Verdi & Wagner: Kulturender Oper

By Vazsonyi, Nicholas | German Quarterly, Fall 2015 | Go to article overview

Verdi & Wagner: Kulturender Oper


Vazsonyi, Nicholas, German Quarterly


Verdi & Wagner: Kulturender Oper

Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Literature and Culture Jacobshagen,Arnold, ed.Verdi&Wagner:KulturenderOper.Cologne:Böhlau,2014. 340 pp. i39.90 (hardcover).

This volume is one of the countless publications to mark the 2013 Wagner and Verdi bicentennial, but one of the few to try and address both composers equally. As such, it is a welcome addition. The book is rooted in a Ringvorlesung held at the Hochschule für Musik und Tanz in Cologne, and so one of its attractions is that the chapters began their lives as lectures to students, thus making them on the whole more accessible and readable than a lot of scholarship from Germany tends to be. The guiding concept for the lecture series seems to have been that the topic of each lecture would need to address both Verdi and Wagner, and as equally in terms of space and emphasis as possible.

Appealing as this idea is, in practice it makes for uneven chapters almost across the board. OnethingthisbookperhapsunintentionallyhighlightsisthatoneiseitheraVerdischolarora Wagner scholar, very rarely both. So chapters frequently force authors to go into areas where they are clearly out of their depth. Another hallmark of this book is that it is written largely by musicologists for musicologists. Not that all the chapters are about musical analysis. Musicologyhasbynowalsoexpandeditshorizonsinthedirectionofculturalstudies,sothereispotentially much in this volume to interest the readers of German Quarterly. The problem, however, is that while the musicological discussions are often exciting and even original, the ones that focus on extra-musical cultural issues tend to recycle existing scholarship, and not even particularly well.

One of the few exceptions is Martin Fischer-Dieskau's eloquent discussion of the two composers in their capacity as conductors. A lot more is generally known about Wagner, especially since he had such an immense impact on the art and science of conducting in the twentieth century, an impact that is even more astonishing when one considers how rarely Wagner conducted, comparatively speaking. But Fischer-Dieskau pays equal attention to Verdi, who was no less confronted with orchestral practices-mostly in Italy-which were woefully inadequate for the performance of the new repertoire. Fischer-Dieskau nicely retraces the discussion about the new role of the conductor and the tension between, on the one hand, being merely an executioner and, on the other, an interpreter and even co-creator in the realization of the score.

By contrast, Michael Walter's welcome chapter on politics largely builds on Roger Parker's and Philip Gossett's more recent work on Verdi which has worked to largely debunk the most enduring myths about this composer and his symbolic and actual role in the unification of Italy, revealing Verdi to have been a lot less political and politically savvy than we have been told, and further that the supposedly instantaneous transformation of the "Prisoners' Chorus"fromNabuccointoanationalanthemdidnotactuallyhappenuntilabouttwodecades afterthepremiere. Butforallthis,Walterdoeslittlemorethanrestate.Moreproblematicstill is Walter's discussion of Wagner's politics which emphasizes the younger more revolutionary man and ignores the older more nationalistic one: a favorite move of some scholars trying to countertheNaziappropriation. …

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