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Description de l’éditeur
’An absolutely masterly work’ Stephen Fry
Alex Ross, renowned author of the international bestseller The Rest Is Noise, reveals how Richard Wagner became the proving ground for modern art and politics—an aesthetic war zone where the Western world wrestled with its capacity for beauty and violence.
For better or worse, Wagner is the most widely influential figure in the history of music. Around 1900, the phenomenon known as Wagnerism saturated European and American culture. Such colossal creations as The Ring of the Nibelung, Tristan und Isolde, and Parsifal were models of formal daring, mythmaking, erotic freedom, and mystical speculation. A mighty procession of writers, artists, and thinkers, including Charles Baudelaire, Virginia Woolf, Isadora Duncan, Vasily Kandinsky, and Luis Buñuel, felt his impact. Anarchists, occultists, feminists, and gay-rights pioneers saw him as a kindred spirit. Then Adolf Hitler incorporated Wagner into the soundtrack of Nazi Germany, and the composer came to be defined by his ferocious anti-Semitism. His name is now almost synonymous with artistic evil.
Wagnerism restores the magnificent confusion of what it means to be a Wagnerian. A pandemonium of geniuses, madmen, charlatans, and prophets do battle over Wagner’s many-sided legacy. The narrative ranges across artistic disciplines, from architecture to the novels of Philip K. Dick, from the Zionist writings of Theodor Herzl to the civil-rights essays of W. E. B. Du Bois, from O Pioneers! to Apocalypse Now. In many ways,Wagnerism tells a tragic tale. An artist who might have rivalled Shakespeare in universal reach is implicated in an ideology of hate. Still, his shadow lingers over twenty-first century culture, his mythic motifs coursing through superhero films and fantasy fiction. Neither apologia nor condemnation, Wagnerism is a work of intellectual passion, urging us toward a more honest idea of how art acts in the world.
About the author
Alex Ross graduated from Harvard in 1990. He wrote for the New York Times from 1992 until 1996 when he became staff writer at the New Yorker. His first book, The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century, won the Guardian First Book Award. It was also shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize and the Pulitzer Prize. He is also the author of Listen to This. He lives in Los Angeles.
The 19th-century German composer Richard Wagner (1813 1883) is all things to all people in this sweeping cultural history. New Yorker music writer Ross (The Rest is Noise) surveys the ongoing influence of Wagner, whose operas wrapped tales of gods, heroes, knights, Valkyries, rapturous loves, and apocalyptic infernos in enthralling music that mixed bombast with sensuousness, spirituality, and psychological complexity. Ross explores how Wagner's protean music and ideology mesmerized "Wagnerians" of many stripes; infamously, his anti-Semitic polemics made him Hitler's favorite composer, but he has also been claimed as an anarcho-socialist revolutionary and as an inspiration by Jews, feminists, gays, and blacks (for W.E.B. Du Bois, Wagner signified ethereal beauty beyond a racist reality). Ross follows Wagner's long reach everywhere: Nietzchean philosophy, high-modernist novels, The Lord of the Rings, cowboy stories, Bugs Bunny cartoons, and such Hollywood epics as Birth of a Nation, Apocalypse Now, and Captain America. Ross manages to tame the sprawl with incisive analysis and elegant prose that casts Wagner's music as "an aesthetic war zone in which the Western world struggled with its raging contradictions, its longing for creation and destruction, its inclinations toward beauty and violence." The result is a fascinating study of the impact that emotionally intense music and drama can have on the human mind.