TOP 500 REVIEWERon 5 September 2012
Magee makes Wagner comes alive for me, like no other author I have read on this subject. Good writers,like him and Owen Lee want people to learn,they are born teachers.
Wagners life as a revolutionary,reminded me of what I did as a young man in the 1960's and 1970's. We were going to change the World,like Wagner.I eventually came to the conclusion, it is better to change yourself first.But I have never really given up my revolutionary Zeal.You simply become more sophisicated. One only has to look at what the Green movement has achieved. This is in reply to Magees view that the older Wagner went through change,he gave up politics and found Schopenhauer.Magee states he went through a life changing experience later in life.Change always comes or you stagnate.
Hegel-perpetual change,never ceasing,came like a bomb shell to the Germans.However,it was Feuerbach philosophy that influenced Wagner.The idea that Man creates God,or Gods in his own image,and that instead of loving God,love each other,seemed vaguely familiar to me. Religion Feuerbach thought, could show us our own deepest wisdom. Karl Mark thought these thinkers were a bunch of wimps and created a way of thought,that at the time was seen not to work.It never has.In 1850, Wagner began his Ring Libretto under the influence of Feuerbach. The poetry was written in Old German.He began with Siegfrieds Tod,which turned into Gotterdammerung,Siegfried ,Die Walkure and Rheingold. In otherwords, the libretto was written backwards.The music forwards. The fall of the old order and start of the new,via love.Wagner's major influences were Myth,Germanic,Nordic and Icelantic and a few ideas of his own to join it all together.This did cause him problems,for as Joseph Campbell points out,myth has its own hidden meaning. Donington stated that "Wagner thought myth was timeless". Campbell does say "the metaphors surrounding myth must change, otherwise the old metaphor simply has no meaning.Its Values are seen as old fashioned".Thus,modern staging of the Ring and his other works are necessary. In 1854 while in Switzerland, and having written the music to Act 3, Die Walkure, Wagner came across Schopenhauer, who was a Atheist. The world is full of suffering caused by will. We should ignore it. Then this philosopher came across Buddhism and Hinduism, and thought they think like me. Man should be like a mystic and ignore life and have their experience. Wagner now had found his man,they were made for each other.But Wagner had a a very determined will.He lived out the worst of himself and showed the best of himself in the operas.
Wagner could not rewrite his operas to fit in with Schopenhauer's thinking. He could see this philosophy in his creation,Wotan. Wotan was really Wagner,Siegfried his young revolutionary self.Just as in Act 2,Die Walkure,the showdown between Fricka and Wotan,was really Minna,his wife and Wagner.The music of Act 1,Die Walkure,was written when he was having an affair with Mathilde Wesendonck. He rewrote the ending to Gotterdammerung, with a Schopenhauerian last Brunnhilde aria,a farewell to life and the entry into timeless Nirvana. For by now he now believed in reincarnation and Buddhism,gained from Schopenhauer.He told Lizst about the Ring cycle"its all a riddle to me".So he cut out Schopenhauers aria out and replaced it with a musical theme from Sieglinde thanking Brunnhilde,for saving her in Act 3,Die Walkure. What does it all mean.? Wagner did not really grasp Indian philosophy,or if he did,he tried to change it for his operatic purposes. So Brunnhilde has reached Nirvana. But Alberich still remains,no one seems to mention him. But really, the Ring operas are about Alberichs ring. The muddle is this,does Wagner mean,we reach a new age,but that is Feuerbachian,or it is a change to Individual or collective Buddhist consciousness,and Alberich left standing,warning us, we could slip back into old thinking and the whole cycle starts again,a kind of Karma.
Wagner stopped writing music at the end of Act 2 Siegfried.Then while having an affair with Mathilde Wesendonck,whose husband had provided an house for Wagner, took up writing the Libretto for Tristan und Isolde,which is pure Schopenhauer. The great Love duet is about the night-the inner world,the day,life. The problem is they cannot go to Nirvana together, or meet there as in the Liebestod.Nor should you be having sex, if you want to reach that state of Nirvana. Joseph Campbell in the DVD,the Power of Myths,thinks it is a state you can enter,now,not after death.Most Western Philosophers do not understand it.They are too rational. For example,if I state that we are within the One,this isness,that is,that which is that,these experience cannot be put into words. You might think that is rubbish.Magee to give him his due does understand the basics of Indian philosophy.Tristan and Isolde, transformed Music and was the beginning of Modern classical music as we know it. Then Wagner thought he would write a comedy,the Meistersingers of Nurnberg. Only five hours long the opera has many layers of meaning,some of them Schopenhauerian.
At this time Wagner met Nietzsche,the philosopher,whom he could relate to,and who understood his ideas. However,Wagner influenced Wagner more then Nietzsche influenced him.After a period of time Nietzche left and became angry with Richard. After this, back to the Ring. The music has changed mainly because of Tristan und Isolde. Then Parsival,which should have been the Victors,a Buddhist opera. He used a woman in it.(See Wagner and Buddhism,Urs App) Instead she became Kundry. Wagner could not write music to portray Nirvana.That was his excuse anyway. Richard enjoyed Sex, as The Ring and Tristan shows. Tristan,Act two,is the sex act put to music. So under the influence of Cosima, Wagner then wrote a Buddhist,Christian opera,Parsival.This is a opera about a denial of sex. Richard was many things but not a Christian.Wagners excuse was it was only symbols that the people would understand,but it had a lot of Buddhist ideas.
Magee's book attacks the post deconstructionists,who state that Hitler was influenced by Wagner, because both were anti-semites. Wagner was dead before Hitler was born.Hitler gained his views on Jews in the streets of Vienna,and blamed Jews,because of the so called stab in the back,that caused Germany to lose the First world war. Also,the excuse that just because some of the characters are not refered to as Jewish,it does not mean Beckmesser and Mime are not. The audience knew they were. Beckmesser,was really Hanslick,a critic Wagner disliked. Mime,Wagner thought was him.Its all wooly thinking,giving academic studies a bad name.History, should be seen from the stand point of the era in which the people lived. Not through the prism of today,where we know what the Nazi's and Hitler did.There are people who think liking Wagner is akin to being a Holocast denyer,or a facist. These people believe the untruths that have become truth,written by those who do not know Wagner,or do not really understand his work. Artists can be difficult,but can produce beautiful work.For example, Van Gogh,Gauguin,Picasso etc. This is a great Book, very inspirational. Magees book is how philosophy should be written.He even brings his life into it to illustrate facts about Wagners life.But there was more to Wagner's Operas then what Magee mentions,but as he states,it is about philosophy.Magee brings Wagner truely alive on the pages of his book.
App,U. Richard Wagner and Buddhism 2011. University Media.
Campbell,J. The power of myth-DVD.1988.
Donington, R. Wagners Ring and his symbols 1976. Faber Paperbacks.
Lee,O. Wagner and the wonder of Art. An introduction to Die Meistersingers.2007. University of Toronto Press.