My reading pile has grown exponentially larger over the past few months and unfortunately has stayed that way despite conscious and time-consuming effort. It looms over my bed and is starting to totter. It sits on the right-hand corner of my desk and scowls at me.
In the midst of it are three Wagner-related books: Trippett’s Wagner’s Melodies (on page 49 and somewhat tough going); Baker’s From the Score to the Stage (on page 229 and loving every paragraph and picture); and Vazsonyi’s The Cambridge Wagner Encyclopedia (sitting in the pile for several months and advancing a mocking lower lip all that time — particularly in light of the absurd price I paid for it).
Aha, says I, I’ll take the lowest-hanging fruit. The Encyclopedia is a reference work, after all, and all I need do is leaf through it, get my bearings, check out a few things, and find a place to squeeze it on the shelf. I’ll thereafter pull it as I need it. (Says I.)
So I looked up Redemption and read the first sentence: “In Wagner’s worldview, redemption seems almost to function as a technical term.” Hmmm, says I, who wrote this? Barry Emslie. Well, what’s he on about? Three pages of small print later I’m educated, tantalized and enriched. I should have stopped there and replaced it on the pile.
But no. Right at the bottom of the page was Religion, and that took about 8 full pages of really fine analysis. OK, time for a strategic adjustment.
So I went to the very beginning to “leaf through it.” The first full article was Absolute Music. This is Brahms and Hanslick versus Wagner and Verdi, yes? Well, gotta read that, right? Adorno, Theodor Wiesengrund. Never quite understood the arguments in his book (other than that Wagner was a dilettante), maybe this Roger Allen piece will help. Aesthetics. Wow, this is great stuff. Who wrote this? Roger Allen again. This isn’t advancing my objective. But I’m having one hell of a good time!
Anti-Semitism by Vaget. A fine snippet on one of my heroes, Appia, Adolphe, by one of my heroes, Simon Williams. Vazsonyi again on Avant-garde. Celia Applegate on Bach. Mark Berry on Bakunin, Mikhail. I’m lapping this up but getting hopelessly out of control.
Not all is peaches and cream, however. Why is Barenboim, Daniel given only six lines of text, in light of his significant performances, writing and socio-political contributions to our understanding of Wagner’s cultural impact (not least his visceral engagement with Israeli audiences)? Trying to get to Goodall, Reginald, it takes days to go through Beethoven (the essay), Beethoven, Ludwig (the composer), Beidler, Franz Wilhelm; Bel Canto Opera; Breker, Arno….
A week later, and yup, Goodall, Reginald is also far too brief. So is Furtwängler, Wilhelm (though, as Spencer Tracy said of Katherine Hepburn in Pat and Mike , “Not much meat on her, but what’s there is cherce.”).
My pile continues to grow, as does my enchantment with the legacy of Richard Wagner. I was recently doing much better until, right after Music history by Sanna Pederson, I came upon Music theory, by Matthew Bribitzer-Stull. Can’t just speed-through that, I say to myself, as I closed the book in anticipation of an uninterrupted 20 minutes or so. Gotta try once more to understand that tonality in the Ring is a choice and not a series of coincidences.
Helpless from the depths of the letter “M,” I greet you!