Richard Wagner and the Centrality of Love

Richard Wagner and the Centrality of Love

Barry Emslie

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Emslie's study of Wagner's creativity examines the centrality of love - and its obverse, hate - to the composer's world view.
Richard Wagner and the Centrality of Love is a bold book which argues that Wagner's music dramas cannot be understood if treated separately from his essays, his life, the intellectual and artistic climate of his day, and the broader history of Germany. Wagner attempts a range of reconciliations that are radical in content and form and appear to succeed partly because he is in well-nigh complete command of the aesthetic product; not only text and music, but also production practice. Nonetheless, all the reconciliations ultimately break down, but in a manner that is illuminating. This is not a celebration of the seamless work of art, but a radical unpicking of the seemingly seamless.
'Love' is the central organising concept of the whole Wagnerian project. Love - sexual and spiritual, egotistical and charitable, love of the individual and of the race - is the key Wagnerian driving force. And therefore so is hate. Of course Wagner cannot employ love without its opposite, and it is critically significant that his anti-semitism is based upon his view that the Jews are 'loveless'. The book handles Wagner's anti-semitism (and the ongoing row about it) in a unique way, in that it is shown to be aesthetically and intellectually productive (for him!). This leads to a radical reinterpretation of Wagner's music dramas.

BARRY EMSLIE is an independent scholar who lives and teaches in Berlin.

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Keywords: MusicPhilosophy

Table of Contents

Introduction or the Uses of Love
Sensuality and spirituality in the early music dramas
Music and the eternal feminine (a) Music, philosophy and religion (b) Art and the woman
The Ring of the Nibelung (a) Contradiction, disorder and musical language (i) Plot (ii) Meaning (iii) Theory (b) The Pagan Ring (i) Pantheism (ii) Incest
Love and Death: Tristan und Isolde (a) Schopenhauer betrayed and/or corrected (b) Identity (c) Words and Music
The Mastersingers of Nuremberg (a) Words and Music Again (b) Language and Volk (c) Love, hate and anti-semitism
Parsifal (a) Kundry (b) The Grail
Contradictions and Speculations


Emslie makes some important points with clarity and precision. ... [He] rightly emphasises the importance of Wagner's prose works, not just the well-known theoretical tracts but lesser-known essays such as 'Die Wibelungen' and 'Jesus von Nazareth' as central to the Wagnerian project. MUSIC AND LETTERS

[P]rovides an impressively wide-ranging setting for discussion of Wagner on the whole. [...] it is fitting that the book emanates from this country's most ambitious medieval publishers who also have an impressively expanding music list. TLS

Emslie's... entertainingly opinionated examination of Wagner's operas offers a psychological study of the composer, a guide to his often contradictory writings and an up-to-the minute commentary on interpretation.
One of the Financial Times' books of the year 2010

Discussing the operas in chronological order, Emslie charts the many manifestations of love in Wagner from the fraternal to the eternal...The result is a fascinating read offering challenging new perspectives that take one back to the music to listen anew...surely the essential Wagner book of the year. CLASSICAL MUSIC [Michael Quinn]
This new study offers a lively introduction to anyone seeking to understand [Wagner's ideas]...his highly opinionated survey brings fresh air to the debate. FINANCIAL TIMES [Andrew Clark]
This book has one thinking about Wagner as most do not...I would recommend any serious Wagner-lover, perhaps Wagner-hater, to read it. OPERA [Michael Tanner]
Emslie...writes engagingly, carrying one along with his way of thinking, and driving one to think for oneself...I enjoyed reading [this book]. It has given me much to ponder, much to contest. WAGNER JOURNAL [Mark Berry]

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