1st Edition

Treacherous Bonds and Laughing Fire: Politics and Religion in Wagner's Ring

ISBN 9781138248601
Published September 6, 2016 by Routledge
304 Pages

USD $59.95

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Book Description

Mark Berry explores the political and religious ideas expounded in Wagner's Ring through close attention to the text and drama, the multifarious intellectual influences upon the composer during the work's lengthy gestation and composition, and the wealth of Wagner source material. Many of his writings are explicitly political in their concerns, for Wagner was emphatically not a revolutionary solely for the sake of art. Yet it would be misleading to see even the most 'political' tracts as somehow divorced from the aesthetic realm; Wagner's radical challenge to liberal-democratic politics makes no such distinction. This book considers Wagner's treatment of various worlds: nature, politics, economics, and metaphysics, in order to explain just how radical that challenge is. Classical interpretations have tended to opt either for an 'optimistic' view of the Ring, centred upon the influence of Young Hegelian thought - in particular the philosophy of Ludwig Feuerbach - and Wagner's concomitant revolutionary politics, or for the 'pessimistic' option, removing the disillusioned Wagner-in-Swiss-exile from the political sphere and stressing the undoubtedly important role of Arthur Schopenhauer. Such an 'either-or' approach seriously misrepresents not only Wagner's compositional method but also his intellectual method. It also sidelines inconvenient aspects of the dramas that fail to 'fit' whichever interpretation is selected. Wagner's tendency is not progressively to recant previous 'errors' in his oeuvre. Radical ideas are not completely replaced by a Schopenhauerian world-view, however loudly the composer might come to trumpet his apparent 'conversion'. Nor is Wagner's truly an Hegelian method, although Hegelian dialectic plays an important role. In fact, Wagner is in many ways not really a systematic thinker at all (which is not to portray him as self-consciously unsystematic in a Nietzschean, let alone 'post-modernist' fashion). His tendency, rather, is agglomerative,

Table of Contents

Contents: Preface; Introduction: Problems and opportunities; The intellectual and biographical background; Musical drama; The natural world and its despoliation; Property, capital, and production; Law, government, and the state; The strength and weakness of religion; Power or love; Revolution; Renunciation; Annihilation, redemption, and augury; Index.

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Dr Mark Berry is a Lecturer at The Royal Holloway, University of London, UK.


'Wagner's Ring emerges from this book as the great sceptical work of the nineteenth century in the sense that it deliberately raised more profound questions about the human condition than it could answer. In greater detail than anyone before him, Mark Berry uncovers the intellectual roots of Wagner's radical ideas about the role of music and drama in the world of early and mid-nineteenth century Europe, where religious belief and the politics of revolution had already reached an impasse. He also shows how, at every stage of its vast structure, the Ring continues vividly to confront other conundrums of human behaviour that exist to this day, among them our increasingly opaque horizons of genuine freedom and incomprehensible despoliation of the natural world. For anyone wanting to understand more exactly why Wagner's summum opus still holds the fascination it does for modern audiences, this book is indispensible.' John Deathridge, King Edward Professor of Music, King's College London and co-author with Carl Dahlhaus of The New Grove Wagner. '... Berry's exploration of the philosophical and political ideas that inspired the drama marks a step forward... Berry is an academic historian, a specialist in the history of ideas. But he has read widely in philosophy and literature, and is musically literate, able to illustrate his argument from the score... Berry's account is detailed and scholarly, and it is impossible to do justice to its subtleties in a short review.' Literary Review '... [an] absorbing and challenging study. It deserves a prominent place in Wagner literature.' Music and Letters ’The thoroughness of this investigation is impressive. Not only is it new to Wagner studies; it is doubtful whether any standard work on the Vormärz goes further in its range of erudition or uses its sources to better effect... one of the book's greatest assets is the prodigious array of documentation cited in its footnotes... [a] remarkable new book...'’The Wagner Journ