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Alex Ross, renowned New Yorker music critic and author of the international bestseller and Pulitzer Prize finalist 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 fig Alex Ross, renowned New Yorker music critic and author of the international bestseller and Pulitzer Prize finalist 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 artists, including Virginia Woolf, Thomas Mann, Paul Cézanne, Isadora Duncan, 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 antisemitism. For many, his name is now almost synonymous with artistic evil. In Wagnerism, Alex Ross 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. As readers of his brilliant articles for The New Yorker have come to expect, Ross ranges thrillingly across artistic disciplines, from the architecture of Louis Sullivan to the novels of Philip K. Dick, from the Zionist writings of Theodor Herzl to the civil-rights essays of WEB Du Bois, from O Pioneers! to Apocalypse Now. In many ways, Wagnerism tells a tragic tale. An artist who might have rivaled Shakespeare in universal reach is undone by 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 passionate discovery, urging us toward a more honest idea of how art acts in the world.


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Alex Ross, renowned New Yorker music critic and author of the international bestseller and Pulitzer Prize finalist 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 fig Alex Ross, renowned New Yorker music critic and author of the international bestseller and Pulitzer Prize finalist 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 artists, including Virginia Woolf, Thomas Mann, Paul Cézanne, Isadora Duncan, 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 antisemitism. For many, his name is now almost synonymous with artistic evil. In Wagnerism, Alex Ross 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. As readers of his brilliant articles for The New Yorker have come to expect, Ross ranges thrillingly across artistic disciplines, from the architecture of Louis Sullivan to the novels of Philip K. Dick, from the Zionist writings of Theodor Herzl to the civil-rights essays of WEB Du Bois, from O Pioneers! to Apocalypse Now. In many ways, Wagnerism tells a tragic tale. An artist who might have rivaled Shakespeare in universal reach is undone by 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 passionate discovery, urging us toward a more honest idea of how art acts in the world.

30 review for Wagnerism: Art and Politics in the Shadow of Music

  1. 5 out of 5

    Tosh

    Probably one of the 'fun' reads this year is "Wagnerism" by Alex Ross. And to be honest I don't care about Wagner. What I do find fascinating is how a 19th-century composer can transform not only the music world, but also in the visual and literary arts. And of course that Hitler connection. Ross is an amazing music historian, and like his other book "Rest is Noise," "Wagnerism" has at least five great stories per page. This mega-book is huge and is probably one of the great reads on how art can Probably one of the 'fun' reads this year is "Wagnerism" by Alex Ross. And to be honest I don't care about Wagner. What I do find fascinating is how a 19th-century composer can transform not only the music world, but also in the visual and literary arts. And of course that Hitler connection. Ross is an amazing music historian, and like his other book "Rest is Noise," "Wagnerism" has at least five great stories per page. This mega-book is huge and is probably one of the great reads on how art can have an effect on culture. One doesn't have to be a Wagner fan to appreciate this book. It's interesting that like The Beatles, who had a strong impact on pop - both high and low culture, Wagner did the same in the 19th-century. He even had his own merch shop when he was alive! Kimley and I discuss this book on our podcast BOOK MUSIK. You can hear it here: Book Musik podcast.

  2. 5 out of 5

    lark benobi

    It's not an exaggeration to say that Ross's 2007 book THE REST IS NOISE forever changed the way I think about and listen to music. What a glorious, exalted, human experience it was to read his earlier book, and to have a companion website there to hear in real time of all of the music I was learning about. Apart from the music itself, and apart from Ross's always-fascinating, never-condescending approach to explaining the significance of a given composition, another thing that really made this e It's not an exaggeration to say that Ross's 2007 book THE REST IS NOISE forever changed the way I think about and listen to music. What a glorious, exalted, human experience it was to read his earlier book, and to have a companion website there to hear in real time of all of the music I was learning about. Apart from the music itself, and apart from Ross's always-fascinating, never-condescending approach to explaining the significance of a given composition, another thing that really made this earlier book soar and sing for me was Ross's historical scene setting--his extraordinary ability to make these composers come alive as human beings who were living through a moment in history, and influencing that history. Ross's scenes are as vivid as Barbara Tuchman's and they call to mind Tuchman's humanity and her uncanny ability to revivify the past. Ross's previous book also included a tantalizing, brief examination of Wagner's music and influence, that left me wanting to know more. And now Ross has devoted himself fully to Wagner, and Wagnerism in this next book. The book begins with a vivid scene of Wagner's death, and follows on with even more vivid detail about the way the world reacted to the news of Wagner's death. It's stunningly written. The moments come alive on the page. And then comes a bald statement of Ross's thesis about Wagner and his influence. I suggest you just accept it. Dive in, rather than trying to this-or-that his thesis, or debate it on the page as you read. Just go with it. Put aside any conclusions you may have made about Wagner and his art, prior to reading this book, and let the book lead you. I was exhilarated by the journey. I felt warmly taken care of, but never condescended to. Ross gave me so much to think about. I'm assuming that Ross will put up a companion listening web site as the publication date draws nearer, with links to all of the music he refers to in the text, but I was able to find all of it fairly easily online and to listen as I read. It really enhances the reading experience and it's one of the best intermedia experiences I could recommend. I could not have been more grateful, when I got to the end of this book, for the way Ross introduced me to new thoughts about Wagner, about music, about history. Thanks to FSG for making this book available to me in electronic ARC.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Casaubon

    The chaotic posthumous cult that came to be known as Wagnerism was by no means a purely or even primarily musical event. It traversed the entire sphere of the arts. -Alex Ross Kill da wabbit, kill da wabbit, kill da wabbit! -Elmer Fudd One of Alex Ross' previous books, The Rest is Noise, was a broad tour through the world of modern classical music. Chapters were devoted to movements or individual composers and their works, and how they inspired generations of future artists -- but Wagner gets his o The chaotic posthumous cult that came to be known as Wagnerism was by no means a purely or even primarily musical event. It traversed the entire sphere of the arts. -Alex Ross Kill da wabbit, kill da wabbit, kill da wabbit! -Elmer Fudd One of Alex Ross' previous books, The Rest is Noise, was a broad tour through the world of modern classical music. Chapters were devoted to movements or individual composers and their works, and how they inspired generations of future artists -- but Wagner gets his own book. He has "Wagnerism", where other composers might not have their own "isms". Wagner passes away less than 200 pages in, and nearly all the text is devoted to the "shadow of music", or how Wagner's own techniques in composition, staging, mythology, and depiction of emotion influenced a bewildering array of other artists, writers, and thinkers. His use of the leitmotif may be the ancestor of the use of music in film - where Leni Reifenstahl used Wagner in the Triumph of the Will, Charlie Chaplin used him to mock Hitler. Ross is sure to include other musicians, but also - in this music critics' phrase - the "artists of silence" - poets, writers, and painters. Wagner's appeal was broad, and Ross's telling of this is almost overwhelming. It would be easy to say that the book in this way almost resembles a performance of Wagner, with a bombardment of facts. His popularity was astonishing. At his height, tens of thousands of concerts of his works were played in a decade. Imagine anybody who's music was played live that much. The performances at the Bayreuth Festspielhaus drew devotees from all over the continent and the United States. They are of all classes and backgrounds - from middle-class ladies to such figures as W.E.B. DuBois or Theodor Herzl. Much of the book is devoted to Wagner's enduring and broad influence across generations of artists. Baudelaire, the French poet, saw in him a gift for the otherworldly, an understanding of dreams. Artists from the French Symbolists to high modernists, from Willa Cather to James Joyce, saw something in him. Not everybody who heard him was a fan, of course. W.H. Auden thought he was not respectable as a person and Mark Twain felt out of place at Bayreuth, like a "heretic in heaven". Yet Ross also, in his wide scope of searching for Wagner's devotees and listeners, finds some on the radical left, of a few brief visits by Mikhail Bakunin, and of his association with gay camp and lesbians who took on the iconography of Brünnhilde. Unavoidably, there is also the intersection between Wagner's art and his politics. As we leave the 19th and move on to the 20th century, Wagnerism takes on sinister connotations. Wagner's own disgusting anti-Semitism looms over his life and art, and Ross to his credit does not avoid or deny it. Wagner's distinct aesthetics and eccentric lifestyle would have made him a pariah or an unreliable element in Nazi Germany, but his gleeful use by the Third Reich and the extreme right is his "Nosferatu shadow", and the retread of his own prejudices and of his appropriation by some of the worst evil in human history. That said, Ross goes on to say that "Wagner served the Nazi state only when he was shorn of his ambiguities," and it was partly due to this own rewriting of his story and his own family's complicity that the Third Reich had gone so far in its identification with him as it did. Attempts to mandate Wagner into the life of Nazi Germany were unsuccessful. Soldiers of the Wehrmacht who were given tickets to the opera did as you'd expect soldiers to act. They sold the tickets for beer money or fell asleep in the seats. It would be too easy to say: First Wagner, then Hitler. Ross is right to assert you'd be better off looking at all the history of the West to find where Hitler came from. Wagner has "near-infinite malleability", and interpretations of his work defy easy categorization or description. His legacy is beyond the "chaotic posthumous cult" of what "Wagnerism" was in the late 19th century, and ranges from the heights of idealism to the worst of concealed hatred. Ross takes us on a grand lecture tour of them all, and shows the composer and the artist, through his vast, conflicted, ongoing legacy.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Dan Graser

    This is the most thorough examination of the panoply of lenses through which Wagner's effects on art and society have been viewed. Speaking as a musician there are certainly composers who have had a larger effect directly through their music, (Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, etc...) there are no composers who are even in the same league in terms of their effect on broader artistic movements and societal workings. Ross deftly analyzes what it is about Wagner's music, his person, his writings, his This is the most thorough examination of the panoply of lenses through which Wagner's effects on art and society have been viewed. Speaking as a musician there are certainly composers who have had a larger effect directly through their music, (Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, etc...) there are no composers who are even in the same league in terms of their effect on broader artistic movements and societal workings. Ross deftly analyzes what it is about Wagner's music, his person, his writings, his family's work at Bayreuth, and the tumultuous time period following his death that have contributed to such a huge array of movements and views dealing not just with the music but with true, "Wagnerism." In our clickbait reductionist simplistic culture of simply declaring a composer cancelled this is a 700+ page riposte that in no way shies away from any possible controversy. Rather, the controversy of Wagner is examined right from the source and its context, and then in proper order as opposed to the ceaseless, "backshadowing," we hear from armchair social-media level, "musicologists," and, "historians." That so many today accept that Houston Stewart Chamberlain's view of Wagner and, through several connecting threads, Hitler's view of the composer and his work are the correct one and a result of an inevitable causal thread from Wagner's gesamtkunstwerk is an affront to any serious discussion of the workings of history at the level of civilization. It is also to posthumously award such disgusting figures with a cultural credit of perception of which such stultified lunatics are not deserving. As with his previous writings, Ross is a wonderful guide through this incredible list of cultural figures all of whom have had their own perception and interactions with Wagnerism for over 150 years. Despite the fact that Wagner himself had such terrible views on race and society, his work lives on because of the sheer range of human experience and transcendence it relates to listeners and opera-goers, and because the works themselves are such a better expression of humanity than the figure who created them.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Magdalena Navarro

    I love Alex Ross's writing, which is why I spent the last 6 months reading his book on the influence of a composer I've never liked or listened to fully awake. Modern (mis)perceptions of Wagner also make it easier to dismiss him; his association with Nazism (real but also aggrandized & derivative) still dissuades many from probing into his work. However, that's exactly what Ross does in this virtuosistic excavation of Wagner's complex legacy, and the result defies reduction. Many factions have t I love Alex Ross's writing, which is why I spent the last 6 months reading his book on the influence of a composer I've never liked or listened to fully awake. Modern (mis)perceptions of Wagner also make it easier to dismiss him; his association with Nazism (real but also aggrandized & derivative) still dissuades many from probing into his work. However, that's exactly what Ross does in this virtuosistic excavation of Wagner's complex legacy, and the result defies reduction. Many factions have tried to claim him, and even if the right wing seems to have prevailed, Ross proves it would be a gross disservice to let them have him. His work was ambiguous and complicated enough to fit a thousand sexual, religious, political and spiritual dimensions. His legacy permeates everything. Ross never shies away from the ugly side of Wagner; it's part of the prism. There is no apology for his antisemitism; just a wider lens to try and give a sense of the disconcerting, brilliant man he was. If you're looking for cliff notes to Wagner's legacy, this is not it. This is a very dense, exploding book. But it does expand your world. And in a moment when everything feels small and narrow, that's exactly what I needed.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Wiom biom

    As Tony Kushner wrote, Wagnerism is as magnificently realised as it is monumentally ambitious. It is a compelling cultural history of the modern world that Wagner's music helped augur, perhaps beginning in 1848, the year European monarchies faced widespread republican revolts, the year Wagner conceived of the Die Nibelungen in its very formative shape. Sometimes a fervent admirer and sometimes a vicious hater of Wagner, Nietzsche wrote in 1888 that "Wagner sums up modernity. There is no way out, As Tony Kushner wrote, Wagnerism is as magnificently realised as it is monumentally ambitious. It is a compelling cultural history of the modern world that Wagner's music helped augur, perhaps beginning in 1848, the year European monarchies faced widespread republican revolts, the year Wagner conceived of the Die Nibelungen in its very formative shape. Sometimes a fervent admirer and sometimes a vicious hater of Wagner, Nietzsche wrote in 1888 that "Wagner sums up modernity. There is no way out, one must first become a Wagnerian.” How and why was Wagner a torchbearer of modernity? That is a question that Ross answers in detail in Wagnerism, a book that thrillingly ranges across various artistic disciplines and disparate historical phenomena, from the architecture of Louis Sullivan (check out his jewel boxes) to the novels of Virginia Woolf, from the Zionist writings of Theodor Herzl (father of modern political Zionism) to the civil-rights essays of W. E. B. Du Bois, from O Pioneers! to Apocalypse Now (Vietnam War film). Interestingly, in the preface, Ross introduces us not to the world in which Wagner lived, but the world which he left behind. Death in Venice, which is also the title of a work by Thomas Mann, seems to establish the core thesis of the book -- Wagner's impact was/is most profoundly observed and felt after his death, not during his lifetime. And that brings us back to the title of the book: Art and Politics in the Shadow of Music. Just like how Wagner's revolutionary music served as the soundtrack to the modern world of his time and its aspiring intellectuals, we, the reader, are left to navigate and grapple with his multifaceted and protean legacy (aesthetic, philosophical, political, etc.). What makes Wagner's music so compelling seems not to be any intrinsic quality but instead the way it has been interpreted and acted upon by his contemporaries and those who grew up in a Post-Wagnerian world. Thus, the focus of Wagnerism is not on appraising Wagner's music or the man himself (though there are brief analyses) but on his legacy in all its complexity. While this means that we aren't really getting to know Wagner on his own terms, the kaleidoscopic portrayal of his legacy nonetheless offers layers of insights that cannot be found in a biography. Being neither distorted by hagiography nor demonology, Wagnerism is an honest and critical attempt at making sense of the world Wagner left behind. In the final paragraph, Ross writes that "In Wagner's vicinity, the fantasy of artistic autonomy falls to pieces and the cult of genius comes undone. Amid the wreckage, the artist is liberated from the mystification of 'great art'. He becomes something more unstable, fragile, and mutable. Incomplete in himself, he requires the most active and critical kind of listening." Perhaps that is why Wagner was and is so fascinating -- because he is such a contentious yet towering figure in the history of the modern world. If you're interested, here is a non-exhaustive list of the topics that Wagnerism touches on: philosophy (Nietzsche), art (French Symbolists, Post-Impressionists, abstract art à la Kandinsky, Futurism, Dadaism), occultists, anarchists, modern literature (Baudelaire, Whitman, TS Eliot, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf), cinema (Triumph of the Will, Matrix), theatre, LGBTQ+, feminists, Jews, African-Americans, WWI, Nazism. Specific to modernism, which is defined as a body of work that cuts against prevailing modes of representation, broaches transgressive themes and threatens zones of bourgeois comfort, Wagner's legacy is best observed in three areas: 1) the gesamtkunstwerk, 2) the use of stream of consciousness and interior monologue, and 3) the juxtaposition of myth and modernity. Having read Wagnerism, which was such an engrossing read, I have come to appreciate Wagner's preludes, especially the Tristan, as well as the fact that he was and still is a force to be reckoned with. Admittedly, I never liked Wagner's music (mainly because his pieces are so long and I much prefer Brahms) but this book has opened my eyes to the bewildering and perhaps seismic scale of his impact on the world through modernism. However, I'm not sure his music is as great as the interaction between it and the world he lived in; perhaps if not for the revolutionary circumstances of his time, he would not be such a colossal figure in music history. Also, reading about the literary/artistic elites of his time and afterwards has reinforced an opinion of mine that some intellectuals just utter whatever provocative idea comes to their mind in an attempt to make their mark. Take for example, the ridiculous manifesto of the Futurists (who repudiated Wagner in a Wagnerian style) or the various remarks that "theatre must be..." or the invention of words like "erotical" as in "erotical-poetical-political" if I remember correctly. Basically, they come across as pretentious individuals desperate to be remembered for something. Also I think I'm interested in the fin de siècle and its art and literature so hopefully it's not just something I'll dip my toes in and decide it's not for me. Really recommend this book! Professional review: "Alex Ross deftly teases out the tremendous and often polarising impact that Wagner's music and theories had on modern culture and history. He underscores a paradox at the heart of modernism itself: the tension between the retrograde and the avant-garde and thus, the political right and left, themes of even greater relevance in our present times." - Vivien Greene, Senior Curator, 19th- and Early 20th-Century Art, Guggenheim Museum

  7. 5 out of 5

    Harris

    Probably once or twice a year I read one of these massive yet easy-to-read pop history books about a topic that catches my interest for whatever reason. I always enjoy them, but this one is truly fantastic. You got a chapter about Baudelaire and the Symbolists, one about occult appreciation of Wagner, one about Jewish appreciation of Wagner and Black appreciation of Wagner, one about feminist appreciation and gay appreciation, and of course more than one about Hitler. Thomas Mann features heavily Probably once or twice a year I read one of these massive yet easy-to-read pop history books about a topic that catches my interest for whatever reason. I always enjoy them, but this one is truly fantastic. You got a chapter about Baudelaire and the Symbolists, one about occult appreciation of Wagner, one about Jewish appreciation of Wagner and Black appreciation of Wagner, one about feminist appreciation and gay appreciation, and of course more than one about Hitler. Thomas Mann features heavily, as does Joyce, Woolf, and Cather. Gaddis' JR makes an appearance, so does Carl Schmitt, and so does W.E.B. Dubois. If there's an artist or thinker you like or dislike, they're probably in here (especially if they're European) and you can read about how Wagner and Wagnerism informed them. This book made clear some of the murkier thinkings of Walter Benjamin, Frederic Jameson, Anselm Kiefer, Proust, Derrida... Ross deals with the complexities and dualities of art (and the artist) so well. There are tons of reasons to read this book, but, for me, it was an extended meditation on what it means to like art created by troublesome people. Wagner swung left and right and so did his appreciators. He was anarchic and fascist. This is a truly detailed exploration of Wagner's cockamamie legacy and it left me with a profound understanding that I can do whatever the hell I want with other peoples art and ideas.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Kimley

    Wow! Just, wow! Tosh and I discuss this on our Book Musik podcast. A famous quip goes “Wagner’s music is better than it sounds.” Whether you find Wagner’s music to be sublime or bombastic, this is an essential read. It is not a biography or an examination of his music but, more interestingly, it’s a very deep dive into the enormous cultural and political influence Richard Wagner has had on his contemporaries and everyone since, from writers to painters, dancers, philosophers, politicians, and fil Wow! Just, wow! Tosh and I discuss this on our Book Musik podcast. A famous quip goes “Wagner’s music is better than it sounds.” Whether you find Wagner’s music to be sublime or bombastic, this is an essential read. It is not a biography or an examination of his music but, more interestingly, it’s a very deep dive into the enormous cultural and political influence Richard Wagner has had on his contemporaries and everyone since, from writers to painters, dancers, philosophers, politicians, and filmmakers. The diversity of those who’ve come under the spell of Wagnerism is beyond compare. And this is despite Wagner’s well-known antisemitism and association with Hitler and the Nazi regime. Cancel culture hasn’t quite figured out what to do with Wagner but Ross leaves no stone unturned in this enormous and hugely satisfying read.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Chris Molnar

    Robert Ashley or Kanye West engage me viscerally with their loose reimaginings of the form, using the word "opera" to harness history while pushing into the unknown. Puccini or Mozart, on the other hand, I appreciate strictly on an intellectual basis. Precisely because it understands this attitude and connects it to the radical innovations of Richard Wagner, this book is a masterpiece which rewards readers at any level of familiarity with opera or Wagner specifically. In many ways it reminds me o Robert Ashley or Kanye West engage me viscerally with their loose reimaginings of the form, using the word "opera" to harness history while pushing into the unknown. Puccini or Mozart, on the other hand, I appreciate strictly on an intellectual basis. Precisely because it understands this attitude and connects it to the radical innovations of Richard Wagner, this book is a masterpiece which rewards readers at any level of familiarity with opera or Wagner specifically. In many ways it reminds me of The Power Broker, Robert Caro's peerless biography of Robert Moses, insofar as it is the kind of all-consuming, exhaustively researched tome that turns the reader into a paranoid font of bizarre historical tidbits, fully convinced that the subject of the book created modern society (either physically, for Moses, or psychically, for Wagnerism) and are, as such, visible everywhere. Moses and Wagner were both idealistic, hard-working, power-hungry racists who just so happened to define the framework for modern society in a completely inescapable way - that one became a caricature of hidden Jewish power and the other of rancid Germanic anti-Semitism is a topic for someone else's doctoral thesis. That said, this is a book about Wagnerism, not Wagner, about an idea of influence which is completely subjective and ghostly, not a person. Caro is the apotheosis of research as discipline-cum-religion, and so is uniquely suited to write about Moses, and later, LBJ - two 20th century masters of bureaucracy who were (operatically) responsible for sweeping actions of pure good and pure evil that we all have to deal with the ramifications of every single day, and who both compulsively left massive paper trails. Alex Ross, on the other hand, professionally gives his opinion about musicians for the New Yorker, and despite the voluminous Wagner literature he is building on, Wagnerism is a rather loose term that he is continually adding to and redefining over 650+ pages. Ross is an expert who earlier wrote a well-regarded book synthesizing the history of classical music in the 20th century, but in many ways this is breaking the sound barrier, so to speak, of music criticism - trying to capture not the art but its emanations, the sound of the music, sure, but more so the echolocation of it, passionately and dispassionately following it through the convoluted mess of time. Wagnerism, in the tradition of all great works of criticism, most obviously Nietzsche’s own writing about Wagner, reveres its subject until it is completely beside the point, less a topic of conversation than a fact of life that must be dissected because it is so unavoidable. This is a book about “art and politics in the shadow of music,” and keeping with that promise Ross tracks Wagner’s art as it arises in the ferment of mid-19th century revolution, nationalism and reawakening of mythos in the dawn of the age of mechanical reproduction. He lays persuasive claim to the idea that Wagnerism, even as it dissolves ever more imperceptibly into our cultural bloodstream, is sufficiently complex to be harnessed, though never coopted, by all ideologies and artforms, and that no matter what our conscious influences are, it is always already at work behind the good and the ill. Yes, Hitler was a Wagner fanatic, but most Nazis were bored stiff by it and the music just didn’t juice the volk in the same way that American pop music did. Yes, Wagner was a raging anti-Semite, but in a pre-modern way that didn’t stop him from hiring and being hired by Jews his entire life. At length Ross explores the competing claims laid to Wagner by leftists and Jews who point to his revolutionary beginnings and utopian ideals, and an avant garde which continues to mine his work as a precursor, counterpoint, and antithesis. The bulk of the book takes place while the effects of Wagnerism were most obvious, between Wagner’s death and the fall of Hitler, about sixty years that Ross knows very well and about which much has been written. Among others we follow James Joyce, W.E.B. DuBois, Thomas Mann, Virginia Woolf and Willa Cather, all of them perfect emissaries of Wagnerism, bridging as they do the 19th century and the 20th, radicalism and conservatism, the old world and the new, straight and queer, othered and mainstream, woke and pre-woke. Crucially none of them are musicians or even music critics, they are writers and thinkers for whom Wagner represented in a visceral way the possibility and downfall of art, who all wrote about him or were influenced by him in ways that reverberate still, perhaps more so than the music itself. The vagaries of influence (made more vague once we get all the way to Joseph Beuys and Star Wars) are saved from tendentiousness by the simple fact of the imagery, the narratives, the songs, the leitmotifs themselves. You can theorize all day about the idea of totalizing art and myths and human identity but at the end of the day there are catchy ideas and tunes that you associate with Bugs Bunny, or Frodo Baggins, or marriage, or Apocalypse Now, or any number of continually multiplying fractal cultural memories, and the dazzling array of intentions and results driving their use in culture and politics accumulates a totemic over-meaning that Ross never belabors or even attempts to make sense of beyond what is readily apparent. In fact, the tidbits just keep coming at you, exhausting every possible angle of approach, until the very end. The fact that in the penultimate paragraph Ross is still going on about Terrence Malick’s use of Wagner in the little-seen, little-loved Ben Affleck vehicle To The Wonder, with no sign given that we are about to slam into the brick wall of finality, is maybe the perfect summation of what he’s going for here – the idea that Wagnerism is neverending, that like Shakespeare or Jane Austen or Dostoevsky or the Buddha or Mohammed or Bob Marley or Bob Dylan or David Lynch, Richard Wagner is an imperfect vessel for pure inspiration that will be interpreted and misinterpreted and mangled and bettered until the end of time, justifying atrocities and inspiring those dreaming of a better world over and over again until the thing itself is forgotten for good.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Mir Bal

    In the introduction to his study of Wagnerism, Alex Ross borrows a striking parable. He compares this movement and perhaps even its founder Wagner himself to a black hole. Its unimaginable attraction affects everything in its surroundings, pulls in and devours the objects that happen to be in its vicinity, and curves the travel lines for those who are too far away or themselves have too strong a mass to avoid the power of Wagnerism itself. What makes this parable more ingenious than Ross himself In the introduction to his study of Wagnerism, Alex Ross borrows a striking parable. He compares this movement and perhaps even its founder Wagner himself to a black hole. Its unimaginable attraction affects everything in its surroundings, pulls in and devours the objects that happen to be in its vicinity, and curves the travel lines for those who are too far away or themselves have too strong a mass to avoid the power of Wagnerism itself. What makes this parable more ingenious than Ross himself seems to understand is that it is next to impossible to study a black hole as a "thing in itself." The darkness and gravity are so strong that the gaze cannot capture the object itself. Instead, we are left to study its effect on the environment. It is this approach that makes Ross' book on Wagnerism succeed in avoiding the classic trap of the discord between form and content in this magnificent study. By building up his book in fragmented studies of other phenomena that are stuck in its gravitational field, we can slowly but surely form our own picture of the subject in question. The first chapter of the book is what gives us the most insight into the movement's father Wagner himself and deals with his relationship with Nietzsche and how Wagner influenced him. This is also where we come closest to Wagner's own time and thinking, even though his personal life, writings and music are treated throughout the book. It is full of the different ways in which Wagner revolutionized not only the music but the cultures and other practices around him. From his way of using Nietzsche as a personal publicist (something that, according to Ross, has not occurred in a similar way before) to his way of carefully controlling his own brand and image. The rest of the book deals with various objects that were drawn into the cultural maelstrom that his music and thinking unleashed on values. From the way in which writers such as Baudelaire, Joyce, Wolff and Prust's literature were influenced by it to the black opposition to racism in the United States, from Nazism's complicated relationship with Wagner to how the movement was involved in shaping left - wing anti-capitalism in both Germany and Russia. From movies like apocalypse now to science fiction writers like Arthur C Clarke. Ross brings the reader on an odyssey in cultural history which does not shy away any subjects and really shows how the Wagnerian revolution is still with us today. According to Ross, what then created this attraction in Wagner? Even if it is not said outright, or at least not developed as much as I would have liked, it is clear to the author that Wagner was a reaction to the cold and bare aristocratic rationalism of the Enlightenment. A burning hatred of capitalism and the pharaonic inequality and industrialization of the lower classes was a hearth in Wagner's world. So was the hatred of the way industrialism shattered both nature and human life. Packed cities full of desperate people reduced to cogs in an industrial machine whose sole purpose was to make a profit for an elite. At the same time, this pathos was paired with a contempt for the demystification of values ​​where the clinical light of enlightenment peeled away all romance and all values ​​beyond the cold profit. The answer was for Wagner the romantic, as for so many others a return to a mystified host, but not to Christianity but to the classic national myths, of course this fairly common mixture of romance and anti-capitalism is closely associated with Wagner's ardent anti-Semitism. Something that Ross fortunately did not shy away from in the least. Wagner and Wagnerism response to the enlightened slaughterhouse where everything is dissected into smaller and smaller pieces was to try to create an art that housed more than just the music. An art that could encompass the entire human being. Both the intellect, the mysticism, politics and different art orientations in one. What, then, created the traction of this art and its creator? Ross gives no simple answer. Which is admirable if anything. Instead, he focuses on how this leap of artistic and intellectual tendencies came to spread and change everything around him, right up to the present day. From politics to art. Low and high. The closest explanation we can glimpse form between the lines is that there were aspects of Wagner that everyone could use. From Baldwin, du Bois and Kropotkin to Hitler and later everyone else. The main problem with Ross' book is that it unfortunately does not focus enough on the material upheavals that enabled both Wagner's art and, perhaps more importantly, its spread throughout the world. But with that said, there are small grains of this here and that in the book, and that one wants more of it, of this indispensable book for those who want to understand culture, politics and intellectual development during both the 1800s and 1900s, is a higher grades than I give most other books.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Marks54

    This is a book by the music critic of the New Yorker about the life and work of Richard Wagner. It is much more than that. It is a study of the impact of Wagner’s work on the broader political and cultural environment in which it was performed. Wagnerism is the broader impact of Wagner on culture and politics. Mr. Ross argues that Wagner has had a huge impact and that this impact has been most notable outside of music per se and on the broader cultural milieu. This is an amazing book that spans t This is a book by the music critic of the New Yorker about the life and work of Richard Wagner. It is much more than that. It is a study of the impact of Wagner’s work on the broader political and cultural environment in which it was performed. Wagnerism is the broader impact of Wagner on culture and politics. Mr. Ross argues that Wagner has had a huge impact and that this impact has been most notable outside of music per se and on the broader cultural milieu. This is an amazing book that spans the time during which Wagner was active up through his death in 1883 and continues through Gilded Age America and Fin de Siecle Europe through the World Wars and the interwar period - including Wagner’s adoption by Hitler’s regime through the Cold War and up to the present. So you have operas - long operas - that come in bunches (The Ring cycle). They are long complex works that combine, music, singing, acting, and stagecraft all in an integrated whole. Opera is often an acquired taste. You also have politics and culture and how opera is put to use in supporting politics and culture. And then you have how the plots and subplots of Wagner’s operas, the various songs and themes/leitmotifs have been adapted for use in a wide range of other cultural works from high fiction, to comic books, movies and television, art movements, and pop art. While there are some opera aficionados who will be familiar with much in this book, I strongly suspect that most readers who have any interest in Wagner’s operas will find this book fascinating and valuable. Readers should have their tablets handy to look up the stray references and terms that are dropped on nearly every page. I started reading this because I am still in mourning for the cancellation of the Ring Cycle that I was supposed to see last April. Opera, like choral music, has not had a good record in the age of COVID. Hard to social distance both on stage and in the audience! After reading this book, my regret is that I had not seen a couple of Wagner’s operas, which I now need to track down and listen to. If you are interested in opera, I highly recommend this book The book is so rich, however, that I will need to think more about this and come back to the review.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Will White

    This is a tough one to rate. I can't say it was always a compelling reading experience. In some ways, it's a reference book in the guise of a popular history. At times I felt like I needed a philosophy Ph.D. to parse the writing, and I'll be honest, I skipped around quite a bit in the book. I'm a professional musician and I speak 4 languages; I needed every last bit of that skill set and more to get through the parts of this thing that I did. Having said that, there are some great stories in here This is a tough one to rate. I can't say it was always a compelling reading experience. In some ways, it's a reference book in the guise of a popular history. At times I felt like I needed a philosophy Ph.D. to parse the writing, and I'll be honest, I skipped around quite a bit in the book. I'm a professional musician and I speak 4 languages; I needed every last bit of that skill set and more to get through the parts of this thing that I did. Having said that, there are some great stories in here, and lord knows Alex Ross did his due diligence. He must have read like every book in every language from Wagner's time to now. And watched every movie. So with that in mind, I feel a little bad giving this an A+++ for effort because it was so exhaustive; on the other hand, in terms of reading it, it was exhausting. Let me put it this way: this is a book that doesn't have a subject; it has a lens. The lens is Wagnerism. So, just like you could do a feminist reading of, say, Anna Karenina, it turns out you can do a Wagnerist reading of just about anything. And that's what he does. He uses the Wagnerist lens on literally every single thing. The result is a book that is extremely erudite and rather academic, but not without some bread crumbs. This would be the foundational tome of a Wagnerist Studies department at a university. Oh and one more thing: if anyone is reading this to learn about Wagner's life or his music, this really isn't the place to turn. This book is about everything that's NOT Wagner, through the lens of Wagner's aesthetics and philosophy.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    Monumental and intensely stimulating. 5+

  14. 4 out of 5

    Bill FromPA

    Wagnerism Audiovisual Companion Ich weiß allein, / daß die Stücke mir nichts nützten I hope after some reflection to write a fuller review, though I think the five star rating is likely to stand. Ross has given us the fruits of a vast amount of research in an absorbing narrative, a synoptic overview of the many disparate strands of Wagnerism. In the meantime, here are my chapter-by-chapter notes, which take up just about all the space Goodreads allows for a review. Prelude: Death in Venice Excellen Wagnerism Audiovisual Companion Ich weiß allein, / daß die Stücke mir nichts nützten I hope after some reflection to write a fuller review, though I think the five star rating is likely to stand. Ross has given us the fruits of a vast amount of research in an absorbing narrative, a synoptic overview of the many disparate strands of Wagnerism. In the meantime, here are my chapter-by-chapter notes, which take up just about all the space Goodreads allows for a review. Prelude: Death in Venice Excellent research in digging out obituaries and reactions to Wagner’s death from the US and Europe. This is a book about a musician’s influence on non-musicians – resonances and reverberations of one art form into others. Wagner’s effect on music was enormous, but it did not exceed that of Monteverdi, Bach, or Beethoven. His effect on neighboring arts was, however, unprecedented, and it has not been equaled since, even in the popular arena. He cast his strongest spell on the artists of silence – novelists, poets, and painters who envied the collective storms of feeling that he could unleash in sound. A musician, yet on the previous page Ross says He became the Leviathan of the fin-de-siecle in large part because he was never merely a composer. An idiosyncratic but potent dramatist … He was a prolific, all-too-prolific essayist and polemicist whose menagerie of concepts … overran intellectual discourse for several generations. He was a theater director and theorist who reshaped the modern stage … Finally, and fatally, he dabbled in politics … The sum of all these energies cannot be fixed. “The essence of reality lies in its endless multiplicity,” Wagner wrote in 1854. “Only what changes is real.”Anthony Burgess gives Wagner credit for a fairly significant musical influence in his introduction to Universe Opera Guides: Don Giovanni and IdomeneoStravinsky’s The Rakes’ Progress is, like most of his work, genius happy in pastice, a deliberate return to the opera buffa as Mozart was to practice it in Don Giovanni. The rest of twentieth-century opera is derived from Wagner. The Singspiel survives as musical comedy. 1. Rheingold: Wagner, Nietzsche, and the Ring Much more about Wagner than I expected – an extended essay on the composition of the Ring - The Birth of the Ring from the Spirit of Revolution -> Schopenhauer, Bayreuth, leading up to the friendship and falling out with Nietzsche. Siegfried as a model of the “overman”. This furiously conflicted relationship is best understood in terms of the Greek agon – the contest between worthy adversaries, in athletics or the arts. Nietzsche wrote about the agon in his 1872 essay “Homer’s Contest,” saying that the Greeks abhorred the predominance of a single figure and desired, “as a means of protection against genius – a second genius.” 2: Tristan Chord: Baudelaire and the Symbolists Ross gives strange emphasis at the beginning of this chapter to summarizing Tristan and its effect, while Tannhäuser seems to be the work most provoking and appealing to French sensibility. Judith Gautier, Villiers de l’Isle-Adam, La Revue wagnérienne, Verlaine, Mallarme; Fantin-Latour, Cezanne, Manet, Van Gogh, Gauguin. 3. Swan Knight: Victorian England and Gilded Age America England: George Eliot and Daniel Deronda, Swinburne, by way of Baudelaire. In the case of the Pre-Raphaelites, Tennyson, William Morris, and Matthew Arnold, their “Wagnerism” consists of treating themes from Arthurian romance, the Eddas and Volsung Saga, and the Tannhauser legend that were also used by Wagner but don’t take direct inspiration from his treatments. Swinburne, again: Tristram of Lyonesse. America: More musical history than other sections. Sidney Lanier, Owen Wister and The Virginian. Architects. Mark Twain, a reluctant Wagerian, and Whitman, who accepts the purported parallels between their arts without knowing Wagner. 4. Grail Temple: Esoteric, Decadent, and Satanic Wagner The 1888 Bayreuth Festival. Josephin Peladan: Kabbalistic Order of the Rose + Cross, Rops. Belgian Wagner: Khnopff Maeterlinck, Redon, Ensor. Elemir Bourges and Le Crepuscule des Dieux , Huysmans, Camille Lemonnier, Marcel Batilliat and Chair Mystique. Theosophy and Willian Ashton Ellis -> Katherine Tingley, Theosophical Society in America -> Rudolf Steiner, Anthroposophy. George Moore and Evelyn Innes, Yeats, “unmusical” (Moore), but influenced by Wagner’s drama and theater. 5. Holy German Art: The Kaiserreich and Fin-de-Siecle Vienna Wagnerism transformed from radical to establishment. Jugendstil and Viennese Secession, German painters cited are more illustrative than self-expressive. Fontane as anti-Wagnerian, Stefan George, Gabriele d’Annunzio, the Mann brothers. Alfred Roller designs. Antisemitism in Wagner, antisemites and Wagner, anti-Wagnerian antisemites: Houston Steward Chamberlain. Jewish Wagnerians: Hermann Levi, Theodor Herzl, Otto Weininger and Sex and Character: a continuum of gender and “race”. Black Wagner: W. E.B. Du Bois, Luranah Aldridge, Shirley Graham. 7. Venusberg: Feminist and Gay Wagner Brunhilde and Chriemhilde are authentic archetypes of old German female characters, before whose powerful appearance we must bow even today; and presenting these characters on stage I believe to be very appropriate to our times. After all, Brunhilde is the representation of the free, brave woman who does not wish to be the slave of any man; and who, as she nevertheless does become one, sees herself pressed into the harsh realities of slavery, and her only means of help – insidiousness. Meanwhile the noble, delicately loving Chriemhilde, from whom her beloved has been snatched and to whom justice is denied in his death, resorts to revenge and transforms from a loving maid to a blood-thirsty wolf. Many women in our time have experienced Chriemhilde’s fate – and also in this sense it is time to introduce our female readers to this old Saga. – Louise Otto, Die Nibelungen: Text zur eine großen heroischen Oper in 5 Acten (1852), quoted in Laurie McManus, “Feminist Revolutionary Music Criticism and Wagner Reception: The Case of Louise Otto” - 19th Century Music (Vol 37, #3, pg. 175) Ross doesn’t point out the irony that Wagner transforms Krimhilde, the “blood-thirsty wolf”, one of the fiercest and most determined heroines of literature, into the mild Gutrune, his most traditionally feminine character. Ross cites a number of literary examples where the music of Tristan und Isolde both awakens sexual desire and weakens inhibitions, but, like all other commentators on Wagnerian influence I’m aware of, he fails to note the role Tristan plays in the failed seduction of the eponymous heroine of Ann Veronica. His section on homosexuality goes over much the same territory as Wagner and the Erotic Impulse with additional discussion of Beardsley, Wilde, Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice, and a brief mention of Wagnerian lesbians. A last section discusses Wagner and psychoanalysis: Freud, Jung, Rank, and Sabina Spielrein. 8. Brünnhilde’s Rock: Willa Cather and the Singer-Novel A mini-monograph on Willa Cather and Wagner, concentrating in particular on The Song of the Lark. This seems to be too much attention paid to a single figure in a work of this kind. A brief section on “singer-novel” consists mostly of material covered in earlier chapters, unnecessarily recapitulated here. 9. Magic Fire: Modernism, 1900 to 1914 Dance: Fuller & Duncan. Adolphe Appia. Painting: Theosophy -> Kandinsky. Ford Madox Ford, writers from Richard Wagner And The Modern British Novel. Proust. 10. Nothung: The First World War and Hitler's Youth Parsifal around the world after copyright expires. War: Wagner as enemy alien or prophet of Germany’s doom. Ford Madox Ford: Parade’s End, Willa Cather: One of Ours (Parsifal). Wagner in the air: Valkyries, Liebestod. The stab in the back: Hagen and Siegfried. Hitler’s early Wagnerian experiences: Lohengrin, Rienzi, Tristan. 6. Nibelheim: Jewish and Black Wagner 11. Ring of Power: Revolution and Russia Leftist Wagnerism. The revolutionary origin of the Ring revived by Shaw. Russian Wagnerism: Andre Biely, Alexander Blok, Diaghilev as creator of Gesamtkunstwerk. Russian Symbolism recreates French movement, including Wagnerism. Bolshevik Wagner: Taitlin, Meyerhold. Weimar Wagnerism: reaction against Kaiserreich Wagnerism, Brecht, Kroll Opera. Robert Musil and Franz werfel as anti-Wagnerians: playing Wagner is a turn-off for a musician's wife in The Man Without Qualities 12. Flying Dutchman: “Ulysses,” “The Waste Land,” “The Waves” Literary essays on: Joyce and Ulysses, Eliot and The Waste Land, Woolf and The Waves (with a bit on Jacob's Room), mini-essay on Finnegans Wake. 13. Siegfried’s Death: Nazi Germany and Thomas Mann Thomas Mann: “Sorrows and Grandeur of Richard Wagner”, The Magic Mountain, Joseph and His Brothers, Doctor Faustus: The Life Of The German Composer Adrian Leverkuhn As Told By A Friend. The reopening of Bayreuth, Hitler and Bayreuth; Wagner seen as a taste inflicted on Germans, including Reich officials, from above. Ross looks at the question of whether Wagner was played in the death camps (probably not very much, if at all). Ant-Nazi Wagner in the US: Toscanini and the Met, Anti-Nazi anti-Wagnerism accepts Hitler’s appropriation of the composer. 14. Ride of the Valkyries: Film from “The Birth of a Nation” to “Apocalypse Now” A fairly comprehensive list of movies about Wagner or featuring Wagner’s music, much more complete than Peter Conrad’s similar survey in Verdi and/or Wagner: Two Men, Two Worlds, Two Centuries, though Ross neglects to mention the rather unusual, or perhaps “off-brand” use of Siegfried Idyll in the Peter Lorre film Mad Love. As this chapter covers almost the entire 20th century, some of the material on the prewar and wartime years might have fit better into earlier chapters. Some tropes, such as Wagner’s music being used as a tool of seduction or symbol of intense passion, carry over from literary examples earlier in the book. 15. The Wound: Wagnerism after 1945 A rapid run through roughly the last 70 years of Wagnerism, each topic could have been a separate chapter and this may stand in place of a sequel. Topics: The Chéreau Ring; the New Bayreuth; Late 20th Century Philosophy and Wagner (as opaque to me as most philosophical summaries); Lévi-Strauss; Wagner and Literary Criticism; Wagner in Postwar German Literature and art: Anselm Kiefer and Ingeborg Bachmann; Wagner and Painting; Wagner and Literature (Ross mentions the Wagnerian themes in J R, but does not note its Rheingold-like structure nor the way that, unlike other books he’s discussed, Gaddis’ use of leitmotiv becomes essential for the reader to grasp in order to understand the novel on the most basic level); the Israeli Wagner ban; Wagner and neo-Nazis and white supremacy (in these movements, as among the general population, it remains a specialized taste); Wagner and Fantasy Culture (Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Star Wars, The Matrix - interesting that Lewis came to Wagner in a similar way to me, encountering Arthur Rackham’s Ring illustrations beside Margaret Armour’s translation); Wagner in comic books; Werner Herzog and Terence Malick (though I haven’t seen the film, the closing account of Malick’s To the Wonder seems a bit artificially rhapsodic as if Ross felt that a properly Wagnerian conclusion was required). Postlude In this brief afterword, Ross gives a short autobiographical account of his history with Wagner. Though he says that in childhood “the great classical tradition from Bach to Brahms occupied me to the exclusion of almost all other music,” except for an unsuccessful stab at listening to Lohengrin, he didn’t listen to Wagner until he was in college, and only fell in love with the composer when his “life veered in a chaotic, self-destructive direction.” And only on seeing the operas on stage did he begin to see them as dramas rather than “simply a phenomena of sound”. I wonder whether Ross’ childhood “great classical tradition” included Liszt or, as I suspect, he didn’t see Wagner as fitting into it because his musical education followed the Brahms side of the post-Chopin Brahms / Wagner split. It’s amazing how something like that late 19th century split, though it was extremely bitter, can carry over into musical experience a century later and an ocean away; perhaps it’s a sign that some fundamental aesthetic difference did divide the two parties. My own tastes took me to the Wagner side of the divide, and I was even later in coming to Brahms than Ross to Wagner. Perhaps because I came to the operas a s stories first and heard the music afterward, I also always related to them as narratives, and listening to Wagner seemed an experience between that of reading Shakespeare and listening to Beethoven – powerful stuff in combination. Ross says that The endlessly relitigated case of Wagner makes me wonder about the less fashionable question of how popular culture has participated in the politics and economics of American hegemony. I think I sense the stirrings of his next book in that statement.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Carmen

    5* because it's a great overview of Wagner's influence and those inspired by the composer in cultural and (non-musical) artistic spheres, but there is so much information here that I want to read more books going deeper on certain areas (e.g. film scores, LGBT+ readings) 5* because it's a great overview of Wagner's influence and those inspired by the composer in cultural and (non-musical) artistic spheres, but there is so much information here that I want to read more books going deeper on certain areas (e.g. film scores, LGBT+ readings)

  16. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Maurath

    This is a frustrating read. There are morsels of magic among a morass of cited defenses too indulging of the academy. Early chapters on black or gay Wagner dwell too long on listing example after example after example of Wagners influence. Its unnecessary and very soon into the chapter starts to feel like simply an expression of a bias of subjective validation, the author sees Wagner in everything. And this breadth displaces the more interesting opportunity for depth. His explorations of Nazi Wa This is a frustrating read. There are morsels of magic among a morass of cited defenses too indulging of the academy. Early chapters on black or gay Wagner dwell too long on listing example after example after example of Wagners influence. Its unnecessary and very soon into the chapter starts to feel like simply an expression of a bias of subjective validation, the author sees Wagner in everything. And this breadth displaces the more interesting opportunity for depth. His explorations of Nazi Wagnerism are fascinating but short and he alludes to the need to explore the impact of pop music (Wagner then, Taylor Swift today) but avoids that more interesting line for his recitation of examples on how Wagner influenced one esoteric work after another. One needs the patience of a fan of multi-day operas perhaps to enjoy not only endure this work. As for the audio recording, its equally frustrating. The sound quality is poor, his voice always strained and his German pronunciations are painful and depressingly innumerable.

  17. 4 out of 5

    David C Ward

    Not the book of linked topical essays I was expecting but a huge, sprawling examination of everyone affected by Wagner both during his lifetime and after. Can you write about Wagner without becoming “Wagnerian?” Apparently not. In this case, encyclopedic isn’t necessarily a virtue. Ross has to rely on the secondary sources and potted histories because he has so much ground to cover. (His lens is almost always biographical which enforces its own limitations.) The result is a study that is too thi Not the book of linked topical essays I was expecting but a huge, sprawling examination of everyone affected by Wagner both during his lifetime and after. Can you write about Wagner without becoming “Wagnerian?” Apparently not. In this case, encyclopedic isn’t necessarily a virtue. Ross has to rely on the secondary sources and potted histories because he has so much ground to cover. (His lens is almost always biographical which enforces its own limitations.) The result is a study that is too thin for the specialist and too diffuse for the general reader. Also, just asking: we now have the technology to embed audio (and visual) clips in e texts. Is not doing so a rights and expense issue? As it stands, there is something weird about the ongoing attempt to render music into words. Of course, one of the reasons music mystifies (in both the common and philosophical senses) and is seen by some as a higher language, is because it’s non verbal.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Mark

    Among the many themes explored here, one seems perpetually undervalued---the impact and influence of aesthetics in just about everything. Alex Ross's exhaustive survey of the cultural proliferation of Wagner's music (and his writings) shows us how we collectively move toward goals dressed in more "sensible" garb, when really the driving impetus is often to be found in our response to art. Or sometimes not. (Hitler scolded his officers and aides for falling asleep during performances of Wagner.) W Among the many themes explored here, one seems perpetually undervalued---the impact and influence of aesthetics in just about everything. Alex Ross's exhaustive survey of the cultural proliferation of Wagner's music (and his writings) shows us how we collectively move toward goals dressed in more "sensible" garb, when really the driving impetus is often to be found in our response to art. Or sometimes not. (Hitler scolded his officers and aides for falling asleep during performances of Wagner.) We jokingly (sometimes) argue whether the Sixties would have happened without the music. Well, we can hear something different inherent in much of that music which subsequent imitations simply lack. Whatever it is, it seems to go with the politics, the cultural upheavals, and the shifting of values. It seems here Ross offers a good reason to pay better attention to the soundtracks of eras. Excellent.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Dr. Andrew Higgins

    This has to be one of the most comprehensive and excellent books I have read on my favourite composer Richard Wagner. Ross gives an in-depth analysis of the influence Wagner and his works had on all forms of culture throughout the 20th and 21st century. Ross had opened up new vistas in this influence for me to explore. Despite its Wagnerian length I did not want it to end and Ross supplements his incredible research on his website with a brilliant audio-visual companion at https://www.therestisn This has to be one of the most comprehensive and excellent books I have read on my favourite composer Richard Wagner. Ross gives an in-depth analysis of the influence Wagner and his works had on all forms of culture throughout the 20th and 21st century. Ross had opened up new vistas in this influence for me to explore. Despite its Wagnerian length I did not want it to end and Ross supplements his incredible research on his website with a brilliant audio-visual companion at https://www.therestisnoise.com/2013/0.... I highly recommend this work and enjoyed many hours of re-visiting the Ring and Parsifal while reading a highlight of my 2020 reading and a shining light of fantastic scholarship in these dark times. Bravo Alex Ross.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Joel Adams

    Epic, sprawling and deeply informed. Like its subject matter, the book is itself a gesamtkunstwerk tracing the legacy of Wagner from Mallarmé to Mann to the Matrix. Excellent as an audiobook read by the author with embedded musical excerpts.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Indraroop

    Unapproachable and mostly-unreadable for the average audience. This reads like a PhD thesis written for PhD types with the appropriate classical background. Immaculately researched, but held back by the incredibly dense presentation.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Quintin Ellison

    What an outstanding book! Alex Ross not only writes beautifully, he has something to say. Well, a lot to say. I've never responded to Wagner's music. I think I'm now inspired to try a little harder, to listen a little more carefully. If you love classical music, art, history, literature, philosophy, myth, fantasy, the kitchen sink ... this book is for you. What an outstanding book! Alex Ross not only writes beautifully, he has something to say. Well, a lot to say. I've never responded to Wagner's music. I think I'm now inspired to try a little harder, to listen a little more carefully. If you love classical music, art, history, literature, philosophy, myth, fantasy, the kitchen sink ... this book is for you.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Austin

    Comprehensive, informative, thought-provoking, analytical at times look into how and why Wagner permeates culture. Not a biography of the man - but a journey into various art forms and philosophies that have adopted his practices and innovations. Not just for musicians!

  24. 5 out of 5

    K C

    Amazingly comprehensive. As someone who is not immersed in Wagner, this seems to be everything one ever would need to know about how he was influenced and mostly how he and his music have influenced art, culture, literature and politics for the last 150+ years. A tour de force.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Paul Spence

    Wagnerism is an encyclopedic account of composer Richard Wagner's influence over modernism right up to our own turbulent times. Alex Ross fleshes out his story with consummate authority and élan, even if he occasionally falls into the trap of elites-speaking-only-to-elites. But perhaps that elitism is purposeful, given Wagner's audiences. Ross is an unabashed Europhile, and he evokes how the composer's oeuvre — landmark works such as "Tristan und Isolde," the Ring Cycle, and "Parsifal" — lit up t Wagnerism is an encyclopedic account of composer Richard Wagner's influence over modernism right up to our own turbulent times. Alex Ross fleshes out his story with consummate authority and élan, even if he occasionally falls into the trap of elites-speaking-only-to-elites. But perhaps that elitism is purposeful, given Wagner's audiences. Ross is an unabashed Europhile, and he evokes how the composer's oeuvre — landmark works such as "Tristan und Isolde," the Ring Cycle, and "Parsifal" — lit up the continent's cultural capitals throughout the 19th century. Long before Lady Gaga, the crowds went gaga for Wagner. Despite his mythical Norse gods, steely-eyed Valkyrie and sinister trolls, Wagner's ear was ever attuned to the fashions of his time. His famed anti-Semitism was real and relentless. While he glorified women in his art, he treated them with a chauvinism typical of the era's great men. Ross is particularly adept at highlighting sexual tensions, not only in the operas but also in the composer's life: "While there is no reason to believe that Wagner acted on such desires, his language sometimes waxes homoerotic. … Parsifal, with its imagery of spears, wounds, and fluids, has been inducing giggles among gay listeners for generations." Ross charts how the influencers of the day claimed Wagner as their artistic father, from Nietzsche to Mallarmé to Cézanne to Joyce. He's equally incisive when he shifts focus to American acolytes: Willa Cather and Hollywood filmmakers among them. Layer by layer, he builds his case for Wagner as the 19th century's Übermensch. All this detail threatens to diffuse his through-line, but his later retracing of Wagner's role in the rise of Nazism grounds his narrative, beaming a light into the dark hangover of High Modernism. As an aimless young man Hitler stumbled across Wagner's operas and clung to them for the rest of his life, flaunting that passion as a mark of cachet as he ascended the ladder of German politics. He purportedly piled Wagner albums next to his bed, and in his final bunker "he kept Wagnerian artifacts close by. ... Hitler said that having Wagner's handwriting in his vicinity meant a great deal to him." Ross' ambition and broad command of cultural history are peerless; it's no wonder, then, that he lacks the common touch. With each name dropped one senses he's preening before his peers. Fortunately, he dials down the complex musicology that saturates "The Rest Is Noise," allowing him to stick to a history of ideas that winds right up to our moment. Wagner may be a name that most Americans wouldn't recognise, but Wagnerism is in the air we breathe.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Gal Amir

    As an Israeli Jew, Wagner is supposed to be the big bad musical demon. The soundtrack of the holocaust. I never really stood for this view. Wagner is not played live in Israel, but I occationally listened to his recorded works, just to get acquainted with this important part of western culture. This book made me understand how big a part. Wagner is everywhere. In the literary works of Willa Cather, James Joyce and Thomas Mann. In the poetry of T.S. Elliot (another rabid antisemite, but he is for As an Israeli Jew, Wagner is supposed to be the big bad musical demon. The soundtrack of the holocaust. I never really stood for this view. Wagner is not played live in Israel, but I occationally listened to his recorded works, just to get acquainted with this important part of western culture. This book made me understand how big a part. Wagner is everywhere. In the literary works of Willa Cather, James Joyce and Thomas Mann. In the poetry of T.S. Elliot (another rabid antisemite, but he is forgiven because Cats is so cute), in Art-Neuveau art and architecture, and the magic drawings of Aubrey Beardsley, and in popular art from Narnia to Spiderman. It really blew my mind that it turns out that John Millius' two insparation sources for the script of the chopper attack scene in "Apocalypse Now" are The Ride of the Valkyries, and the Israeli victory in the six day war. What a bungled mess. The books asks me a simple question. Can we let Hitler's taste in music be the sole interpretor of this very important and influencial composer, or (setting Wagner's politics aside) should we be able to interpret Wagner ourselves, understanding what Hitler may have failed to understand. The book chooses the second option. It keeps exclaiming that Wagner was not played in the death camps in the holocaust. I, for one. think that being played in the Nazi party Nuremberg rallies is bad enough, but is this a reason to boycott his all works? I don't think so, and this book made me understand why. Wagner's music is a whole cultural universe in itself. It has dark places, for sure. His politics should not be forgiven nor forgotten for one second. But he left a legacy of beauty that can also not be ignored. The cultural phenomena associated by him (termed by ross 'Wagnerism') are nothing less than fascinating. I gave the book 4 stars rather than 5 because it really demands in depth knowledge in fin-de-siecle culture. French simbolism and the poet Stéphane Mallarmé play a dominant role in the beginning of the book, and a whole chapter is dedicated to Willa Cather, who is relatively unknown in Israel. It can be a bit tedious, and the book itself is rather long. It takes ages to get to Apocalypse Now, and Game of Thrones, but they are there, and the final third of the book is extremely interesting. The Audible version includes samples of the music which really adds to the experience.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    It's difficult not to view this book as a bit of a let down because I enjoyed The Rest is Noise so much. The problem, I think, is that Ross strays from his twin strengths, which are making abstruse pieces of music accessible and storytelling. Instead, what you get here is a lot of literary criticism Chapters on French Symbolism and Modernism drag on and on. (even for someone who has a PhD in English). It's not that Ross's interpretations are inaccurate; they're just not exciting. He also feels c It's difficult not to view this book as a bit of a let down because I enjoyed The Rest is Noise so much. The problem, I think, is that Ross strays from his twin strengths, which are making abstruse pieces of music accessible and storytelling. Instead, what you get here is a lot of literary criticism Chapters on French Symbolism and Modernism drag on and on. (even for someone who has a PhD in English). It's not that Ross's interpretations are inaccurate; they're just not exciting. He also feels compelled to compile every reference to Wagner in Western Civillation, which might work as a reference source but not as book to read cover to cover. With that said his chapters on gay Wagner, Willa Cather, and Wagner and Nazism--where he engages in more storytelling.--are illuminating. Not a bad book, but not earth-shattering either.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    I couldn't really get into the subject matter regarding an overbearing, obnoxious, odious (racist), tortured (mostly in his mind) artist desperately seeking for the world to recognize his "genius' while he uses others (for their money, their devotion, or whatever he wants) until they no longer blindly give him what he demands and then they are cut off from the "genius'" favor/circle. Yes, he and his sycophants bamboozled the world into recognizing him as the "genius" he always wanted to be recog I couldn't really get into the subject matter regarding an overbearing, obnoxious, odious (racist), tortured (mostly in his mind) artist desperately seeking for the world to recognize his "genius' while he uses others (for their money, their devotion, or whatever he wants) until they no longer blindly give him what he demands and then they are cut off from the "genius'" favor/circle. Yes, he and his sycophants bamboozled the world into recognizing him as the "genius" he always wanted to be recognized as ... zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz As for Alex Ross, he is no doubt an indefatigable researcher, mapper of the artistic threads and a writer of talent. Two stars for that.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Joseph Kinsley

    The first few chapters are interesting, as these chart the initial spread of Wagnerism. After that, the book becomes an exercise in dilettantism, exploring Wagner's influence on other arts. Some of the connections to Wagner are tenuous at best, especially when it comes to some of the literary analysis. As the author himself states in discussing Wagner's influence on Hollywood music, "Wagner's influence is easily overstated." That is essentially what the author is doing throughout. There are a fe The first few chapters are interesting, as these chart the initial spread of Wagnerism. After that, the book becomes an exercise in dilettantism, exploring Wagner's influence on other arts. Some of the connections to Wagner are tenuous at best, especially when it comes to some of the literary analysis. As the author himself states in discussing Wagner's influence on Hollywood music, "Wagner's influence is easily overstated." That is essentially what the author is doing throughout. There are a few insights here, but you have to read through a lot of superficial cultural commentary to get to them. And I was disappointed that Wagner's influence on music is hardly charted at all.

  30. 4 out of 5

    John

    Comprehensive, even-handed, and masterfully told. This book does have a high point of entry, however. While not quite an academic text, some parts will feel that way if you’re unfamiliar with the reference points. A working knowledge of Wagner should be a given, but you also should be comfortable with Western European and American art and philosophy from about 1850-1950. Unfortunately for me, I’m not super well-versed in the likes of Nietzsche and Baudelaire, so the first two chapters were a bit Comprehensive, even-handed, and masterfully told. This book does have a high point of entry, however. While not quite an academic text, some parts will feel that way if you’re unfamiliar with the reference points. A working knowledge of Wagner should be a given, but you also should be comfortable with Western European and American art and philosophy from about 1850-1950. Unfortunately for me, I’m not super well-versed in the likes of Nietzsche and Baudelaire, so the first two chapters were a bit of a slog. But once we crossed the channel and met George Eliot, I was all-in and along for the ride. Totally compelling and has given me so much to think about.

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