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Thread: Famous and not so famous quotes about Wagner

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    Senior Member Don Fatale's Avatar
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    Default Famous and not so famous quotes about Wagner

    With great trepidation I'd like to open another thread about Wagner, and plead with other forum posters not to peddle their personal agendas on this one. I'm looking for good conversation, help and input, and having a thread locked isn't much help.

    To recap, I'm giving a talk in June and, as you might have guessed, it concerns Wagner. I've decided my talk will consist mainly of quotes about Wagner and his music ranging from his times to modern day. i.e. Rossini, Tchaikovsky, Mark Twain, Shaw, Nietzsche through to Hitler, Woody Allen, Barenboim and Stephen Fry.

    You can probably guess some of what will be included, but I'd love to hear of any insightful or witty comments you have come across.

    I have the book Wagner Remembered, which is pretty good for contemporaneous (?) accounts. Anything else similar?
    Last edited by Don Fatale; Apr-16-2014 at 01:59. Reason: stupid typo

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    Senior Member SilenceIsGolden's Avatar
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    Wagner Remembered is an awesome resource, but it's the only thing of it's kind that I'm aware of.

    Here are a few of my favorite quotes on Wagner.

    Friedrich Nietzsche:

    "I have never found a work as dangerously fascinating, with as weird and sweet an infinity, as Tristan, -- I have looked through all the arts in vain. Everything strange and alien about Leonardo da Vinci is demystified with the first tones of Tristan. This work is without a doubt Wagner's non plus ultra...the world is a poor place for those who have never been sick enough for this 'voluptuousness of hell': it is permissible, it is almost imperative, to reach for mystical formulae at this point."

    Sviaoslav Richter on The Ring:

    "I'm convinced that it's impossible to wish for anything better. This is true happiness! I can understand why Wagner is so inaccessible to the vast majority of listeners -- they fail to lift themselves up to the same height. Unfortunately, they are too lazy, too mean-spirited, lacking in the necessary imagination. Between Wagner and them there lies a (gigantic) gulf."

    Thomas Mann:

    "The overpowering accents of the music that bears away Siegfried's corpse no longer refer to the woodland youth who set forth in order to learn fear; they instruct our feeling in what is really passing there behind falling veils of mist. The sun-hero himself lies on his bier, struck down by pale darkness, and the word comes to the aid of our emotions: 'the fury of a wild boar', says Gunther, pointing to Hagen, 'who mangled the flesh of this noble youth'. A perspective opens out into the first and furthest of our human picture-dreamings, Tammuz, Adonis whom the boar slew, Osiris, Dionysus, the dismembered ones, who are to return as the Crucified whose side a Roman spear must pierce that men may know him -- all that was and ever is, the whole world of slain and martyred loveliness this mystic gaze encompasses; and so let no one say that he who created Siegfried was in Parsifal untrue to himself."

    D.H. Lawrence:

    "I love Italian opera -- it's so reckless. Damn Wagner, and his bellowings at Fate and death."
    Last edited by SilenceIsGolden; Apr-16-2014 at 01:20.

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    Senior Member SilenceIsGolden's Avatar
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    I am also fond of a recollection by Felix Weingartner in his memoirs, who was present in 1882 for the first Parsifal performances. After the second, he and a friend saw a carriage outside of Wagner's home at Wahnfried and waited in hopes of catching a glimpse of the composer. Then he describes how he heard Wagner's well-known Saxon accent and saw Cosima emerge from the home, accompanied by Josef Rubinstein, and then Wagner. Before entering the carriage, he heard Wagner say "Well, goodbye, my dear Rubinstein, hope we meet again soon, remember me to your father." 20 years later Weingartner described his thoughts as the carriage rode away:

    "I gazed after it almost bereft of my senses. What a tremendous life, what gigantic power was being carried away in that insignificant vehicle. How negligible and almost unreal the physical presence seemed in comparison with the magnitude of the spirit it encased."

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    Senior Member KenOC's Avatar
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    John Ruskin's famous over-the-top comment on Die Meistersinger: "Of all the bête, clumsy, blundering, boggling, baboon-blooded stuff I ever saw on a human stage, ... and of all the affected, sapless, soulless, beginningless, endless, topless, bottomless, topsiturviest, tongs and boniest doggerel of sounds I ever endured the deadliness of, that eternity of nothing was the deadliest, so far as the sound went. I never was so relieved, so far as I can remember in my life, by the stopping of any sound -- not excepting railway whistles -- as I was by the cessation of the cobbler's bellowing."


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    Senior Member HumphreyAppleby's Avatar
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    Puccini after playing the opening chords of Tristan on the piano.

    "Enough of this music... the rest of us are dilettantes and mandolin players."

    This is a paraphrase from William Berger (the original line is much better):

    "Wagner criticized Jews, yet kept Jewish friend; he advocated vegetarianism, yet ate meat; one has to wonder, given his anti-vivisectionism, whether he was secretly performing live animal dissections in his basement."

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    Senior Member Revenant's Avatar
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    Probably not based on a real anecdote, but se non e vero, e ben trovato. In the Tony Palmer early '80s Wagner TV miniseries, Wagner (Richard Burton) is in Venice sitting on an outdoor cafe in a plaza with his [first] wife. A noisy army band is squeaking out its version of Rienzi's Prayer. Wagner can't stand his music played by street musicians like those. He walks up to the bandmaster, thanks him for the homage, but tells him, patting him on the back and smiling: "See what you can do to Verdi, now." The bandmaster grins and nods, overwhelmed at the attention. As Wagner walks back to his table, the band resumes massacring Rienzi's Prayer. A great double-take at that point by Burton.
    "No preluding! Piano pianissimo -- then all will be well." (Posted in the orchestra pit on August 13, 1876)

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    Senior Member Bardamu's Avatar
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    Rossini:

    "One can't judge Wagner's opera Lohengrin after a first hearing, and I certainly don't intend to hear it a second time."

    "Wagner has lovely moments but awful quarters of an hour."

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    Senior Member KenOC's Avatar
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    A small collection:

    "This Tristan is turning into something fearsome...the opera will probably be banned...only mediocre performances can save me! Good performances will drive people mad!" -- Richard Wagner

    "I would rather like to not accomplish anything in Paris than in Berlin." -- Richard Wagner

    "I wish his operas had fewer words." --Michael Tilson Thomas

    "For me Wagner is impossible...he talks without ever stopping. One just can't talk all the time." -- Robert Schumann

    "It is impossible to communicate with Schumann. The man is hopeless; he doesn't talk at all." -- Richard Wagner

    "I love Wagner. But the music I prefer is that of a cat hung up by its tail outside a window and trying to stick to the panes of glass with its claws" -- Charles Baudelaire

    "Wagner surpasses every composer in his rich variety of instrumental color, but in both form and style he went too far. At the outset he successfully avoided mundane subject-matter, but he later strayed from his idealistic aims by carrying his artistic theories to extremes, and committed the very error that he had set out to reform: and so the monotony, which he avoided with such success, now threatens to dominate him." -- Giuseppe Verdi

    "I have witnessed and greatly enjoyed the first act of everything which Wagner created, but the effect on me has always been so powerful that one act was quite sufficient; whenever I have witnessed two acts I have gone away physically exhausted; and whenever I have ventured an entire opera the result has been the next thing to suicide." -- Mark Twain


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    Senior Member Donata's Avatar
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    Charles Baudelaire on Tannhäuser, "His is the art of translating, by subtle gradations, all that is excessive, immense, ambitious in spiritual and natural mankind. On listening to this ardent and despotic music one feels at times as though one discovered again, painted in the depths of a gathering darkness torn asunder by dreams, the dizzy imaginations induced by opium."

    "One can't judge Wagner's opera Lohengrin after a first hearing, and I certainly don't intend hearing it a second time."
    -- Gioacchino Rossini

    "Is Wagner a human being at all? Is he not rather a disease? He contaminates everything he touches -- he has made music sick. I postulate this viewpoint: Wagner's art is diseased."
    -- Friedrich Nietzsche
    "If a composer could say what he had to say in words he would not bother trying to say it in music." Gustav Mahler

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    The problem wih Wagner's music is that it makes you want to go out and invade Poland .

    Woody Allen .

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    Senior Member Don Fatale's Avatar
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    Today I did my inaugural talk for the local quasi-intellectual lunch/afternoon debating group, and I'm pleased to report that it went extremely well.

    If anyone has done or contemplated doing a talk on Wagner, you'll know that you won't be short of source material, the problem will be how to avoid getting bogged down in the vastness of material available. As I read various books (1) and viewed some very informative websites, I started to formulate a plan. Initially, the idea was to have "Wagner: in the words of others", and that was proceeding pretty well, but it was still too large in scope. What really struck me as I researched, is how Wagner's personality and demeanor was very different to what people might suppose. There's an impression that he was a miserable, angry and hate-filled misanthropist. Whilst those qualities may exist, in fact he was the epitome of the dictionary description of the word mercurial as well as having any number of amusing eccentricities. The personal accounts of this make very good reading, and also good to read aloud to a room.

    Wagner's influence on Joyce (Ulysses and Finnegan's Wake) and Eliot (The Waste Land) was another area that was worth exploring with a well-read audience. His innovative influence on the things that opera/concert/theatre-goers take for granted also proved to be good material for raising a few eyebrows. Interspersing the talk with musical excerpts (bleeding chunks!) while I swigged my coffee, gave an added dimension.

    (1) Recommended reading: Aspects of Wagner, Bayreuth: The Early Years, and Wagner Remembered, all highly recommended.
    Last edited by Don Fatale; Jul-10-2014 at 22:35.

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    Moderator mamascarlatti's Avatar
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    Congratulations! Glad it went well.
    Natalie

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    Senior Member Don Fatale's Avatar
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    I'll post a few of the entertaining ones that I used in the talk. Some had to be edited for the benefit of read-aloud performance. I'm pretty bad at accents, but did my best with French, German, English, American, female, Queen Victoria etc.
    ------------------------------------

    Camille Saint-Saens, the French composer, attended the second cycle of the Ring at Bayreuth in 1876 as a newspaper correspondent.

    By way of preface I would like to give some details of Wagnerians and anti-Wagnerians which will not be out of place.

    I myself have studied the works of Richard Wagner for a long time. I have given myself completely to this study and all the performances I have attended have left me with a profound impression that all the theories in the world will never succeed in making me forget. Because of this I have been accused of being a Wagnerian. Indeed, for a while, I believed myself to be one. What a mistake, and how far from the truth. I had only to meet some true Wagnerians to realise that I was not one of them and never could be!

    For the Wagnerian, music did not exist before Wagner, or rather it was still in embryo - Wagner raised it to the level of Art. Bach, Beethoven and occasionally Weber, announced that the Messiah would come and thus have their importances as prophets. The rest are of no importance. Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Mendelssohn, none has written a single bearable note. The French school and the Italian school have never existed. If a Wagnerian should hear music other than Wagner's his face shows only disdain. Any of the Master’s works, even the ballet music from Rienzi, plunges him into an indescribable state of ecstasy.

    I once witnessed a very curious scene between Wagner and a charming young lady, who was a writer, and Wagnerian of the first rank. This lady was imploring Wagner to play her on the piano this unparalleled, indescribable chord she had discovered in the score of Siegfried.

    “Oh Master, this chord!”

    “But my dear child,” says the master “it is simply the chord of E minor, you can play it quite as well as I can.”

    “Oh Master, Master, please... this chord!”

    The Master, in the end, went to the piano and played E G B - whereupon the lady fell back on a couch with a sigh. It was more than she could bear.

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    Senior Member Don Fatale's Avatar
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    Together with Prince Albert, Queen Victoria attended the penultimate Philharmonic concert on 11th June 1855 and was introduced to Wagner during the interval. She noted afterwards in her diary:

    We dined early with Feodore, her girls, our boys, and all the ladies and gentlemen going to the Philharmonic where a fine concert was given, under the direction of the celebrated composer Herr Richard Wagner. He conducted in a peculiar way, taking Mozart’s and Beethoven’s symphonies in quite a different time to what one is accustomed. His own overture to Tannhause is a wonderful composition, quite overpowering, so grand, and in parts wild, string and descriptive. We spoke to him afterwards. He is short, very quiet, wears spectacles and has a very finely developed forehead, a hooked nose, & projecting chin. He must be about 34.

    (Actually Wagner was 42).

    For his part Wagner describe the queen as .... ‘not fat.. but very small and not at all pretty, with, I am sorry to say, a rather red nose. But there is something uncommonly friendly and confiding about her and though she is by no means imposing, she is nevertheless a kind and delightful person.’

    In 1858 Queen Victoria’s daughter ‘Vicky’ was married to kaiser Frederick III. The Bridal Chorus (i.e. Here Comes The Bride) from Lohengrin, which premiered in 1850) was chosen, along with Mendelssohn’s Wedding March. This Wagner and Mendelssohn double act has played a part in millions of weddings since then.
    Last edited by Don Fatale; Jul-13-2014 at 00:26.

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    Senior Member Don Fatale's Avatar
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    Eduard Devrient was the intendant to Grand Duke Friedrich in Karlsruhe, where Wagner had landed whilst looking for backers and a new position. His writing shows the exasperation many probably experienced in their dealings with Wagner.

    8th May 1861. Visited Wagner at his hotel. As he says himself, he has earned absolutely nothing in recent years and got through a vast amount of money in Paris, all of it belonging to his friends and which he ought now to be seriously thinking of repaying. This poor man sat there in his green velvet dressing gown, lined in purple satin, with Turkish trousers of the same material and a broad brown velvet beret perched askew on his head.

    I left him in no illusion as to the slender hopes than he places on the part of the Grand Duke, both for the production of Tristan and, even more, for the honorarium that he is seeking, nay, demanding, so that he can lead a carefree existence in a home of his own, writing his music and doing just as he pleases, naturally of course, in velvet and satin and the luxurious creature comforts that I know of his place in Zurich. He vacillates between acquiescing in his fate and dreaming up the most fanciful plans and ideas. Finally he said, somewhat ominously, that if all else fails, he will settle HERE in Karlsruhe... where he can live comfortably and inexpensively and travel between Paris and Germany. It would then be his pleasure to take an occasional interest in the work of our local theatre and in individual projects. What a hailstorm of trouble and unpleasantness I see looming and threatening me in my old age!

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