Breker's giant, aggressive 1939 marble bust of the composer, erected outside the Festspielhaus in Bayreuth. That portrait alone makes this book hard to ignore.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
A different biographical approach 30 Dec. 2013
By tmitch29 - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Geck's work follows Wagner's life chronologically and concisely while still contributing insightful commentary on his philosophies and music. At the conclusion of each chapter he includes a brief essay on different German Jewish figures in relation to die Meister. One wishes, however, that Geck were a little more discerning (they come across as vague and defensive) in his critique in these sections.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
This superb work shows me the prehistory of The Ring ... 9 July 2014
By James R C Baker - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition
This superb work shows me the prehistory of The Ring, Wagner's view of the world. This musical narrative of nature, fear, resurrection, the curse, the sword, Erda (Earth Goddess), and Valhalla from Das Rheingold through Wotan's vision. The Wanderer archetype appears as an integral part of Wagner's life and music.
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