Magee, Bryan Wagner and Philosophy

ISBN 13: 9780140295191

Wagner and Philosophy

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Wagner was one of the few major composers who studied philosophy seriously. Bryan Magee places the composer's artistic development in the context of the philosophy of his age, and gives us the first detailed and comprehensive study of the close links between Wagner and the philosophers - from the pre-Marxist socialists to Feuerbach and Schopenhauer. Magee explores the relationship between words and music, between the conscious and the unconscious mind, between art and philosophy. It tackles soberly and judiciously the Wagner whose paranoia, egocentricity and anti-semitism are repugnant, as well as the Wagner of artistic genius. The resulting text illuminates Wagner and the music-dramas in altogether new ways.

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Bryan Magee is perhaps best known for his TV programme The Great Philosophers but he has also been a Member of Parliament, a music and theatre critic, a broadcaster and author of The Philosophy of Schopenhauerand the now classic Aspects of Wagner.

In Wagner and Philosophy, Magee concerns his expertise with the ways in which philosophical ideas penetrated Wagner's work. The dominant philosophical figure in the book and in Wagner's life is Arthur Schopenhauer and it is the influence of Schoepenhauer's metaphysics on Wagner's world-view and ultimately his operas that constitutes the heart of the book.

There are two Wagners in our culture, unrecognisably different from one another, thinks Magee; there are "those who know his work and the Wagner imagined by those who know him by name and reputation". What Magee attempts to debunk is the common view of Wagner as a "sort of proto-Nazi", a man "jingoistically nationalistic", and "quintessentially right-wing". Wagner's disillusionment with revolutionary socialist politics is not to be explained as a movement from left to right but rather "from politics to metaphysics". To understand Wagner's "turn", his "re-evaluation of his values" one must understand the monumental influence Kantian--Schoepenhauerian philosophy had upon him. Similarly he debunks the assumption that Wagner was much influenced by Nietzsche and in a fascinating chapter detailing the eight-year intimate friendship between the two men, Magee affirms what researchers already know; that during that time Nietzsche was in thrall to Wagner--indeed, worshipped him.

What readers familiar with German philosophy but unfamiliar with Wagner and opera in general will find awesome is the sheer magnitude of Wagner's artistic genius and the role played by Schopenhauer in freeing up that artistic genius. The result is that one finds oneself running back to Schopenhauer once more before buying up Wagner CDs and looking out for the next performance. What Wagnerians unfamiliar with philosophy should find is an enhanced understanding of the ways in which Schopenhauer's ideas were absorbed into the texture of the operas themselves. However one need not be familiar with either Wagner or philosophy of any kind to enjoy this book because Magee writes about both with clarity and an infectious reverential enthusiasm. --Larry Brown

Synopsis:

A contribution to the literature of 19th-century culture, this is a study of the close links between Wagner and the philosophy of his age. The author tries to make sense of both the man and his music by placing Wagner in the context of 19th-century thought. His sympathy for Wagner's music is tempered by an independence of mind which allows him to rethink much of the hostility towards Wagner. Revealing his anti-Semitism as virulent, but certainly not unusual, Magee argues that there is no reason to regard him as a proto-fascist and that an opinion of his politics should not cloud the judgment of his music.

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ISBN 10: 0713994800 ISBN 13: 9780713994803
Publisher: Allen Lane, 2000
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