Richard Wagner continues to be the most controversial artist in history, a perpetually troubling figure in our cultural consciousness. The unceasing debate over his works and their impact--for and against--is one reason why there has been no genuinely comprehensive modern account of his musical dramas until now. Dieter Borchmeyer's book is the first to present an overall picture of these musical dramas from the standpoint of literary and theatrical history. It extends from the composer's early works--still largely ignored--to the Ring Cycle and Parsifal, and includes Wagner's unfinished works and operas he never set to music. Through lively prose, we come to see Wagner as a librettist--and as a man of letters--rather than primarily as musical composer.
Borchmeyer uncovers a vast field of cultural and historical cross-references in Wagner's works. In the first part of the book, he sets out in search of the various archetypal scenes, opening up the composer's dramatic workshop to the reader. He covers all of Wagner's operas, from early juvenilia to the canonical later works.
The second part examines Wagner in relation to political figures including King Ludwig II and Bismarck, and, importantly, in light of critical reactions by literary giants--Thomas Mann, whom Borchmeyer calls "a guiding light in this exploration of the fields that Wagner tilled," and Nietzsche, whose appeal to "philology" is a key source of inspiration in attempts to grapple with Wagner's works.
For more than twenty years, Borchmeyer has placed his scholarship at the service of the famed Bayreuth Festival. With this volume, he gives us a summation of decades of engagement with the phenomenon of Wagner and, at the same time, the result of an abiding critical passion for his works.
"Borchmeyer . . . Program annotator for the Bayreuth Festival where Wagner's music dramas are famously showcased each year, considers the whole range of those works--characters, themes, literary sources, political and ideological contexts--in a straightforward yet exhaustively researched and well documented manner."--Symphony
"Dieter Borchmeyer provides unique insights into the Wagnerian outlook and purpose, insights not likely encountered elsewhere."--Clifford D. Alper, Opera Journal
"In his well-organized and eminently readable new book, Dieter Borchmeyer investigates in detail the intrinsic forces, as well as the various intertextual references, influences, and connections, of Wagner's libretti, in the course of which he succeeds impressively in developing the literary, historical, and cultural context of the time in which Wagner the librettist and composer worked. Borchmeyer writes without jargon in a comprehensible, clear, and lively style."--Walter Hinderer, Princeton University
"This book presents a good deal of entirely new material on Wagner's earliest operas and unrealized opera projects (some of these surprisingly little represented in the vast Wagner literature). Written in a straightforward, nontechnical style free of professional jargon, it provides individual chapters covering the entire Wagner canon, as well as the noncanonic early works, all related here in interesting ways to the composer's literary and intellectual environment."--Thomas S. Grey, Stanford University
"A literary scholar of considerable accomplishment, Borchmeyer . . . offers English readers the chance to share in his erudition on Wagner and his place in German culture of the past century and a half."--Choice
Table of Contents