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A reflection or two on Wagner's birthday

PostPosted: Tue May 22, 2012 3:39 pm
by alberich00
Hello, Discussion Forum Folks:

Today, Wagner's birthday, gives us one more year until the bicentennial of his birth. I've sworn an oath to myself and to others to complete a briefer, more accessible, publishable version of my "Ring" book posted on this site, by that date in 2013. Barring the unforeseen, I will bring this off.

I just wanted to say that as I reflect on my 41 or so years of full acquaintance with Wagner, I realize more and more that we are now, only now, really starting to engage with his legacy at anything like the level at which it exists. I don't mean, of course, that prior performer-conductor-interpreters, and scholars, and students, and other admirers of Wagner's art weren't fully engaged with his work as art. I simply mean that I believe that on the whole, when discussing Wagner in the past, most folks didn't employ language or ideas commensurate with the scope and depth of the subject. In other words, as extravagantly as he was admired, nonetheless in many respects Wagner was under-estimated. I believe this is particularly the case with his dramatic skills, and with his philosophic depth, more so than with his music. It is only now that we can really start to consider all these elements as a whole. Another example of how he has been under-estimated is in regards to his almost preternatural inwardness. Often, commentators speak of his alleged bombast and longing for attention at all costs and seeking to conquer his audience, to demolish its resistance, but his subtlety, his nuance, his mysteriousness, his meaningful silences, are overlooked. Wagner is accused of leaving nothing to the imagination, but in truth, most of what is meaningful in his art is implicit, covert, hidden, vaguely suggested, and shadowy. There is so, so much that is meaningful, that is not in any sense self-evident.

These thoughts have come to me as I considered again how I first became acquainted with Wagner on an authentically deep level by acquiring and experiencing the RAI Furtwaengler "Ring" when I was 18, in 1971. That first listen/read remains the high-point of my life. And then, of course, once I experienced the Furtwaengler "Tristan" there was no chance of retreat, no going back. Furtwaengler's reading of the first act, to this day, strikes me as the most shocking, stunning instance of a dramatist's innermost creative spark coming to life in a performance: it is as if Furtwaengler were channeling Wagner, in some sense. Talk about experiencing the noumenal in our modern, cynical world: this was it!

Well, having aired my latest ruminations, I'll return shortly to finishing part one of my critique of Mark Berry's "Treacherous Bonds and Laughing Fire." When complete, there will be seven parts of approximately 10 pages apiece. This was by far my longest critique of a Wagner study.