Magazine article Gramophone

After Wagner

Magazine article Gramophone

After Wagner

Article excerpt

After Wagner

By Mark Berry

Boydell Press, HB, 325pp, 55 [pounds sterling]

ISBN 978-1-84383-968-2

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Examining in turn, in context and in performance Parsifal, Moses undAron, Capriccio and stage works of Henze, Dallapiccola and Nono, Mark Berry renews the force of an argument that should no longer need making but is still widely ignored, that 'aesthetic necessity is political necessity ... there can no more be "absolute" music than "absolute" polities'. This argument runs in chronological parallel to Stefan Herheim's production of Wagner's last opera, to which he devotes a lengthy and perceptive commentary. Just as Herheim's Parsifal travels through the history of the opera from long-gestated conception to politically messy, hygienically cleansed afterbirth in post-war Bayreuth, so the narrative alights on operatic points of departure from Wagner's legacy, even or especially where those composers have viewed that legacy with suspicion. To some a toad in the path of progress, to others an intimidating dragon of inexhaustible riches, Wagner's bequest is summed up by Henze in his memoirs: resisting with the self-protecting impulse of a creative mind what he regards as 'silly and self-regarding emotionalism', he nonetheless concedes, 'as any fool can tell you, it is a summation of all Romantic experience, introducing new ideas, new perspectives and new proportions'.

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Berry reading Herheim reading Wagner would have gained much from the rich illustration that illuminates Modernism after Wagner by Juliet Koss; and (under doubtless compelling commercial imperatives), by leaving out photographs, his publishers have reduced both the force and the appeal of his narrative, particularly when he comes to consider Intolleranza 1960 and Algran sole carico d'amore, where the story is in the show. That Nono rated Lulu and Die glikkliche Hand as the greatest operas of the 20th century may tell us more about his attitude to women than to dramatic composition. Berry doesn't explore his reasoning, though he does note that Nono declared Wagner his greatest influence: another avenue glimpsed in passing.

Dealing with Wagner's legacy of stagecraft--what makes music dramas dramatic--is less the business of this book than outlining the philosophic ideas with which he and his successors wrestled. …

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