Paul Heise's review of "Wagner, Camillo Sitte, and the Modern Slow Movement," a talk presented by Stephen Thursby (Univ. of South Carolina) at the Wagner Worldwide 2013 bicentennial symposium in the winter of 2013:
This talk concerned Wagner's influence on architecture, in particular the architect Camillo Sitte.
Wagner wished to recreate the spirit of Athenian dramatic festivals. The amphitheater of the Bayreuth Festspielhaus serves this purpose. The idea was to create a communal spirit in the theater.
In 1889 Sitte wrote a book entitled "City Planning According to Artistic Principles." He praised older cities which developed slowly, organically, over time, and which resist homogenization. [PH: Roger Scruton has addressed this issue in a number of talks and papers]. Sitte was interested in a return to medieval influences and styles. He died in 1903. He was dedicated to Wagner and was a friend of Hans Richter [PH: One of Wagner's hand-picked conductors for his works]. Sitte attended performances in Bayreuth in 1876 [PH: The year of the "Ring" premier].
Sitte was a German nationalist, who patterned himself after Wagner's fictional heroes. Sitte wrote "Richard Wagner and German Art."
Thursby said that we can trace this movement back to Johann Georg Sulzer, in the 1770's. He anticipated the concept of the Bayreuth Festpielhaus, and the concept of a multi-talented creator of Gesamptkunstwerks, total works of art. Sitte stated that only Siegfried can be a focal point of German art, and considered Wagner a second Siegfried.
Sitte stated that Wagner cast and forged art anew. Wagner wakens German art from its 1,000 year slumber [PH: We can see here allusions to Siegfried's re-forging of his father Siegmund's sword Nothung, and his waking of Bruennhilde, as metaphors for this renewal of German art]
Sitte tried to transform Vienna. He wished for a humane space in cities. Ancient cities which grew organically brought nature into the city. Urban design is seen here as a total work of art. Sitte was opposed to the grid-design of modern cities. He felt that art is as important as technical matters in urban planning. Each city should have a unique character and idiosyncracies. A city is a living creature, with curvilinear shapes. It should convey mystery, pure instinct, spontaneity. To this end one can break the rules. [PH: I am in full sympathy with this notion of cities]
The manufactured product is a sign of modernity.
Sitte wrote critiques of the USA, with its comparative lack of history, uncertain future, obsession with money-making, which influences the American State and city design.
Sitte emphasized greenery in cities. Our ancestors were forest dwellers. Townspeople need urban greenery.
Sitte cited Istanbul as a good example of an organic city.
He was opposed to broad boulevards with imported greenery. Smaller islands of natural growth were preferred.
Sitte saw city planning as a synthesis of all the arts, a Gesamptkunstwerk. Sitte hoped that committees of artists would create city-scapes, but it would be best if a single individual guided a city's planning artistically. Works of art can't be created by committee.
The modern slow food and slow city movements echo Sitte. Sitte championed the Mediterranean way of life: most of his favorite cities were in Italy. The Slow Food Movement, with its anti-fast-food homogenization ideology, also originated in Italy. Speed had become our shackles, life like a machine. In slow cities, life is not a race.
The Slow City Movement came into its own in 1999. 50 pledges were taken to, for instance, cut down noise and traffic, back local food, etc.
Siegfried Wagner studied architecture.
These movements express a longing for community, enhanced quality of life, an artistic approach to living. [PH: This is very much in the spirit of Roger Scruton's writings on this topic].
The question was posed, can we develop slow music? [PH: My primary complaint re contemporary pop culture is that it limits musical expression to a very narrow range in terms of length of compositions and complexity and breadth and depth of expression. I always feel shackled listening to much that is popular in our time]
Question: Did Sitte also take sanitation into account? There was a movement to clean up cities in the 1870's and 1880's. [PH: I didn't record whether this last sentence was part of the question, or Thursby's answer]
Question: One of Sitte's influences was Ruskin [PH: I can't help thinking here of his influence on Proust, one of my literary gods, a master of prose poetry].
In Ruskin's "Stones of Venice" from the 1850's he describes Venice as an organic city. [PH: Again, I don't know how much of the preceding was part of a question, and how much Thursby's answer]
PH: I strongly identify with Sitte's views on city planning as described here by Thursby. For me, a work of architecture, and its surroundings, is like a symphonic composition or poem or novel. Each unique work of architecture seems to have its own unique melodies and keys. I can fully understand how an architect might be inspired by Wagner's works to see how we could make cities as natural and organic and idiosyncratic as possible.
General Discussion about Wagner and The Ring of the Nibelung
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