Here is Paul Heise's review of "The Bruennhilde Problem: Wagner's German Women," a talk presented by Celia Applegate (Vanderbilt Univ.) at the Wagner Worldwide 2013 bicentennial symposium sponsored by the Univ. of South Carolina in the winter of 2013:
Applegate asked why her grandmother loved Wagner so much. She noted that women were most enthusiastic about RW's works. She asks: what can we learn from Wagner's female fans who didn't know him personally? She surveyed dozens of women who responded to Wagner in the early 20th Century. The question is: what did they think of Wagner, rather than, what did his works mean? This question arises because interpretations by members of the audience were at odds with what the author intended. What is the basis of this misinterpretation?
Applegate put emphasis on the concept of Sinnlichkeit, sensuality. Wagner delivered an erotic experience for his fans. His erotic scenes are still the most popular.
Dreyfus delineated 3 responses:
1. Explicit awe
2. Explicit horror
Applegate objects to these characterizations
Louisa Buchner was a liberal feminist who wrote the following about her experience of Bayreuth: she loved Wagner's music but not all of it. She received a sentimental education from Wagner. She pored over Wagner's essays, and loved his early operas, but was disillusioned by "Tristan and Isolde," which was incomprehensible to her. She was also disgusted by all the hype about the "Ring," and declared it was no music of the future.
George Eliot visited Germany in 1855 and experienced a performance of "Lohengrin." She found it monotonous and trivial.
Ricarda Hucht was having an affair with her brother-in-law. She escaped to Zurich to get a University education, which was barred to women elsewhere.
Her experience of "The Mastersingers of Nuremberg" gave her the sensation of being trapped by life, and inspired a wild desire in her for fame, recognition, and escape from bourgeois life, a longing to run free and escape from servitude. Bach's "Matthew Passion" made a deep impression on her and calmed her down. Wagner ultimately disappointed her. For her, "The Valkyrie" was not a musical pleasure. She found the musical motifs childish. Her heroes were Brahms and Bach. She stated that she still attended Wagner performances but found them annoying.
The central idea here is that Wagner's promise of intense experience disappoints, though there are strong sexual overtones in his works. Horses [PH: as in Grane?] were a cultural code for sexuality. But most fans spoke euphemistically about sexuality in Wagner. Fans created a woman's Wagner. Wagner was the screen on which they projected their interior lives. They had a desire for intense, authentic experience.
Peter Gay described the experience of Bayreuth for women as 'candor in sheltered surroundings."
Virginia Woolf went to Bayreuth but she never hinted that she found it to be a sensual experience. Though she found "Parsifal" intimate and tranquil, she said she was relieved when the spell was over. She found that the emotions released were not real emotions because they changed too quickly.
Then there is Willa Cather's short story about an experience of Wagner in a matinee.
The question is: how did Wagner impact their lives? They tried to integrate Wagner into their bourgeois lives. What they found was the Wagnerian kingdom of subliminal knowledge. They could enjoy liberation in the theater without actually changing the world. They could feel like their real selves in the theater.
Question: Someone addressed the question about recovering forgotten Wagner reception histories, and asked how women interact with Wagner now.
Answer: We need to find out about cultural codes, to try to get inside the audience.
Anno Mungen: Did women find Wagner's femininity attractive?
Answer: Woolf sees Wagner as bossy and dictatorial.
Question: Is there a separate motif guide for women? PH apologizes that he failed to record an answer.
Question: Hucht was a friend of Nietzsche.
Answer: Lou Salome was tone deaf, but she liked Cosima. So did George Eliot.
General Discussion about Wagner and The Ring of the Nibelung
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