Richard Wagner: A Life in Music

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In the second half of the study, the music-centred approach probably yields its best results.

The analysis of Der Ring des Nibelungen — spread across four chapters — for instance, succeeds in presenting a varied yet coherent take on the majestic tetralogy. This challenge should not be underestimated and is not always tackled successfully by Geck.

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Based on circumstantial and anachronistic arguments e. Martin Geck sets out to weave a teleological thread throughout his book. Nevertheless, Geck hesitates to acknowledge the pragmatic intentions of writings like Oper und Drama or Eine Mittheilung an meine Freunde , of which we should be aware at all times that Wagner did not solely intend for them to divulge the new trails he was about to blaze; these texts also served the purpose of justifying his former dramas within the boundaries he had just set out to break. Luckily, Geck does not fail to provide a broader image than just that which Cosima and the composer himself fashioned.


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He complements these auto biographical texts with observations drawn from a small stock of authors such as Friedrich Nietzsche, Thomas Mann, Walter Benjamin and Theodor W. Adorno — prominent minds that influence our ideas on art as well as society until this day. Furthermore, each chapter refers to recent stagings of Wagnerian dramas and illustrates how modern directors translate Wagner to our times. In this way, Geck indirectly and perhaps inadvertently shows us the profound transformative force which Wagner retains to this very day and which transcends his life and music. The scholarly frame of reference is truly international.

Geck succeeds brilliantly in synthesizing the complex phenomenon of Wagner in a thoroughly approachable yet consistently provocative study.

In a remarkably fleet translation by Stewart Spencer, the book is studded with historical insights, not least because Geck capitalizes on little-known diary entries, letters, and documentary evidence that imbue his readings with genuinely fresh perspectives. The author's erudition is worn lightly, and his provocative forays into the so-called Jewish Question--by treating a succession of Jewish figures in the Wagnerian universe in separate 'contrapuntal' chapters--encourages a contextual view of the composer's work at the same time that it grapples with what we might treasure in Wagner today.


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  5. An excellent biography. The book is best read. A better incentive to commemorate the composer's th birthday can hardly be imagined. He points to Wagner's lack of distinction between 'life' and 'art'; he shows awareness of the nature of history as writing, even briefly discussing 'language games' and Hayden White's rapprochement between history and poetry. Such an approach is perfectly possible, indeed desirable, for a dangerous, radical Wagner.

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    Geck's fine synthesis deserves to be read, especially as beautifully translated by Stewart Spencer. People who would like to know more about Wagner, and people who have loved his music for years but would like to know more about why they do, will find a great deal in this book to enjoy and to admire. Suffused with his readings of contemporary productions of the operas, Geck's musical analyses are succinct and superb, and he is skilled at finding clues to Wagner in the interstices of his career, like the early rarity 'Rienzi' or what he calls 'the revolutionary drafts' of never-completed works that Wagner envisioned before embarking on the 'Ring' cycle.

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    He seems to have read everything Wagner ever wrote and, what is more, a substantial portion of everything that has ever been written about Wagner. Geck is thus able to document his claims about Wagner's life and works with apt quotations, often drawn from obscure corners of the composer's correspondence and recorded conversations. The result is a multifaceted investigation of Wagner's achievement as the supreme master of music drama.

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