Monthly Archives: January 2016

After the jubilee: Wagner’s music

The year 2013, celebrating Wagner’s birth in 1813, provoked a flurry of (extra) performances, articles and books in an attempt to understand, enjoy, and make accessible the life work of one of the most controversial European cultural icons of the 19th century. Reading the reviews of the newly-published books and some of the extensive essays in the (cultural) magazines, makes clear that it is Wagner’s personality and turbulent life, together with his dubious posthumous influence – especially his antisemitism – that receives most of the attention, as do the plots of his operas and their possible interpretations. The music as music however, is hardly treated, and if at all, rather superficially and piecemeal. But what the music, in itself, is, and how it works, and especially how it is possible that the music turns so many music lovers into helpless addicts, living from shot to shot to keep their dependence intact – a sort of happy surrender to emotional experience in the form of tones that often looks like a passionate love obsession that cannot be quenched – that seems to be a ‘mystery’, difficult to rationally understand and impossible to analyse.

Where Hitler won

The works of Morton Feldman (1926 – 1987) represent one of the clearest demonstrations of mourning in terms of sound, and often beautiful sound. In 2006 the American music journalist Alex Ross dedicated an interesting article to Feldman:

Some quotes from the article:

In a way, his music seemed to protest all of European civilization, which, in one way or another, had been complicit in Hitler’s crimes.

So, all the achievements of Europe thrown, indiscriminatingly, as a whole in the dustbin of history. A good example of postwar nihilism, quite understandable for a composer who first and foremost identified with being Jewish (not American?), and with the ambition of becoming the ‘greatest Jewish composer’ (surpassing Mendelssohn, Mahler and Schoenberg?).

He was a hard-core modernist to the end, despite his sensualist tendencies, and he did not conceive of art a medium for sending messages.

And yet, his work communicates his very personal emotional life experience – a sad and empty one, in spite of  living in the USA and having not suffered any war atrocity.