Bayreuth Revisited

Richard Wagner: Visionen, Werk, Weltanschaung, Deutung by Professor Karl Richter. Arun Verlag, Vilsburg. 1993 668pp (ISBN 3- 927940-05-4) DM 68.

"WAGNER'S WORK has been banished into a kind of mental diaspora which sees itself as ever bound to quarrel with Wagner because it has not finished with him". In his new book on Wagner, Karl Richter, who was born in 1962, assesses the spiritual plight of Germany and indeed all Europe for decades, as one which inevitably leads to a distortion and misconception of Richard Wagner's work. The life and work of Wagner the visionary is brought to light and its potential for the century about to dawn is made clear. This book is neither a regurgitation of the old cliche on the lines of "o.k., so Wagner was one of the bad guys but a great musician", nor is this a technical or specialist study of the musical compositions. What this book sets out to do is to demonstrate the inter-realtionship of Wagner's life, times, thought and artistic achievement and to point to the visionary quality of the whole, a quality which is becoming ever more relevant in these times of political and social upheaval. Richter stresses the fact that the book appeared in the same year as German reunification, 1990, and links this to the contemporary relevance of Wagner's presience. For Richter there is a "background mood" to the book for which "we have the German present to thank", and draws the important and true conclusion that "people need visions".

Two main themes are interwoven in this volume: a contemplation of Wagner's personal life and achievement and an analytical presentation of the artistic one. The latter is not confined to Wagner the composer and dramatist but delves deep into the mythological and philosophical references in each opera. In this way Richter has been able to portray Wagner's life and his ideas as a coherent whole. What Richter has done is to reach beyond a soley musical appreciation of Wagner's work and has set altogether new standards for the study of Wagner and Wagner interpretation; but Richter's success is not only one of methadology and interpretation. This is no ivory-tower study for academics and specialists: Wagner's work is shown to have a strong contemporary relevance. The composer is brought forward as witness and inspiration for a new beginning. Richter presents the case for Wagner's potential future as well as past influence, and that is what makes this book so important. Richter's achievement is considerable and his book deserves to be widely read.

Peter Bahn

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