Wagnerism: Art and Politics in the Shadow of Music

Farrar. Sept. 2020. 784p. ISBN 9780374285937. $40. MUSIC
It’s always cause for rejoicing when New Yorker music critic Ross (Listen to This) publishes a book, and this latest is on a scale worthy of the composer of the Ring of the Nibelung. Ross makes the case that the work and influence of German composer Richard Wagner (1813–83) is key to understanding the art and politics of the last 150 years, and he does so with the sweep and scope of a Wagner overture, with separate chapters traversing “the entire sphere of the arts—poetry, the novel, painting, the theater, dance, architecture, film.” And, of course, politics. The archetypes and mythologies of Wagner merit and receive full analysis, and their influence on the obvious (Friedrich Nietzsche, anti-Semitism, Nazi Germany) share space with the less so (Willa Cather, T.S. Eliot, Game of Thrones). It’s a tribute to the thoughtful and accessible Ross that his conclusions seem both valid and inevitable.
VERDICT With this multifaceted jewel of a book, Ross has produced a monumental study of Wagner’s legacy. Eighteen out of 18 anvils.
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