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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A thought provoking study of Wagner's Ring Cycle.
This excellent study of Wagner's ring cycle brings ideas from many different disciplines and integrates them into a scholarly and thought provoking book. Although the writing is clear and direct, it is conceptually and emotionally dense and is best taken in short chunks. This is a book which can be read over and over again and can be returned to as a reference.
In...
Published on 8 May 2005 by Amazon Customer

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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Pretentious psycho-babble. Avoid
I don't like writing negative reviews. Anyone who has written a book (or anything, really) knows how difficult it is and how wounding bad notices can be, so giving one star is not something that I would do lightly. However, I'm afraid this book deserves it, and incredibly it still gets quoted and referred to as one of the key books on the subject. So I doubt Prof...
Published 19 months ago by Jasper Tamespeke


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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A thought provoking study of Wagner's Ring Cycle., 8 May 2005
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Amazon Customer (Herne Bay, Kent. United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Wagner's 'Ring' and its Symbols: The Music and the Myth (Paperback)
This excellent study of Wagner's ring cycle brings ideas from many different disciplines and integrates them into a scholarly and thought provoking book. Although the writing is clear and direct, it is conceptually and emotionally dense and is best taken in short chunks. This is a book which can be read over and over again and can be returned to as a reference.
In structure, the book describes each scene of the whole Ring Cycle in sequence. The basic structure and elements of the scene are described, annotated with detailed comments about the music, including a discussion of the various 'leitmotifs'. The author illustrates how the meaning of the leitmotifs changes in different scenes, especially when they are transformed or combined with other themes. He also illustrates how Wagner's own views on music and his bigraphical details may have influenced the structure and themes of the Ring Cycle, discusses the various sources from which Wagner drew the myths used in the operas and how the operas themselves developed over time.
All of this is given an added layer of structure, meaning and coherence by using the concepts of Jungian Depth Psychology, including archetypes, the concept of the self as an organising principle and the Jungian concepts of transformation and change (especially the emergence of the conscious mind from a state of unconsciousness).
There is an appendix of musical themes (leitmotifs) in standard musical notation.
I am now buying a new copy of this book because my previous copy has worn out (although the binding is relatively robust)and I am delighted that it is still in print. It is a book which both desrves and rewards study!
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bringing some kind of sense to the Ring, 3 April 2009
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John Ferngrove (Hants UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Wagner's 'Ring' and its Symbols: The Music and the Myth (Paperback)
My relationship to Wagner's Ring has been deepening over the last eight or nine years. In that time, while I have absolutely loved the music and found myself responding to the drama, somewhat, I nonetheless found myself rather ambivalent towards its characters, all busily ripping and bumping each other off. Even the good guys, the 'heroic' Gods and humans, are not particularly nice people. So whilst utterly enthralled by the music I found that the drama itself did not make moral sense. Then I received a recommendation for this book on the Amazon classical music forum and, at last, it starts to make sense. In all, this is one of two books that I think are required to fill in the picture, the other being Brian Magee's Wagner and Philosophy.

So this book is a Jungian analysis of the Ring mythology. I'm not sure what the modern status of Jungian psychology is. I made a fairly deep study of it in my younger days, but it's something I let go of for several reasons as I grew older. In particular, I would imagine that the centrality of the Religious impulse to the Jungian model has probably seen a decline in the standing of Jungian thinking in the light of the modern ascent of atheism. This book only provides the very briefest grounding in Jungian concepts and I'm not sure how it would read to someone who did not have the basics of the Jungian framework under their belt.

Briefest possible introduction to Jung then: Jung was a pupil of Freud who became deeply interested in the common themes that emerge again and again in World mythology, and the similarities between the language of myth and dreams. He came to the conclusion that mythology provided a map to the structure of the unconscious, and patterns in the development of the Self throughout life, and thus indications as to solutions of its pathologies. As so much of mythology is expressed in religious terms he made the human religious impulse central to the interpretation of this structure. It should be made clear that Jung himself never made a commitment to any one religious position. He was a man who believed in everything and nothing, and saw no contradiction as such. Jung posited the existence of archetypes, sort of inner people that populate the unconscious, and who represent various principles of our existence; mother, father, authority, conspecifics and so forth. The interactions and devlopment of these archetypes within us define our personalities, and, in a well lived life, the route to the fulfilment of our potentials as individualities. One of the reasons I began to have doubts about Jung's model is that the world of the archetypes seemed to be rather complex, which in turn suggested complex structures within the brain, that would have to have evolved over time, and that must ultimately translate into encodings in our DNA. It just seemed like too much information to be compatible with materialism.

OK. Back to this book. Well, yes, once I got going with it much of my old Jungian lore resurfaced, and my comprehension of the Ring saga began to fall into place. I even had a dream, whilst reading it, in which I was one of four characters, two male and two female, in Norse costume, ascending an escalator in a giant palace. Anyone who knows their Jung will immediately appreciate how deliciously appropos that is. One of the interesting aspects of the book is that it brings to light how Wagner himself comprehended his own creative process in terms that are analogous to Jungian language. 50 years before Freud Wagner was speaking in terms of the libretto emerging intuitively from his unconscious, and taking pains not to allow his own conscious impulses and interpretations to get in the way. He himself only dimly grasped the significance of the plot and characters, but felt himself to be overwhelmed by the power of the drama that they were expressing, and rather at the mercy of the forces that wanted to express it. That this Jungian approach brings so much sense to the otherwise baffling saga has caused me to reconsider the validity of the Jungian position. Maybe these archetypes are sufficiently valuable to a species of our social sophistication as to be worth all that information? The approach also serves to redeem Wagner's own character somewhat. Assuming the Ring to be a manifestaion of a conscious creative process implies a creator that is about as nasty as the characters in it, and while Wagner was a pretty messed up guy, his heart sort of was in the right place. As a young man he was filled with revolutionary idealism and truly believed in the imminence of a new world order of love, peace and freedom for all (in which everybody loved opera of just the kind he would write). So he wasn't all bad by any means. If on the other hand the Ring saga emerges from deep unconscious layers of mythology, that have universal resonance, despite moral ambiguity, then Wagner himself need not be judged so harshly. In fact he emerges as someone of almost unique sensitivity.

Once the Jungian key to the saga is grasped then it becomes apparent that the Ring, at one level anyway, is a morality tale of the most profound insight. Wotan's original egomanic transgressions set in progress a calamitous chain of events that ultimately lead to the destruction of Gods and Men, but along the way Wotan achieves wisdom and acceptance of the fate he has created for himself. The tale is ultimatley one of philosophical pessimism, and nobility through acceptance of fate. To understand this one has to understand Wagner's profound attachment to the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer, but that is another story, and the one that is told in the Magee book. The other profound theme, that is an ever-present thread throughout all Wagner's works, is that of redemption through love as expressed through the dynamics of the Siegmund / Sieglinde relationship (the incest element is far less 'shocking' if conceived in mythic terms) and of course that of Siegfried and Brunnhilde.

So, to summarise. If you enjoy the Ring as it is then you probably won't have patience with this book. If on the other hand, like me, you enjoy the Ring but can't make sense of the characters, then this book might just help. However, if you don't have at least a little background in Jungian psychology then be prepared to encounter a world of concepts that don't necessarily make strightforward logical sense, and may require a certain amount of cogitation and reflection to become comfortable with them.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Donnington's Jungian exploration of Wagner's Ring cycle., 25 Oct 2002
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This review is from: Wagner's 'Ring' and its Symbols: The Music and the Myth (Paperback)
Not an easy read, this is a book for the intellectually inclined. I found this book rewards careful scrutiny. If you are a wagnerite Donnington opens up the four operas that constitute the Ring in a fascinating way. Psychological insights into the myths that Wagner adapted are also insights into the readers own life. This is a fascinating book on more than one level and is a compelling read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Inspiring and enriching read, 10 Oct 2012
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R. Fried "Theatrepursuits" (United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Wagner's 'Ring' and its Symbols: The Music and the Myth (Paperback)
Donington's book is a detailed scene by scene analysis of Wagner's Ring Cycle with all its motives. It makes for a relatively easy and rewarding read. In order to enrich my experience of Wagner operas, I know I will keep referring back to it in the future.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Pretentious psycho-babble. Avoid, 28 April 2013
This review is from: Wagner's 'Ring' and its Symbols: The Music and the Myth (Paperback)
I don't like writing negative reviews. Anyone who has written a book (or anything, really) knows how difficult it is and how wounding bad notices can be, so giving one star is not something that I would do lightly. However, I'm afraid this book deserves it, and incredibly it still gets quoted and referred to as one of the key books on the subject. So I doubt Prof Donington would have been too concerned about my comments. The average rating it gets implies it is worth buying and reading, so I think a contrary view is called for: it might save you from wasting a few quid.

Perhaps I am bitter because when I was a student at the turn of the eighties I spent some of my hard earned vacation wages on this book. This was at the height of my Wagner obsession, and not having much free cash immediately regretted it. It is rare that I do not finish a book even if I don't like it that much, but this was one of those cases.

The book offers a Jungian interpretation of the Ring. I am not a psychologist or even a scientist but I have always had a problem with psychoanalytical `theories` because that is all they are and ever can be. There seems to be no way of proving or disproving them, they are as Popper put it `unfalsifiable'. So they are pseudo-science at best.

Donington's analysis, as in all Jungian interpretations of myths, sees the drama as symbolic of the internal development of the psyche of the individual. The problem with this is that it ignores many aspects of the drama that we see before our eyes on the stage: Das Rheingold, for example, is clearly above all else about power and politics. Like all Jungian analysis, the book imposes Jungian categories or archetypes on the work, sometimes it appears, just because those are the available archetypes, not because they explain anything in the drama. The anima, or mysterious femininity, is represented by Sieglinde and Brunhilde, presumably because they are the main young female protagonists in the drama. Hunding and Hagen represent the shadow, or hidden unconscious traits. Perhaps the most absurd interpretation is of the giant-turned-dragon Fafner as `the devouring aspect of the mother-image', which `guards a treasure which stands for the access of rich life accruing when the fascination of the mother image has been confronted & overcome'. I'm sorry but surely Fafner could be more credibly seen as someone who is greedy for power (like most of the main characters in the loveless world of Das Rheingold) but who lacks the energy & imagination to use it once it has been obtained: I had never thought of the dragon as the terrible mother before I read this, and I still don't see how anyone not wedded to the Jungian model could regard this as a reasonable analysis of the character.

Donington's interpretation was politely but forensically taken apart by Deryck Cooke in his posthumous `I Saw the World End', which, even though little more than 1/3 of it was finished through the author's untimely death, remains in my view the best analysis of the Ring over 30 years after its publication. His conclusion could not be bettered: `perhaps the fairest thing to say about Donington's book is that it is a Jungian interpretation of the Ring..... which nevertheless does not explain what the Ring is actually about'.

There are certainly flashes of insight that are useful, but in my opinion not enough to justify ploughing through all the Jungian stuff. There are some very good introductions to Wagner, such as Michael Tanner's short book, and then books offering more depth for those with some knowledge of the work. This is clearly intended to be the latter. However, I would recommend instead Cooke's book, which, unfinished as it is, is much more insightful and rewarding.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not Without Insights, But Flawed, 17 Oct 2008
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G Reid (Edinburgh) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Wagner's 'Ring' and its Symbols: The Music and the Myth (Paperback)
An interesting analysis of Wagner's Ring in terms of Jungian depth psychology, which can certainly enhance your understanding of the characters in the drama. But, as another reviewer has pointed out, identifying Fafner the dragon is a "mother image" seems absurd.

And, of course, you have to be able to read sentences like this, discussing Siegfried cutting a reed-pipe to imitate the birdsong he hears, without laughing (I can't): "In cutting his pipe shorter, he would be confirming the symbolism through which he is undoubtedly returning in fantasy to a state of infancy. There might be a glancing reference to to the small size of an infant's penis..."

Sometimes a pipe is just a pipe...
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars understanding Wagner, 12 Nov 2010
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This review is from: Wagner's 'Ring' and its Symbols: The Music and the Myth (Paperback)
A fascinating book which enables the reader to better understand, appreciate & enjoy the works of Wagner - in particular, of course, The Ring.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, 31 July 2014
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This review is from: Wagner's 'Ring' and its Symbols: The Music and the Myth (Paperback)
surely there is no need to add to all those stars?
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2 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Poor quality, 17 Jan 2011
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This review is from: Wagner's 'Ring' and its Symbols: The Music and the Myth (Paperback)
An expensive paperback, promptly delivered. The quality of the paper and printing is very poor. The content is a fascinating but the book is not a joy to hold and read.
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Wagner's 'Ring' and its Symbols: The Music and the Myth
Wagner's 'Ring' and its Symbols: The Music and the Myth by Professor Robert Donington O.B.E. (Paperback - 26 April 1976)
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