B1709. CURT von WESTERNHAGEN. The Forging of the Ring (English translation by Arnold and Mary Whittall), First Edition, stated. Cambridge University Press, 1976. 248pp. Index; Bibliography; Illus.; DJ. Fresh black covers with gilt lettering, sound binding, clean pages and end-papers. - 0—521-21293-6
“Most people agree that Wagner is not like other composers. His music seems to reach parts that other music doesn’t reach, something ‘outside the province of reason’, as his biographer Curt von Westernhagen put it. Wagner’s music exerts an irrational hold over people of wildly diverging tastes and philosophies, including many who aren’t otherwise particularly interested in music at all.
Wagner is an unusually interesting composer; he has always been a ‘case’ rather than just an artist. First, sadly but inevitably, there is the unavoidable if wildly overstated issue of his influence on Hitler and his misappropriation by the Nazis.
Secondly, Wagner did much to reposition and advance the status of the artist in the 19th century. It is hard to imagine a more complete triumph for a composer than the building of an entirely new type of theatre, the Festspielhaus in Bayreuth, to make certain that his masterwork (THE RING) was staged in an appropriate environment. Wagner was an inverse outsourcer: he craved, and ultimately achieved, complete control.
Around a dozen years ago, I heard James Levine conduct DIE WALKÜRE at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. The final act is dominated by an impassioned argument between the god Wotan and his disobedient daughter, Brünnhilde.
For fear of lapsing into euphoric cliches, I will try to explain the opposite of what I felt at the end of the performance. We have all sat through Hollywood films where we know exactly whose side we are on from beginning to end. We yearn simplistically for a neat resolution of the plot, for good to defeat evil – and that is exactly what happens. But after a moment’s satisfaction, the experience recedes into emptiness, so much so that you begin to resent the candy that was dangled in front of you for the two preceding hours even though you ended up eating it.
The experience of Act III of DIE WALKÜRE that evening was as far removed from Hollywood shallowness as I am capable of imagining. Through the combination of music and drama, I had understood the complexity and, above all, the truthfulness of two characters locked in a disagreement that could not be resolved. The experience was qualitatively different from anything I’d known from watching a stage play or reading a novel. Even more revealingly, I was sure that I couldn’t fully explain it in words.
And that is why, I suspect, we are still listening to Wagner 200 years after his birth, why we continue to be drawn in, often with reservations, sometimes more completely and authentically.”
- Ed Smith, NewStatesman, May, 2015