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Riley Reviews Wagnerism: Art and Politics in the Shadow of Music

Associate Professor and Graduate Program Director for Journalism Tim Riley recently reviewed New Yorker music critic Alex Ross’ new book Wagnerism: Art and Politics in the Shadow of Music for the LA Review of Books. Wagner, the well-known German composer of the nineteenth-century, was also a controversial figure regarding Anti-Semitism and racism. Ross gives a detailed look into the complicated life of Wagner, though “provides a thick and convoluted treatment of a thick and convoluted subject.”

Given the many tin-eared treatises Wagner authored or inspired, Ross struggles to convince skeptics that the composer’s music still holds relevance, that its beauty can still touch hesitant souls. The plots of his operas sometimes scan like feeble Grimms’ fairy tales: “Wotan has fallen victim to ‘the love of power and the love of gold,’” Ross summarizes, quoting children’s book author Constance Maud; “[t]here are few blunter summations of the Ring, for adults or children.” This is presumably intended as a compliment. At another point, Ross observes that “Siegfried’s Funeral Music is more impressive than the man himself.”

Read the review in LA Review of Books.

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