Richard Wagner and Festival Theatre

By Simon Williams | Go to book overview
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While this book was in the process of completion, six new publications on Richard Wagner appeared: two large edited collections on his whole life and output, one edited collection on his music dramas in performance, a polemical treatment of his anti-Semitism, and two discussions of his theoretical writings. Such an abundance of new writings had led me to pay even greater attention than usual to answering the question that proverbially faces all authors on Wagner -- why write yet another book on a seemingly exhausted topic?

Perhaps the most obvious answer is that any great artist's works are inexhaustible and therefore constantly in need of discussion. But Richard Wagner offers a particular fascination. He was such a protean figure that there are few spheres of artistic and intellectual activity in the nineteenth or indeed the twentieth centuries upon which his work did not eventually have some influence. It is, of course, as a composer that he is best known to history, but it can well be argued that his career as a theatrical reformer was no less significant.

Wagner as a theatre practitioner provides the unifying and, I hope, distinguishing theme of the present biography. In fact, this has not always been an easy theme to pursue. While Wagner considered himself skilled equally in the arts of the dramatist and the composer, to the degree that he often understood these two vocations as identical, posterity is perhaps right in thinking of him primarily as a composer. It was to music that he owed his ultimate and unquestioning loyalty, while his attitude to the theatre was ambivalent in the extreme. He hated it, and yet he could not do without it.


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