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Re: Can Wagner's music, drama, poetry, be judged sepatately?

PostPosted: Sun Jul 03, 2011 2:17 am
by feuerzauber
And, please, let's here, here most especially, desist from this Gesamtkunstwerk fiction. Wagner soon abandoned that theoretical construct when he actually got to writing the music for his music-dramas realizing finally that whenever and wherever music is involved it's NEVER on an equal footing with the other arts but ALWAYS emerges dominant.


After this firm (but considerate) rebuke, I hereby desist from using the G word to describe Wagner's mature works, especially here.

To the stated topic. Can the separate components of Wagner's mature art (music, drama, poetry) — a synthesis of disparate forms that typically exist independently — be meaningfully judged independently?

Synthesis begs analysis — people will judge components separately because they can. But, that is merely the beginning of a critique — otherwise it's just an "academic" exercise — if the aim is to form a judgement of the work as a whole.

For example, judgements confined to investigating an orchestral part, taken in isolation of an orchestral score, could easily condemn all orchestral forms (symphony, concerto) to musical incoherence. Yet people apparently persist in drawing analogous "conclusions" by investigating libretto and score in isolation — even for opera in its Wagnerian form, where this is least applicable.

In imagination, we can consider a bleak world in which Wagner's fused synthetic works didn't exist, but their isolated components (music, drama, poetry, and also philosophy) did.

    Even in such a bleak world, It 's hard to conceive that the music wouldn't survive in some (mutilated) form, although we'd approach it differently, possibly like pre-1876 audiences, who imagined all sorts of fantastic goings on in the music of the Ring.

      However, in such a bleak world, I can't imagine myself reading the texts — not in the way I read William Morris's Sigurd, which delighted "perfect wagnerite" GBS.

        In such a bleak world, I wouldn't attend a 4-night Nibelungen stage drama — much as I won't attend GBS's 5-part Methusaleh with its Shavian inanities.

          In the actually bleak world of the current economic crisis, I can't imagine a more craven response than Schopenhauerian "resignation" (denial of the will in the face of suffering) toward the financial swindlers we just bailed out — which "quietist" compliance, GBS might well have accepted on Keynesian grounds.

            (To give GBS his due in the context of splitting Wagner, he opposed hacking Shakespeare's works and so I assume he would have opposed hacking Wagner's.)

            Yet, in the unified Wagnerian world of synthetic works, none of this seems paramount.

            My mundane point — which is not intended as a contribution to the far more interesting "dominance-of-music" issue — is that Wagner has presented us with an already scrambled egg, and that acknowledgement of this fact is the obvious point-of-departure (and nothing more than that) for any evaluation of the composer's mature works.

            Re: Can Wagner's music, drama, poetry, be judged sepatately?

            PostPosted: Sun Jul 03, 2011 2:16 pm
            by A.C. Douglas
            feuerzauber wrote:To the stated topic. Can the separate components of Wagner's mature art (music, drama, poetry) — a synthesis of disparate forms that typically exist independently — be meaningfully judged independently?

            In a word, No, the "bleeding chunks" so beloved of the concert stage notwithstanding. Wagner's "poetry", I'm told by well-educated native German speakers, is execrable, and absent the music, the drama is largely empty as drama. The music-dramas, however — i.e., texts and music taken as an organic unity — are drama as rich and profound as anything Shakespeare or the ancient Greek playwrights ever produced. That last IMNSHO, of course.

            --
            ACD
            http://www.soundsandfury.com/

            Re: Can Wagner's music, drama, poetry, be judged sepatately?

            PostPosted: Sun Jul 03, 2011 3:31 pm
            by alberich00
            Thank you, A.C:

            I heartily subscribe to every word here, taken as a unity. I am in such profound agreement with you here that any further quibbles I might have with your prior comments on this subject are a moot point. Well said!

            I'll get back to Feuerzauber's commentary in a bit (got to rest these poor fingers, which have been at it since 6:00am.

            Paul alias alberich00

            Re: Can Wagner's music, drama, poetry, be judged sepatately?

            PostPosted: Mon Jul 04, 2011 2:11 am
            by feuerzauber
            No-one should accept on hearsay the authoritative pronouncement:
            "I'm told by well-educated native German speakers, that Wagner's poetry is execrable."

            Unless the well-educated nameless have studied his poetry-qua-poetry-in-context — for which evidence must be demanded — I treat such views as mere personal opinion. Folk who merit the designation "well-educated" generally receive their cherished opinions second-hand from exalted authorities (who as likely received theirs the same way, but nevertheless managed to express it authoritatively).

            We receive our prejudices similarly. I'm simply warning against this ready-made opinion-via-authority conduit (as more generally in life) when examining the specific issue at hand — that the component parts of Wagner's works can't be evaluated in isolation of the whole.

            I'm not qualified to make anything like a definitive judgement on his poetry-qua-poetry-in-context. But, for what it's worth, my own limited view.

            I find it improbable that the "poetry" — of someone with an acknowledged ear for aural colour and the natural rhythm of dialogue; an uncanny ability to craft an ever-building argument in text and on stage; who was above all a skilled synthesist of disparate (perhaps recalcitrant) component forms; who, by all accounts, was totally driven by a single-minded passion to bring this entire complexity off as a stand-alone whole — can be dismissed on say-so as entirely "execrable", especially if, as is agreed, it works so well in context. We sorely need to bring an aesthetic-of-the-whole-work to bear on his "poetry".

            James Joyce and T. S. Eliot unashamedly dove-tailed snatches of Wagnerian poetry into major works — acknowledgement unnecessary — and these snatches trail (as intended) paths of glorious Wagnerian associations in their wake. This strikes me as poetic homage by extra-ordinary poetic minds and not lampoon.

            I suspect the last word hasn't been written on the well-known denigrators' gossip "execrable".

            Re: Can Wagner's music, drama, poetry, be judged sepatately?

            PostPosted: Mon Jul 04, 2011 11:57 am
            by A.C. Douglas
            feuerzauber wrote:No-one should accept on hearsay the authoritative pronouncement:
            "I'm told by well-educated native German speakers, that Wagner's poetry is execrable."

            Unless the well-educated nameless have studied his poetry-qua-poetry-in-context — for which evidence must be demanded — I treat such views as mere personal opinion. Folk who merit the designation "well-educated" generally receive their cherished opinions second-hand from exalted authorities (who as likely received theirs the same way, but nevertheless managed to express it authoritatively).

            We receive our prejudices similarly. I'm simply warning against this ready-made opinion-via-authority conduit (as more generally in life) when examining the specific issue at hand — that the component parts of Wagner's works can't be evaluated in isolation of the whole.

            First off, any opinion on a matter of quality in art is the "mere personal opinion" of whomever is expressing it no matter how authoritatively it might be expressed or how qualified the person expressing it. We're after all not talking of things mathematical which can be proved or disproved unequivocally.

            Second, it makes no bloody difference whether Wagner's music-drama "poems" qua poems are execrable or not as stand-alone poetry. Those poems were never intended to stand alone. The same could be said of the music for Wagner's music-dramas and of the music-dramas's "poems" as dramatic text. It could be said with a perfect assurance of not being in error that Wagner "heard" and "saw" those three elements (poem, music, and drama) simultaneously from the instant he began work on the music-dramas proper (as opposed to the writing of the prose drafts), no matter that he actually wrote text and music serially as he physically could not help but do. He began with the text first because it's the armature about which the drama is constructed; the thing that supports and gives shape to the fully fleshed-out work. That's just a matter of good and proper engineering practice in the creation of anything whatsoever. It's largely an unprofitable and even misleading exercise to pull apart that whose separate elements were never conceived of or intended to operate separately. It could very well be the case, for instance, that a created work generally received as being a resounding failure artistically will show, on examination of its separate elements, that its elements are flawless in themselves even though a train wreck as an organic unity, or point for point precisely the opposite case in a created work generally received as being artistically a resounding success.

            IOW, the question of whether the music-dramas's poems or its music or its drama can each stand alone absent the other two is simply the wrong question.

            --
            ACD
            http://www.soundsandfury.com/

            Re: Can Wagner's music, drama, poetry, be judged sepatately?

            PostPosted: Tue Jul 05, 2011 8:18 am
            by feuerzauber
            Dear sir,

            It amuses me how perilously close you've approached my sensitive but forbidden G word, though I'm sorry to have to rebuff your impassioned advances. Your inflexible "whatever gives me pleasure" standard must forever diminish you in my eyes, and so preclude any desirable meeting of our aesthetic minds.

            I shall always admire you for your works. Let us part on good terms and never cease to remain friends.


            "This note was written upon gilt-edged paper
            With a neat little crow-quill, slight and new
            "
            Byron Don Juan — Canto the First

            Re: Can Wagner's music, drama, poetry, be judged sepatately?

            PostPosted: Thu Jul 07, 2011 8:21 pm
            by alberich00
            Dear everybody:

            I had considered introducing what I'm about to say as a new topic, but decided that, after all, it fits nicely into the present discussion. Briefly, I'm often struck by Wagner's thesis that melding music with drama grants drama an involuntary, unconscious, dreamlike quality. It is as if Wagner's music, a direct product of his dramatic imagination, somehow suppresses normally conscious cause-and-effect thought, in much the same way that a dream develops involuntarily, without our conscious control. Of course, Wagner recognized that alot of musical composition is quite conscious and deliberate. Nonetheless, he seems to have believed (and experienced) that music, particularly his music, grants both its composer, and his audience, entre to the involuntary realm of the unconscious. Wagner developed this thesis in several places, but particularly in his "Beethoven."

            I have, in the study of Wagner's "Ring" which is the raison d'etre of this website, suggested that Bruennhilde is Wagner's metaphor for Siegfried's artistic muse, for music (this has of course long been part of the received wisdom in Wagner studies), and Siegfried's unconscious mind. It is noteworthy that after Siegfried has received the inspiration from his muse Bruennhilde necessary for him to reenter the waking world (his trip to visit the Gibichungs, for whom he will sing the story of his life (which I take to be Wagner's metaphor for his own "Ring"), Siegfried regards himself as Bruennhilde's arm, and says he owes everything, even his courage, to her. It is as if he's acknowledging that his involuntary, creative unconscious, Bruennhilde, is the source of inspiration which will guide him in his heroic adventures in the outer world. I have noted elsewhere (in my lectures and essays which come under the heading "How Elsa Showed Wagner the Way to Siegfried") that in his "A Communication to my Friends," Wagner virtually described Elsa as Lohengrin's involuntary, unconscious mind.

            In any case, I believe this insight offers us a useful hint in grasping the relationship of Wagner's music to his poetic texts.

            Yours from Wagnerheim,

            Paul