Wagnerism: Art & Politics in the Shadow of Music, Ross
Author: Alex Ross
Format: Paperback, 784 pages
Publisher: Picador (2021)
“A work of enormous intellectual range and subtle artistic judgment that pokes and probes the nerve endings of Western cultural and social norms as they are mirrored in more than a century of reaction to Wagner’s works. The book has its own ‘Wagnerian’ heft and ambitiousness of intent . . . Ross has dug deep into some of the most fertile (and occasionally most bizarre) terrain of Western culture, examining and bringing to light the struggles for individuation and self-discovery of a host of reactive minds.” — John Adams, The New York Times Book Review
For better of worse, Richard Wagner is one of the most widely influential figures in the history of music. Around 1900, the phenomenon known as “Wagnerism” saturated European and American Culture. Such colossal creations as The Ring of Nibelung, Tristan und Isolde and Parsifal were models of forma daring, mythmaking, erotic freedom and mystical speculation for a mighty procession of artists, including Virginia Woolf and Thomas Mann. Anarchists, occultists, feminists and gay-rights pioneers saw him as a kindred spirit. When Adolf Hitler incorporated Wagner’s music into the soundtrack of Nazi Germany, he came to be defined by his ferocious antisemitism — for many, his name is now almost synonymous with artistic evil.
In Wagnerism, Alex Ross restores the magnificent confusion of what it means to be a Wagnerian. A pandemonium of geniuses, madmen, charlatans and prophets do battle over Wagner’s many-sided legacy. As readers of his brilliant articles for The New Yorker have come to expect, Ross ranges thrillingly across artistic disciplines, from the architecture of Louis Sullivan to the novels of Philip K. Dick.
In many ways, Wagnerism tells the tragic tale of an artist who might have rivaled Shakespeare in universal reach had he not been undone by an ideology of hate. Still, his shadow lingers over twenty-first century culture — his mythic motifs coursing through superhero films and fantasy fiction. Neither apologia nor condemnation, Wagnerism is a work of passionate discovery, urging us toward a more honest idea of how art acts in the world.
About Alex Ross:
Alex Ross has been the music critic of The New Yorker since 1996. His first book, The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century (2007) won a National Book Award Critics Circle Award and the Guardian First Book Award and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. His essay collection Listen to This was published in 2010. His third book, Wagnerism: Art and Politics in the Shadow of Music, was published in 2020. Ross has received the George Peabody Medal, an Arts and Letters Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Guggenheim Fellowship and a MacArthur Fellowship.