Lies and Epiphanies

Lies and Epiphanies

Composers and Their Inspiration from Wagner to Berg

Chris Walton

Personal eBook

University of Rochester Press



Presents case studies of "inspiration" in five composers -- Wagner, Mahler, Furtwängler, R. Strauss, and Berg -- examining how the supposedly extrarational world of creative inspiration intersects with the highly rational world of money and politics.
Lies and Epiphanies offers case studies of "inspiration" in five composers -- Richard Wagner, Gustav Mahler, Wilhelm Furtwängler, Richard Strauss, and Alban Berg. Their own tales of their epiphanies played a determining role in the reception history of their works: the finale of Mahler's Second Symphony was supposedly born of a "lightning bolt" of inspiration at the funeral of Hans von Bülow, while Alban Berg's Violin Concerto was purportedly his direct response to the tragic early death of Alma Mahler's daughter.
Chris Walton looks behind these tales to explore instead the composer's dual role as author and self-commentator, laying bare the fissures and inconsistencies within these artists' testimonies and revealing how the putatively extrarational world of creative inspiration intersects with the highly rational world of money and politics. As Walton points out, the composer often imposes on the audience an interpretation of a work and its genesis that is as superficial as the score itself is not. This study seeks to show why.

Chris Walton teaches music history at the Basel University of Music in Switzerland. He is the author of Othmar Schoeck: Life and Works (University of Rochester Press, 2009) and Richard Wagner's Zurich: The Muse of Place (Camden House, 2007).


11 black and white, 13 line illustrations
180 pages
9x6 in
Eastman Studies in Music
Hardback, 9781580464772, June 2014
Personal eBook, 9781580468442, June 2014
Library eBook
University of Rochester Press
BISAC MUS006000, MUS050000, MUS020000
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Table of Contents

Richard Wagner's Dynastic Dreams
Gustav Mahler's Resurrection and the Apostolic Succession
Of Forked Tongues and Angels: Alban Berg's Violin Concerto
Wilhelm Fürtwangler and the Return of the Muse
Here Comes the Sunset: The Late and the Last Works of Richard Strauss
Postlude: The Telephone Call


Well-cited, the book reads like a crime novel, and each of the five accounts is told as a story . . . Walton delves into the field of inspiration and influence, inherently muddy with speculation, clad with the best possible armor of research and inquiry. MUSIC REFERENCE SERVICES QUARTERLY

An illuminating read where one is transported back to the lives and times of composers who were, and still are regarded as the greats in Germanic music. STRINGENDO

Chris Walton's engaging study is concerned instead with inspiration in its engendering aspect. Having laid a variety of myths to rest, he is cautious about going too far: "we should also be prepared to regard apparent mendacities (. . . ) as allegories that allow us alternative, symbolic points of access to an understanding of complex, barely understandable phenomena" (p.133). These are wise words with which to conclude this excellent and elegantly written study. WAGNER JOURNAL

His theme is the seeking out of the conflicts and ironies that arise when musicians attempt to negotiate between their blessedly non-conceptual chosen medium and the real world in which they attempt to lead their lives. Walton takes understandable pleasure in cutting these giants of artistic endeavour down to size. At the same time, he avoids strenuously moralistic debunking. MUSICAL TIMES

Chris Walton offers a fascinating exploration of the stories his chosen composers -- German Romantics from Wagner to Strauss -- have told about inspiration. His conclusion is powerful, even moving, but no less important are his portraits of these still-looming figures. --Paul Griffiths, author of The Substance of Things Heard: Writings about Music

If we are unsurprised to learn that Wagner lied about the sources of his inspiration in order to intensify the pseudo-religious aura of his work, we may be disappointed to discover that Berg was significantly more friendly to Austrofascism than has been generally recognized, or that Richard Strauss repeatedly reinvented himself to best profit from the ruling power -- whether the Kaiser, Hitler, or the Americans. In this important book, Walton debunks the myths of inspiration invented by composers and their canonizers in the contexts of power and money. --Timothy L. Jackson, Distinguished University Research Professor of Music, College of Music, University of North Texas

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