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Thread: Why people like Wagner so much

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    Senior Member RogerWaters's Avatar
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    Default Why people like Wagner so much

    By way of background, at the time as I love Richard Wagner more, I also like him less. As I am coming to value selections of his oeuvre more and more I am, at the same time, becoming clearer that his works, taken as wholes, are too long with too much 'filler' for me with too much focus on narrative and not enough on music (at least, music with rhythmic continuity and development).

    This got me thinking about why Wagner supporters often love his music so... unconditionally.

    Having some awareness of selectionist reasoning in evolution biology, I realised that the length of Wagner's musical dramas probably selects for a certain kind of fan.

    Only those people who love Wagner enough to sit through 4 hours of dramatics are 'Wagnerites'.

    Of course, this only applies to some degree. There are no doubt plenty of 'conditional fans' (including myself) who only love excerpts of the Ring, Tristan etc.

    Are you an unconditional or conditional fan of Wagner?
    Last edited by Art Rock; Jul-02-2021 at 07:26. Reason: Clarified title

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    Senior Member mbhaub's Avatar
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    Conditional - I've sat through the Ring live three times. That's enough. Nowadays I prefer his operas in chunks - an act a day is fine. Flying Dutchman is ok, not too long. But when you see 70 coming at you, sitting for long stretches is difficult. I do like the bleeding chunks as well as the many arrangements of the operas without words. There are times when I wish he had been more concise and trimmed the works by 25%. Still, I'll take my Wagner unabridged.
    "It is surprising how easily one can become used to bad music" - F. Mendelssohn

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    Senior Member Neo Romanza's Avatar
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    For me, Das Rheingold and Parsifal are two of the greatest pieces of music ever written. I think Wagner has earned his place amongst the upper echelon of composers. The man was a genius and hugely influential to a whole new generation of composers. I love his music unconditionally. I don’t listen to him very often, but when I want something to take my breath away that’s on a massive scale, Wagner fits this bill like no other.
    Last edited by Neo Romanza; Jul-02-2021 at 04:15.
    "Competitions are for horses. Not artists." - Béla Bartók

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    I can't respond to the "conditional/unconditional" thing... Not every bar of Wagner's music is equally inspired or absorbing, but then I know of no operas by any composer that, taking parts in isolation, impress me consistently throughout. Wagner's are, IMO, powerful taken as whole entities, and never less than interesting. Given the freedom and complexity of his harmony and his ambitious efforts to give musical cohesion to a stream-of-consciousness musical narrative to illuminate stage action, I find his mastery altogether amazing and have little difficulty with the occasional dull(er) moment. The idea of listening to "highlights" in preference to complete works rather horrifies me. I will listen to isolated sections of the operas from time to time, but mainly to enjoy the work of certain performers.
    Last edited by Woodduck; Jul-02-2021 at 04:49.

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    Senior Member SONNET CLV's Avatar
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    Deep into and near the end of his eloquent essay "The Monster," a thoughtful and intriguing though highly subjective portrait of Richard Wagner, composer/critic Deems Taylor writes this passage:

    There is not a line of his music that could have been conceived by a little mind. Even when he is dull, or downright bad, he is dull in the grand manner.

    Those words have stayed with me since my first reading of the Taylor essay, now some half century ago. I can think of no other composer who is so well described by proclaiming his greatness and his failings as being "in the grand manner." And that has ever since been the measure by which I hear Wagner, right or wrong though I may be. Where music specifically (and "art" in general) is concerned, his is surely that conceived in a vastly spacious mind.

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    Wagner's art is famed and there is a theater created specifically for it. Aside from that what makes you think people love his art? Have you ever seen in played in your town? How many of his operas or other music have you sat through?

    I agree his music is striking and original and I like Wagner about 20 minutes at a time before it becomes wearisome. I could never endure even Meistersinger in the opera house.

    I think the opposite: for as much as it is talked about and praised I don't like people his music all that much outside of the bleeding chunks.
    Last edited by larold; Jul-02-2021 at 12:51.

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    Senior Member Enthusiast's Avatar
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    I'm no Wagner fanatic and would never claim he was the greatest composer who ever lived or anything like that. For me he is a great and many of his operas (notably the Ring, Meistersinger, Parcifal and Tristan) are, along with many of the operas of Mozart, Verdi and Britten, among the greatest. But I don't get the fanaticism.

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    Quote Originally Posted by larold View Post
    Wagner's art is famed and there is a theater created specifically for it. Aside from that
    This sounds as if it wasn't anything special at all to have a theater and festival for ONE composer that is a pretty big deal almost every year basically since its inception almost 150 years ago.
    And the operas are also played frequently in other cities with large opera houses (and not only the largest, in countries like Germany you will occasionally have a "Ring" in an opera house of a 200k people city, "Dutchman" or "Lohengrin" are obviously less demanding). Considering how demanding most of them are, there are very few other operas of that scale (i.e. >3h long AND large orchestra) that are given as regularly as Wagner's. Meyerbeer's are basically gone from the repertoire, Berlioz' Troyens is fairly rare, I'd guess Strauss' "Rosenkavalier" would probably be in the same range as Wagner (his two other famous ones are about half as long as typical Wagner and the huge ones like "Frau ohne Schatten" are not so frequently staged)
    Last edited by Kreisler jr; Jul-02-2021 at 14:07.

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    For me it's no different than all of the "Voice of God" fervor that surrounds Mozart. I love Mozart, but not enough that I've ever related to all of that sentimental rhetoric, and so I'm puzzled and sometimes put off by it in the same you are by Wagner-mania. On the other hand, Wagner's music actually does fill me with that "Voice of God"-type energy, more so than any other composer ever has. The most physical reactions I've ever had to any music have been to his operas. At the height of my infatuation with it I would shed tears, shiver, and generally vibrate with raw, surplus energy that I didn't know what to do with, just a glowing aesthetic-pleasure that would last the entire day.

    My similar hangups with Wagner's lack of "rhythmic continuity" aside (I am also very, very bored by large sections of his music), no other composer has ever come close to affecting me in that way with as much consistency or intensity. It only accentuated the value of the "good parts" that I was willing to persevere through my dislike of his music drama format. If I only liked Wagner as much as, say, Dvorak, I wouldn't have bothered.
    Last edited by Clairvoyance Enough; Jul-02-2021 at 13:47.

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    Senior Member amfortas's Avatar
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    For me, the power of Wagner is a cumulative effect extending over the long musical and dramatic arcs of his works. If you wanted to put it less charitably, you could say he gradually beats his audience into submission. "Bleeding chunks" are all well and good, but inevitably seem diminished in effect when shorn from their larger context.
    Alan

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    Wagner's art is famed and there is a theater created specifically for it...This sounds as if it wasn't anything special at all to have a theater and festival for ONE composer that is a pretty big deal almost every year basically since its inception almost 150 years ago.

    I agree I may have minimized his importance as a revolutionary artist. Among other things Wagner was the creator of a new art form -- music, drama, scene -- that changed the music world. His Ring tetralogy is the greatest single achievement in classical music and was mimicked hundreds of years later in the 20thcentury music-drama-scene form, film, with its own Ring trilogy.

    Having said that I still think his music is more talked about than loved and attended especially compared to other great composers. His "problem" for me is similar to Berlioz: too big most of the time.
    Last edited by larold; Jul-02-2021 at 15:08.

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Like the works of Shakespeare, the operas of Wagner become greater the better you know them. "Knowing them" requires both understanding their musical/dramatic complexities and subtleties and exploring their philosophical and psychological implications. Secondarily, it means learning about their prominent position in our cultural history. They can keep us busy for as long as we want to be engaged. There are reasons why books analyzing them continue to appear.

    There's no definitive answer to the question of "why people like Wagner," but if you do find that you like him and if you follow that liking wherever it leads, you'll be a long, long time coming to the end of him, and you'll probably never get there. He really is that big, and there are few other artists of whom that can be said. Maybe Shakespeare is the only one.
    Last edited by Woodduck; Jul-02-2021 at 15:16.

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    Quote Originally Posted by RogerWaters View Post
    By way of background, at the time as I love Richard Wagner more, I also like him less. As I am coming to value selections of his oeuvre more and more I am, at the same time, becoming clearer that his works, taken as wholes, are too long with too much 'filler' for me with too much focus on narrative and not enough on music (at least, music with rhythmic continuity and development).
    Sometimes there is too much talking. But is it just a problem of the Ring des Nibelungen or of all of his operas? I think Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg or Der Fliegende Holländer aren't boring anywhere or? Maybe it is just the Ring where Wagner neglected rhythm and melody too much and tried to solve it just with harmonics.

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    My introduction to Wagner was in 1951, when I was 16. I was passionately interested in classical music at the time, but more Beethoven and Mozart and Bach. I just happened to notice in the Radio Times that the Bayreuth Festival, which I had never heard of, was getting going again, and that the BBC was broadcasting an opera called Parsifal. I had heard a couple of operas before but I wasn’t particularly interested in opera then.

    So I got out from the public library Ernest Newman’s Wagner Nights and read the chapter on Parsifal and thought, wow, all this stuff about the wound that can’t heal,the Holy Grail,I found it incredibly intriguing. And when the BBC broadcast the opening performance I listened with the vocal score that I’d got out of the library. Parsifal was unlike anything I’d ever heard before, and I can’t pretend I understood it in any way, but I was unbelievably intrigued and thrilled by it.The darkness of it, and the pain of it were incredible: and I never found it slow in the way my music master had warned me that all Wagner was slow; even though one of the amazing things about Parsifal is its revolutionary breadth, its silences, and its ineluctability.

    I then listened to any Wagner I could on the Third Programme; there were hardly any recordings then except highlights. In the autumn the BBC broadcast the whole Ring over four evenings, and I listened to it with the vocal scores and Newman’s book open beside me and that was absolutely stunning. Of course I was in a very remote relationship to what I now consider to be the essence of the music,but it had the most tremendous impact on me. I became a proselytizer for Wagner even though I didn’t understand in any deep way what was going on. And my passion for Wagner was enormously influenced by my interest in philosophy, though not in the sense of the theories that influenced him, because I didn’t know that he’d read Schopenhauer, and I didn’t know that he'd studied Feuerbach, or any of the intellectual context; but it was just the emotional equivalent of philosophy if you like. Things such as Wotan asking himself questions about how he as a God could create a free being. I thought it was amazing that an opera could contain people, or for that matter gods, asking questions like that.

    I’ve spent a very large part of my life playing Wagner to people, explaining first, and then giving them an idea of what they were going to hear. If somebody asked me who my favorite composer was, I'd have to say Wagner as he's been the center of my life in so many ways, but I don't think he's better than Bach, or Mozart, or Schubert for example, who are all sublime. I wouldn't say my love of Wagner is 'unconditional', but I think Wagner has shaped me in a very real and profound way. When you give yourself over to a great artist, and trust in the excellence of the artistic creation, one enters into a sort of dialogue with a great creative figure like that. It no doubt produces a sort of distorted picture of them in a way,but there is a sort of interaction going on,and that’s the only thing that really matters.

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    Senior Member amfortas's Avatar
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    ^^^ One of my favorite posts in recent memory.
    Alan

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