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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars SUPERB STUDY, CUT SHORT BY THE AUTHOR'S UNTIMELY DEATH, 6 Dec 2006
By 
Klingsor Tristan (Suffolk) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: I Saw the World End: A Study of Wagner's "Ring" (Clarendon Paperbacks) (Paperback)
This book amply shows what a tragedy it was that Deryck Cooke died whilst still at the height of his powers. He was one of the most approachable and reliable of music critics and musicologists. No-one was better at tracing a path through the minefield of different editions of the Bruckner symphonies. No-one was more perceptive in elucidating Mahler's music and its interpreters. His performing edition of the 10th Symphony still stands as a paradigm for how these things should be done and how they should be presented to the world. 40 odd years later, his book, The Language of Music, remains a fascinating and significant exposition of the building-blocks of music, an exploration of how certain intervals and phrases which are the basic vocabulary of musical expression seem to retain a common `meaning' across the work of very different composers from the Baroque era to the 60's.

But this monumental study of Wagner's Ring, which he left less than half finished at his death, would probably have been his greatest contribution to musical exegesis. What is left for us is an introduction which cogently dispenses with the narrow-minded interpretations proposed by the socialist, anti-capitalist Shaw in The Perfect Wagnerite and the Jungian psychology of Donington in Wagner's Ring and its Symbols. There then follows a tantalising look at the music itself in which he shows that one particular leitmotif misnamed by Wolzogen in his pioneering study as Flight, a mistake blindly followed by most subsequent commentators, is in fact the fundamental Love motif of the entire cycle. From this he draws the not unreasonable conclusion that this is, musically and philosophically, a crucial half of the essential dramatic conflict of the tetralogy between Power and Love. This particular chapter is especially frustrating in the glimpse it gives us of just how penetrating and perceptive his promised but unfulfilled analysis of the music would have been.

What we do get is a fascinating study of how Wagner bent the myriad of literary sources he used into a taut and coherent dramatic structure. And what parts of the final Ring libretto were entirely the product of his own imagination. It makes for a detective trail along the lines of John Livingstone Lowe's pursuit of all the sources for Coleridge's Kubla Khan in The Road to Xanadu. But even this part of the argument only takes us through the evolution of Das Rheingold and Die Walkure before it is cut off in its prime. However, it is still more than enough to leave us with and important study, written with all Cooke's familiar approachability and common sense.

This may be just the torso of the book Cooke intended to write. But anyone interested in how Wagner's enormous work came to take the form it did should derive enormous pleasure as well as elucidation from it. The title, by the way, is taken from some wonderfully evocative lines that Wagner wrote for Brunnhilde's Immolation Scene, but cut before he set them to music.

The blessed end

Of all things eternal,

Do you know how I reached it?

Deepest suffering

Of Grieving love

Opened my eyes:

I saw the world end.
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