It has long been acknowledged that Richard Wagner was a virulent antisemite, yet the composer has also been characterized as an idealistic revolutionary, and historians have puzzled over the paradox of these conflicting elements in his character. In this fascinating book, Paul Lawrence Rose argues that Wagner did not suddenly change from a progressive revolutionary into a reactionary racist; for him, as for many other Germans, the idea of revolution always contained a racial and antisemtic core.
Rose approaches Wagner on varying levels so as to see him as he really was: he places Wagner within the context of mid-nineteenth-century German revolutionary culture; he studies the composer's whole range of theoretical and artistic works, tracing his career and the evolution of his thought; and he considers Wagner's personality and his personal relationships (especially with those Jews who considered themselves his friends). Rose demonstrates that Wagner's conversion to antisemitism dates not from 1850—the year in which his infamous essay Judaism in Music was published—but from his conflict with the Jewish composer Giacomo Meyerbeer three years earlier over the Berlin production of Rienze. This affects our understanding of the genesis of the Ring operas. In addition, Rose offers fresh and stimulating interpretations of Tristan und Isolde, Die Meistersinger, and Parsifal, based on an analysis of their revolutionary and antisemitic elements.
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