Wagner and Philosophy Paperback – 6 Sep 2001
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Bryan Magee is perhaps best known for his TV programme The Great Philosophers but he has also been a Member of Parliament, a music and theatre critic, a broadcaster and author of The Philosophy of Schopenhauerand the now classic Aspects of Wagner.
In Wagner and Philosophy, Magee concerns his expertise with the ways in which philosophical ideas penetrated Wagner's work. The dominant philosophical figure in the book and in Wagner's life is Arthur Schopenhauer and it is the influence of Schoepenhauer's metaphysics on Wagner's world-view and ultimately his operas that constitutes the heart of the book.
There are two Wagners in our culture, unrecognisably different from one another, thinks Magee; there are "those who know his work and the Wagner imagined by those who know him by name and reputation". What Magee attempts to debunk is the common view of Wagner as a "sort of proto-Nazi", a man "jingoistically nationalistic", and "quintessentially right-wing". Wagner's disillusionment with revolutionary socialist politics is not to be explained as a movement from left to right but rather "from politics to metaphysics". To understand Wagner's "turn", his "re-evaluation of his values" one must understand the monumental influence Kantian--Schoepenhauerian philosophy had upon him. Similarly he debunks the assumption that Wagner was much influenced by Nietzsche and in a fascinating chapter detailing the eight-year intimate friendship between the two men, Magee affirms what researchers already know; that during that time Nietzsche was in thrall to Wagner--indeed, worshipped him.
What readers familiar with German philosophy but unfamiliar with Wagner and opera in general will find awesome is the sheer magnitude of Wagner's artistic genius and the role played by Schopenhauer in freeing up that artistic genius. The result is that one finds oneself running back to Schopenhauer once more before buying up Wagner CDs and looking out for the next performance. What Wagnerians unfamiliar with philosophy should find is an enhanced understanding of the ways in which Schopenhauer's ideas were absorbed into the texture of the operas themselves. However one need not be familiar with either Wagner or philosophy of any kind to enjoy this book because Magee writes about both with clarity and an infectious reverential enthusiasm. --Larry Brown --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
About the Author
Bryan Magee has had a distinguished and varied career as scholar, broadcaster and parliamentarian. His previous books include Aspects of Wagner (1968), On Blindness (with Martin Milligan, 1996), The Philosophy of Schopenhauer (1997) and Confessions of a Philosopher (1997). He was a Labour MP from 1974 until joining the SDP in 1982.
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Top Customer Reviews
In his youth Richard Wagner was a left wing radical and, at the age of 35, had played an active part in the Dresden uprising in 1849. The brand of left wing philosophy he espoused was Anarchism: the theory of Bakunin and of Proudhon was that all government, being based on force, is corrupt. For his part in the revolution, he had to flee to Switzerland, and while there, he read another left wing philosopher, Ludwig Feuerbach. Feuerbach also condemned relationships based on power: they should instead be based on Love. One of Wagner's earliest operas, Das Liebesverbot (The Ban on Love, 1836) had already extolled love which burst through the bounds of the conventional institutions that tried to trammel it: in his later operas, Wagner proclaims that love should recognize no barriers, not of adultery nor even of incest.
In Switzerland Wagner began work on The Ring cycle. Das Rheingold, the first of the four operas, had an almost overtly political message: the lust for power has destroyed the natural order of things and is destructive of love. This was the view of many anarchists whose objective was to liberate society by political means from all kinds of external control.
But by the time he had finished Rheingold, he had undergone a momentous conversion. To begin with, he had become disillusioned with politics. The 1848 revolutions had failed, and Louis Napoleon's authoritarian coup in 1851 made Wagner despair that the world could be improved by political action.Read more ›
Magee explains the life and works of Wagner in terms of Wagner's political, philosophical and artistic beliefs, and provides an introduction to the key German philosophers who would play a role in Wagner's life: Feuerbach, Kant, Nietzsche and above all Schopenhauer. As Magee explains, Wagner's depth of interest in philosophy is unique amongst all the great composers. It would not be possible to write a similar book about Beethoven, Haydn, Mozart, Bach or any the other musical greats.
First he takes us through Wagner's earlier years, essentially up to the point where Wagner broke off from composition of the Ring cycle. Magee relates his interests in politics, socialism, anarchism, greek drama, opera, and his attempts to build a comprehensive theory of art that famously led to the concept of a Gesamtkunstwerk - a "complete art work" that would unify music and drama into a single art-form in which music, words and drama are equal.
Magee then relates Wagner's mid-life crisis and discovery of Schopenhauer. The biggest surprise for me was that I expected to read about the philosophy of Schopenhauer and its influence on Wagner with a purely academic interest. Instead I found myself strongly attracted to the ideas of Schopenhauer and started to share something of Wagner's seduction by the power of those ideas. For Schopenhauer art like religion strives to understand something of the reality beyond the physical world that we see and feel.Read more ›
I share all the same prejudices and misapprehensions of other Wagner lovers concerning the genius' thoughts, life, writings and music.
This volume has been revelatory, I was quite unable to put it down, and, having read it immediately read it all over again.
My understanding of the Ring, Tristan and Parsifal have improved immeasurably and I wholeheartedly recommend this book.
I have also started to read other philosophical volumes, guided by Professor Magee's helpful list.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
You would think that this would be hard work, but it isn't. Lucid, fascinating and recommendedPublished 15 months ago by Crayfish
Magee writes the best books one on Wagner that one can read. Even - or particularly - your interest is not in philosophy but simply in Wagner, this book is a must-read.Published on 29 April 2014 by Amazon Customer
Recommend it for those new to Wagner and also for those who thought they knew everything about him. Lots of background on the operas and compelling reading.Published on 22 Feb. 2014 by Maisie
The very first time Kant has ever made sense to me - so thank you to the Prof. All the rest on Wagner wonderful and will be digested again and again.Published on 30 Sept. 2013 by Anna Walters