The New Wagnerian

The Opening

Richard Wagner. In the end, if you have entered into the universe of his music dramas you will also have the conviction of having in some way met its creator and that he is your close friend. Do not be put off by the bitterly sarcastic critics, or perhaps, yes, do be put off. If you view life as they do, and envy vastness of spirit and profundity of meditative reflection on existence and nature, and surrender to the erotic drive, yes, do turn away. Wagner is not for you. Idolatry is one of the terms of these critics. It is ironic to note that one of his most bitter critics has gained his immortality simply by having disliked him so much. My first encounter with Wagner was when I was nineteen. And as Schiller counselled, the convictions of one’s youth are true and endure, so guard them! I met him through my other passion, Baudelaire. I read in the letter he wrote to the composer after experiencing Tannhäuser, ‘Vous m’avez rappelez à moi-même et au grand dans des mauvaises heures.’ I went from Tristan to Parsifal, intoxicated by the former, sobered beyond my years by the latter.
Immediate exposure to the ‘sound’ of Wagner, and we will examine this in detail later, has its immediate and inescapable result. There cannot be indifference – there is recognition or there is not. The ideas of Wagner, or the ‘idea’ of Wagner in the Heideggerian sense, need a closer study. It is in this context that we must recall that while Wagner achieved a tremendous fame and world reputation – in a sense he was the first modern world master renowned everywhere – he was also way ahead of his time.

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