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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wagner made a bit easier to follow
If only every book that sets out to explain a complicated topic to the uninitiated could be modelled on this one. The author has a deep knowledge of every aspect of Wagner yet is able to set out all the reader needs to know in a straight forward fashion without confusion. The references to further reading about Wagner are neatly sorted to put the most accessable first...
Published on 20 Aug 2010 by D. Brewer

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2 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Flawed, but well worth reading
This book is intended to be an introductory book on Wagner. Its basic structure is as follows: After a Preface and listing of "Ten Great Moments in Wagner", there is a very helpful Chronology. There is then a summary of his life, with particular reference to artistic issues. Each opera is then treated in turn, each receiving a a fairly detailed synopsis, with then a...
Published on 29 Jun 2011 by Mr. Antony F. Ornstin


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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wagner made a bit easier to follow, 20 Aug 2010
By 
D. Brewer - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Faber Pocket Guide to Wagner (Paperback)
If only every book that sets out to explain a complicated topic to the uninitiated could be modelled on this one. The author has a deep knowledge of every aspect of Wagner yet is able to set out all the reader needs to know in a straight forward fashion without confusion. The references to further reading about Wagner are neatly sorted to put the most accessable first. The references to the recorded works, spanning decades, show that earlier recordings may well be easier for getting the flavour of the works than the latest DVD. As if this were not enough, the book is a genuinely entertaining read.
Although the operas are vast and deep, this book will give you a start in sampling and maybe enjoying them.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent introduction spoiled by an over-emphatic chapter on Wagner and the Jews!, 18 Jan 2011
By 
S. J. Williams "stevejw2" (Leeds, West Yorkshire United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Faber Pocket Guide to Wagner (Paperback)
This book is (almost) everything one would expect from this author: highly readable, interesting, argumentative and largely well-judged. The bibliography is highly selective but central and the choice of cd recommendations shows the wisdom of years of listening and reviewing new issues of Wagner sets. I am particularly grateful for Tanner's recommendation of Patrick Carnegy's marvelous book on Wagner and the Art of the Theatre and for his arguments which prompted me to pick up Thomas Mann again.

The (almost), I'm afraid, relates to the chapter where Tanner addresses the thorny issue of anti-Semitism in the man and, more problematically, in the music. I share the author's enthusiasm, indeed passion, for the subject of the book and deplore what seems in some quarters to have developed into a critical monomania where all the composer's output is seen as little more than a more or less coded fascist tract, and Wagner as some sort of Nazi shock trooper. Unfortunately, such is Tanner's impatience with such a silly critical approach that his chapter overstates the opposite view to the point where I, a very sympathetic reader, began to feel that he was protesting too much: 'in denial' is the current phrase I think.

Whilst acknowledging the anti-Semitism, he presents it as a personal aberration on Wagner's part which could have nothing to do with the music as experienced in the theatre (unless under the control of a mischievous producer with a very blunt critical axe to grind), and not really central to our understanding the the man as a creative artist. Indeed, Tanner seems to think that no-one, other than earnest academics, no doubt running out of PhD titles and seeking to blaze a trail, has ever noticed anything racist in the works: the Festival, which should have been the hallowed ground for all Nazis if anti-Semitism was at the core of the works, would have had queues of storm-troopers lining up to indulge in confirmation of their perverted world-view, and Cosima and Richard would have openly discussed the effectiveness of, say, Mime and Beckmesser as Jews. Some of these assumptions seem to me to be just plain silly: no doubt racist bigots can be as deaf to the glories of Wagner and as unprepared to be bored by him as anyone else; the fact that in Cosima's diaries there is no mention of discussion between husband and wife of Mime and Beckmesser being Jewish representations is no indication that they were not expected to be perceived as such. And indeed there ARE references by members of the Nazi hierarchy to Wagner's portrayal of characters as embodying stereotypical 'Jewish' traits (though one would hate to be dependent upon their critical perceptions for guidance). More importantly, Thomas Mann and Thomas Grey, whom Tanner marshals to his aid in rebutting the 'racism in the works' view, are more ambivalent than he suggests.

Mann's forthrightness about the question is not so hard to find: he recognises Beckmesser as having similarities to a stereotypically Jewish character in a story by the Grimms (the reference eludes me at the time of writing). Towards the end of 'Pro and Contra Wagner', which contains what Tanner regards as 'the greatest single piece of writing on [Wagner]', Mann comments in a separate piece re a collection of the composer's letters: 'there is too much in [Wagner] that repels, too much 'Hitler', indeed too much latent - or for that matter, manifest - Nazism for any real trust to seem possible, any reverence untrammelled by bad conscience, any love that need not feel ashamed of its name. And yet ....'. (p. 217). Tanner references the 'Hitler' quotation but with a dismissive rhetorical flourish which really will not do.

Grey, in 'The Cambridge Companion to Wagner', writes ' ..... one would have to be culturally tone deaf not to see how Siegfried's attitude towards Mime reflects a great deal of Wagner's attitude towards the Jews..' (p215) Admittedly he goes on to conclude his essay: 'If Wagner influenced the tragic course of German anti-Semitism in the generations to follow, it was through his prominence as a public figure, indeed as a famous artist and composer, but not through the music he composed.' (p. 218) There seems to me to be no contradiction between the two comments: it is the 'space' between them, and indeed between Mann's despairingly negative judgement and his 'and yet ...', that the real problem of Wagner's anti-Semitism lies and which Tanner seems to deny being worthy of real consideration. Indeed it stretches credibility to breaking point to believe that anyone with such strong and openly expressed prejudices as Wagner held could create works utterly devoid of traces of those central beliefs, particularly in dramatic works, not the abstract world of 'pure' music. Such a view does not preclude recognising other, perhaps more vital elements which might conflict with these monstrous ideas.

Of course these and other arguments do not justify the absurd view that Mime et al were narrowly conceived as 'Jewish' representations. Without contextualising knowledge, and given a 'neutral' production, it is unlikely that a listener would see or hear racist elements, I suspect, though the blood and wound imagery of Parsifal might give the sensitive listener pause for thought. Nor was Wagner directly responsible for the rise of Nazism, the Holocaust or any other of the horrors of the Third Reich, though he was by default a part of that cultural world from which all future political developments in Germany developed.

The issue of Wagner and the Jews is too complex, too interesting and too emblematic of the endlessly fascinating contradictions of this hugely important cultural figure to pretend to be able to dismiss the significance of his racism and its possible presence, however inchoate, in the work. If Tanner is able to listen to his works (like Adam before eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge) without occasional unease rooted in what we know of Wagner's explicit and widely published views, then good for him. But those who explore this aspect of Wagner character and output are not necessarily guilty of being 'driveling ... Jew spotters' (an interesting turn of phrase from 'A Consumer', above) particularly in the context of the history of Europe after Wagner's death and the appropriation by the Nazis of the composer. I think this element has become too central to recent critical debates, but it needs to be part of what we say about Wagner and his work, a point made all the more clear to me by the tone of Tanner's engagement with these questions.

Had Tanner not written the chapter on Wagner and anti-Semitism, the book would be a resounding 5*: however, that section seems lacking in the clear-sighted scholarly rigour to which one has become accustomed from the author. And, frankly, his language is so intemperate at times that even if I agreed completely with his stance, I would wish to put some distance between myself and his approach.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Michael Tanner does it again, 2 Sep 2010
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This review is from: The Faber Pocket Guide to Wagner (Paperback)
Having bought, read, and often dipped into again, an earlier book by this authority - his 'Wagner' (1997), I bought this volume with confidence. It did not disappoint. I had not previously read much at all about the life of Wagner, and so enjoyed the first section - Wagner's Life and Character. Tanner tells it in a way that left me feeling that in spite of his flaws, I have a more sympathetic attitude to RW, and the Selective bibliography will be useful when I decide to read more about the life. The chapters on individual operas include commentaries which I enjoy, and which prompt me to listen again, perhaps with different insights, to the works. A concise, thoroughly recommendable purchase.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars First rate introduction, 17 May 2010
By 
Dogbertd (Brussels, BE) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Faber Pocket Guide to Wagner (Paperback)
This is really excellent. Dr Tanner's survey of Wagner and his works is informative and illuminating, and he enlivens his text with his clearly stated personal opinions. You will learn here why it's so difficult to find a DVD production of Wagner's operas that look anything like a staging that Wagner would recognise, and - as mentioned by another reviewer - the section on Wagner, Jews and Nazis is just about the most sane discussion of this subject I've seen anywhere, pointing out that this is a post WWII trend amongst academics keen to make a name for themselves, and also noting the logical inconsistencies in their arguments. There is a good summary of Wagner's life, and an introduction to each of the (mature) operas which includes a synopsis and discussion. There is also a somewhat idiosyncratic guide to Wagner on CD (I doubt that many will agree that the Solti Ring is "artistically something close to a wreck") and a good review of books on Wagner. For me, this trumps the similar volume by Millington (New Grove Wagner). Most enjoyable, even if you already have half-a-dozen other books on Wagner. Highly recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars wonderful!, 25 Oct 2013
By 
Rohintan Mody (Cambridge, Cambridgeshire United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Faber Pocket Guide to Wagner (Paperback)
Michael Tanner in this first rate introduction genuinely interprets the operas on their own terms. His judgements are sane and sensible; avoiding both idolatry of Wagner and contempt. Superb!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wagner a Pocket Guide, 21 Jan 2013
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This review is from: The Faber Pocket Guide to Wagner (Paperback)
In a relatively short book Dr Tanner's gives an excellent introductiuon to the subject.. I particularly liked his division of subject into an individual opera precis for each work, a life of the artist and general discussion of Wagner in the 20th Century.

I do think the index could have been much fuller but that is my only real criticism.

Watching a DVD of say Rheingold with Tanner's work in ones hand is a real pleasure.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Introduction, 30 April 2010
This review is from: The Faber Pocket Guide to Wagner (Paperback)
Dr. Tanner's book is informative and concise. The chapter on Wagner and the Nazis is tremendously helpful, and should put a stop to the endless drivellings of the Jew-spotters (Millington, Deathridge, et al.). The biography is focused; the plot synposes and analyses of the dramas are illuminating. This is probably the best introduction to Wagner on the market. In fact, the book is worth buying alone for the highly informative Bibliography and Recommended Recordings section. Hugely worthwhile.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Beginner's Delight, 16 Jun 2011
This review is from: The Faber Pocket Guide to Wagner (Paperback)
As a very late developer into opera, but enjoying the experience, I needed to know more about Wagner.
This book is an absolute delight.
Extremely informative and yet so easy to read and digest.
Dr Michael Tanner is a superb writer and informs without pretention.

Cannot recommend this book highly enough.

Thank You Dr Tanner.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, 30 Jun 2010
By 
D. M. Purkiss "Diane" (Oxford, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Faber Pocket Guide to Wagner (Paperback)
I thought Michael Tanner's first book on Wagner excellent, and I was at first apprehensive that he wouldn't find anything new to say on the subject. How wrong I was. In this beautifully written and intelligent appreciation he finds new insights on every page. The recordings review is peerless, and worth the purchase price on its own. He also shoots dead many of the paper tigers that stalk the jungle that is professional musicology, in particular the incessant nonsense talked about Wagner as a big bad man. I know this sounds twee, but I thought this book was, very truly, a guide, and a companion. Thank you, Michael Tanner.
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2 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Flawed, but well worth reading, 29 Jun 2011
By 
Mr. Antony F. Ornstin (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Faber Pocket Guide to Wagner (Paperback)
This book is intended to be an introductory book on Wagner. Its basic structure is as follows: After a Preface and listing of "Ten Great Moments in Wagner", there is a very helpful Chronology. There is then a summary of his life, with particular reference to artistic issues. Each opera is then treated in turn, each receiving a a fairly detailed synopsis, with then a "Commentary" dealing with a variety of topics, often interpretative. After discussion of the operas there is then a chapter dealing with "Wagner, the Jews and the Nazis", which Dr Tanner wrote with great reluctance. There are then sections on bibliography, and discussions of recordings (both CDs and DVDs. In these latter sections Dr Tanner displys enormous knowledge (although I am a bit surprised there is no reference to Robert Donnington's book on the Ring).

In terms of assessing this book I have quite mixed feelings: First of all it seems to me that the emphasis in the book is more on the drama (including giving it an interpretation that is relevant to our lives)than on the music. This is not to say nothing valuable is said about the music, but I didn't gain a great deal of understanding of why Wagner is one of the great composers (perhaps such understanding could only be imparted by a musician, or even composer).

There is no doubt though that Dr Tanner writes with a lot of passion (so the book is never dull) and, subject matter allowing, strives to penetrate to the inner core of each opera (in relation to the drama and its interpretation). In relation to this his thoughts are often profound. This is obviously impressive. However, I occasionally found a few of his interpretative thoughts a little impenetrable (perhaps partly due to the need to express complex ideas in a short space).

Dr Tanner sometimes also seems to overstate his case, as if he was being mastered by his own enthusiasm, although this element does have the advantage in that it helps to convey his passion for the subject matter, and enlivens the book. He also occasionally says some things that I found surprising in a negative way-for example, he sees "an intention to sabotage" in the approach most recordings take to Tannhauser.

I found the section on "Wagner, the Jews, and the Nazis" the least impressive part of this book; the part of it dealing with possible anti-semitism in the operas themselves contained some argumentation that I didn't find particularly convincing, and I didn't care for some individual words used (eg "sewage, page 243). As an example of an argument I would refer to the temporary adoption (page 249) of a position which takes Wagner's intentions into account- an overall position which elsewhere in the book is consistently and strenuously opposed by Dr Tanner. Overall, the chapter did not convince me that there is no case to answer in relation to the issue of anti-semitism within the operas themselves, (and in general I remain open-minded on this whole topic).

Leaving the above thorny topic aside, my overall view of this book is that is definitely stimulating, and that its analysis is sometimes profound. I think it is therefore well worth reading both by Wagner afficionados, and by those who know little about him and his work. However, I think it is to some extent flawed, for reasons expressed above.
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The Faber Pocket Guide to Wagner
The Faber Pocket Guide to Wagner by Dr Michael Tanner (Paperback - 15 April 2010)
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