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Richard Wagner’s works are among the most controversial in the history of European music because of their powerful aesthetic qualities and, in wider political terms, because of their eventual assimilation into the official culture of the Third Reich.
This concise synoptic account by the most brilliant exponent of Frankfurt School Marxism subtly interweaves these artistic and ideological qualities. It provides deft musicological analyses of Wagner’s scores and of his compositional techniques, orchestration and staging methods, quoting copiously from the music dramas themselves. At the same time it offers incisive reflections on Wagner’s social character and the ideological impulses of his artistic activity.
Written in exile from Germany, this potent study of Europe’s most controversial composer explodes the frontiers of musical and cultural analysis. Measuring key elements of Wagner’s oeuvre with patent musical dexterity, Adorno sheds light on a nineteenth-century bourgeois figure whose operas betray the social gestures and high-culture fantasies that helped plant the seeds of the modern Culture Industry. A foreword by Slavoj Žižek situates Adorno’s reflections within present debates over Wagner’s anti-Semitism and the moral status of his work, proving why this book remains one of the most important character studies of the twentieth century.