Paul Heise's review of "Wagner and the Philosophy of Revolution," a talk by Anthony Grayling (Birkbeck College) recorded by BBC Radio 3 Essay as part of the Wagner 200 bicentennial celebrations:
Critics has argued that Wagner only supported the Revolution of 1848-1849 to find an audience for his music. This was the Springtime of the People. Wagner was dedicated to social revolution. His own literary/aesthetic contribution to this revolution were three major essays, "Art and Revolution," "The Artwork of the Future" [PH: Dedicated to Ludwig Feuerbach, who so heavily influenced Wagner's "Ring"], and "Opera and Drama."
Wagner did agree with his critics that the revolution should serve his art. Art, Wagner said, must be freed from labor and commerce. Wagner had launched a campaign against philistinism. Revolutionary causes for which Wagner fought included civil liberties, freedom from censorship, and the unification of the German states. In this revolution the working classes were more radical than the middle class.
Important influences on the Revolution, and on Wagner, were Feuerbach, Proudhon, and Bakunin.
The Young Hegelians [PH: Feuerbach was among their number] carried on Hegel's notion that the world-spirit is continually unfolding freedom and reason.
The moderate demands of the liberals, including freedom of the press and other reforms, were renounced by the Crown. This inspired an impulse to sweep away the old order.
Wagner got caught up in the revolution in Dresden and had to flee to Switzerland, but not before he had completed "Lohengrin." In the early 1850's, after the failure of the Revolution, Wagner wrote "Judaism in Music," and the librettos of "Siegfried's Death" [PH: later to become "Twilight of the Gods"] and "Young Siegfried" [PH: later known simply as "Siegfried"]. Wagner explained his revolutionary artistic aims in his essay "A Communication to my Friends." Wagner then in 1854 discovered "Schopenhauer," an influence which led to his creation of "Tristan and Isolde."
This leads to the question, which Wagner wrote the "Ring," the Revolutionary, or the Schopenhauerian? This compels us to ask how we might grasp Wagner's "Ring." [PH: Readers will find in my online book "The Wound That Will Never Heal," which is the primary matter of www.wagnerheim.com, a thorough and I believe unified reading of the "Ring" based entirely on the premise that Feuerbach is the key figure, besides Wagner himself, to whom we must look to grasp the "Ring" in both its detail and its depth.]
Wagner sought a liberation through art. One theme which links both Wagners, i.e., both the revolutionary and the Schopenhauerian, is the notion of the total work of art, as a necessity for the human spirit.
General Discussion about Wagner and The Ring of the Nibelung
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