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This article argues that Brecht’s unique musicality as a poet led to a rich and rarely paralleled collaboration with musical composers. While the young Brecht sketched out his own music for his early poetry and songs, he soon turned to professional composers as partners. The article focuses on Brecht’s three major musical collaborators, Kurt Weill, Hanns Eisler, and Paul Dessau. In addition to the innovative works that Brecht created with these composers, they also stimulated important theoretical writings that led to new forms of opera, as in Brecht/Weill’s Mahagonny and The Threepenny Opera, or a revolutionary aesthetics of film music, as in Eisler/Adorno’s Composing for the Films, which is strongly influenced by Brecht.
Bertolt Brecht, the most influential playwright of the twentieth century, is unthinkable without music. Many of his poems, as well as his forty-eight completed dramas and roughly fifty dramatic fragments, are connected to music. There is hardly another writer or dramatist of the twentieth century who based his work as clearly and decisively on the complex relationship between music, text, and drama. Brecht worked with some of the most important composers of the twentieth century, in particular Kurt Weill, Hanns Eisler, and Paul Dessau. Although Brecht rejected some of the aesthetic ideas and ideology of Richard Wagner, in his ambition to combine the arts together and to leave a major legacy, he nevertheless in some respects ultimately came to resemble Wagner. The music connected to Brecht‘s texts is performed and passed on in the media throughout the world, from the early recordings made by the young Brecht himself all the way to innumerable versions of his “Ballad of Mack the Knife” created and spread by the globalized music market.
Forster’s Wagnerism is the focus of the fourth chapter. Instead of following previous critical examples to map out the narrative parallel between Wagner's music drama and Forster's fiction, the chapter turns to the way in which Forster negotiates Wagner's cultural and political status through tackling and questioning the heroism of Siegfried. Examining a variety of texts, ranging from his 1907 novel, The Longest Journey, to his political essays in the 1930s and wartime pamphlet Nordic Twilight (1940), and to a postwar radio broadcast for the BBC, ‘Revolution at Bayreuth’ (1954), the chapter considers how Forster was attentive to a complex web of discourses on Wagner’s anti-Semitism, posthumous reception in Britain, and links to the Nazis in the first half of the twentieth century. Forster’s consistent critique of Wagnerian heroism for its apocalyptical vision suggests his opposition to the political extremism and masculine exceptionalism celebrated and advocated by many contemporaries. Analysing Forster’s criticism of the Wagnerian hero, the chapter discusses his contribution to topical debates about fascism, Jewishness, war, violence, and hero-worship.
For Richard Strauss, the orchestra was his primary medium of expression, and his use of orchestral forces mirrors the growth and expansion of that ensemble in the late nineteenth century. Strauss’s earliest works call for a traditional double-wind orchestra, which reflects the conservative teachings of his father, Franz Strauss, but by the late 1880s, Richard’s tone poems require triple-wind ensembles with more brass, due to the influences of the Wagnerian Alexander Ritter. Strauss’s experiences as a conductor in Meiningen, Weimar, and elsewhere revealed the limitations of undersized orchestras and the growing practice of reinforcing those ensembles with additional instrumentalists for Wagnerian repertoire, especially including Strauss’s own works. Strauss’s revision of Hector Berlioz’s Treatise on Instrumentation (1905) also appears to have inspired a new generation of composers, who quickly adopted the Wagnerian orchestra in the years immediately after the Treatise appeared.
From the last quarter of the nineteenth century on, the name Bayreuth has stood for the realization of a new kind of musical theater developed by Richard Wagner, which ever since has been recognized as a major contribution to the world’s cultural heritage. For Strauss, both Wagner and Bayreuth were profoundly influential. In his early years, he believed he could see in it the fulfilment of his aesthetic ideals, and accordingly, he sought closeness to the milieu of the idolized “Master.” With increasing maturity, however, it became clear to him that although Wagner was one of the fixed stars in his musical and dramatic thinking, the “Wahnfried ideology” would remain foreign to his nature. As early as his time in Weimar, the “cult of Wagner” seemed to be something alien to Strauss, something he would overcome. In juxtaposition to the formative Bayreuth episode in Strauss’s early years, his two short engagements in 1933–34 take on the dubious appearance of a moral lapse.
This chapter explores the cultural, intellectual, and sociopolitical context surrounding Strauss’s operas based on Greek mythology: Elektra, Ariadne auf Naxos, Die ägyptische Helena, Daphne, and Die Liebe der Danae. Offering an overview of Germany’s cultural obsession with ancient Greece from the Enlightenment through the Third Reich, it highlights the changing nature of this engagement while pointing to ways in which German Hellenism informs an understanding of Strauss’s Greek-inspired operas. These works reflect broader cultural debates related to shifting German views of ancient Greece that range from a sunnier and more idealized portrait of the Greeks to a darker, more irrational one. This fundamental opposition between the Apollonian and the Dionysian impulses behind Greek tragedy plays out in these operas to one degree or another, while those composed during the Third Reich resonate with views of classical antiquity shaped by the Nazis' increasing focus on issues of race, ethnicity, and biological superiority that were tied to German identity.
Allusions to and citations of Richard Wagner abound in popular culture, but allusions to the Ring cycle are uniquely fraught. They assume some familiarity with a monumental work that resists easy pop cultural grinding up. This chapter traces different strategies employed by writers, performers, directors, and film composers to engage, whether humorously or seriously, with a work that is as difficult to cite as it is tempting to make grist for the pop-cultural mill.
In 1852, Wagner described his text for the Ring cycle as “the greatest poem that has ever been written.” This chapter asks to what extent the musical innovations – responding to historical linguistics – were formative for a generation of writers as well as composers. To what extent did innovation in one medium engender innovative techniques in another? After contextualizing Wagner’s operatic reforms within his early writings and related moments within the history of the genre, it explores a cornucopia of modernist writers working in the shadow of the Ring cycle: from Wilde, D. H. Lawrence, and Aubrey Beardsley, to Yeats, Mann, and Beckett; from Mallarmé and Dujardin to Zola and Proust, to name but a few. It traces the profound influence on literature of leifmotivic techniques, as “carriers of feeling,” amid the shift to words as a dereferentialized system of signs. The role of alliteration, direct parody, interior monologue, and involuntary memory all contribute to the overall view that appropriation and influence of “reformist” techniques in literature and linguistics remained in the hands of authors, regardless of Wagner’s predictions for his own literary greatness.
The early reception of Beethoven’s Eroica proves to be a complex phenomenon. The new audiences that emerged around 1800 were interested in understanding music both through listening and through reading about it in new journals devoted to music. Beethoven’s music was considered very difficult, but worth the challenge. The dominant image of Beethoven and the status of the symphony both played an important role in the Eroica’s early reception. From the nineteenth century onwards there has been a strong desire to understand Beethoven’s music by relating it to biography. In the case of the Eroica Symphony there has been a focus on the title, and on the unnamed great man or hero, as well as on the interpretation of the Marcia funebre. Authors such as Hector Berlioz, Ferdinand Ries, Anton Schindler and Carl Maria von Weber contributed to interpretations that ranged from relating the symphony to the ancient world to the attempt to establish a programme related to Napoleon, Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia, Admiral Horatio Nelson or General Ralph Abercromby. So the Eroica has been understood variously as a political statement. Others commentators, such as Richard Wagner, saw Beethoven himself is the hero of this symphony.
This chapter traces the history of European festivals from Richard Wagner’s Bayreuth (with its professed inspiration in the Festival of Dionysus in fifth-century Athens) through the Salzburg Festival, the Festival d’Avignon, the Edinburgh International Festival, and the Festival of Athens and Epidaurus, to the Théâtre des Nations and its successor, Germany’s Theatre der Welt. Examining festival repertoires, it traces an evolution of the representation of difference and the relationship between the international repertoire and the local, settling finally on the 2017 Hamburg edition of Theater der Welt and asking: can an international theatre festival still be a place and a site for community-building and transformation? Examining the supposed ‘global aesthetics’ in evidence in Hamburg’s rigorous deployment of the local, it argues that the political and the aesthetic at festivals necessarily become inextricably entangled.
As a lookout atop the Dresden Kreuzkirche during the uprising of 1849, Wagner describes the spectacle of a city in flames, and the acoustic panorama of cannon and gun fire, amid the immense bells pealing just behind his head: ‘a wonderful intoxicating polyphony’. It was also deafeningly loud and conveyed the unfolding violence and brutality below. His willing absorption may seem perverse, yet it invites us to consider ways in which the qualities of lived experience are entwined with auditory effects: the experience of proximate physical danger, the perception of violent sounds, and the vicarious experience of conflict through rhythmically moving sound masses, from regimented columns of insurgent soldiers to the ostinato-based ritual of Grail knights. With Wagner’s experience as a focal point, this chapter investigates the willing abolition of normative categories of experience vis-à-vis the perception of danger. It asks to what extent massed, rhythmic, non-musical sound complexes, viewed within the tenets of the sublime, infiltrate the sonic image of Wagner’s music. By positing cannon and bells as reciprocal signalling devices tethered to the sublime, it also suggests that these material objects perform a dazzling confusion of purposes, simultaneously communicating time, propagating war, staging opera and physically stimulating bodies.
The Anti-Christ is Friedrich Nietzsche's longest sustained discussion of a single topic since the mid 1870s, when he wrote the four Untimely Meditations. In Ecce Homo, Nietzsche presents his life as a species of artistry, in several senses. In each of these senses, Nietzsche portrays himself as the poet of his life, and hence as one who has become who he is. The chapter discusses two of the circumstances of Nietzsche's life that make it most distinctively his, namely Christianity and Richard Wagner. Twilight of the Idols is devoted to the uncovering and diagnosis of decadence, both as cause (suffering) and as effect (idealism). The chapter shows how the idea of becoming 'who one is' runs through all of Nietzsche's final works, and shows how it rounds off a line of thought that characterizes his maturity as a whole.
This chapter considers three topics that preoccupied Friedrich Nietzsche during the years when he was thinking about, and writing, The Birth of Tragedy and, in one way or another, during most of the rest of the 1870s: the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer, the music of Richard Wagner, and the importance of ancient Greek art and civilisation for a renaissance of German culture. The chapter discusses a few specific issues relevant both to Nietzsche's notes and to his published works in order to indicate the various ways in which each kind of writing can cast light on the other. The notes are divided into three sub-periods, corresponding, roughly, with his writing The Birth of Tragedy, the Untimely Meditations and Human, All Too Human. Nietzsche's notes of the time reveal his increasing interest in philosophical problems of metaphysics and epistemology as well as in the history of Greek philosophy.
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