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Wagner and Philosophy by Bryan Magee

Wagner and Philosophy

RRP £12.99


Wagner and Philosophy by Bryan Magee

Wagner was one of the few major composers who studied philosophy seriously. Bryan Magee places the composer's artistic development in the context of the philosophy of his age, and gives us the first detailed and comprehensive study of the close links between Wagner and the philosophers - from the pre-Marxist socialists to Feuerbach and Schopenhauer. Magee explores the relationship between words and music, between the conscious and the unconscious mind, between art and philosophy. It tackles soberly and judiciously the Wagner whose paranoia, egocentricity and anti-semitism are repugnant, as well as the Wagner of artistic genius. The resulting text illuminates Wagner and the music-dramas in altogether new ways.


Richard Wagner, the creative genius who transformed opera forever, was also a prolific author. And he was disreputable, conceited, boorish, a serial adulterer, constantly in debt and a sponger - all in all, ideal biographical material. Artistically his reputation suffers because he was revered and subsequently adopted for propaganda purposes by Hitler, but he was actually a left-wing radical who wrote the Ring's libretto while in exile for his poiltical beliefs. Magee attempts to disentangle the myth from the man, settle a few misunderstandings and appraise the art above the flawed artist. What this book is really concerned with though, is, as the title suggests, examines the philosophical ideas that thrived in Wagner's lifetime, and with which he actively engaged. Magee examines the influence of Hegel, Feuerbach - both of whom directly influenced Marx - and the quasi-Buddhism of Arthur Schopenhaur whose ideas proved revelatory and which, Magee claims, permeate Wagner's work and provide a philosopher/artist merge that is quite unique. Magee has made some of the most convoluted ideas digestable through his previous books and TV work, and this lucidly-written read should interest even those unimpressed by opera. Of Wagner's genius there's no doubt, but many people's perception of him not so much by his associations but rather by his unforgivable anti-semitism, which even his long-suffering wife, Cosima - who was also Liszt's daughter - found odious. Magee devotes a chapter to this prickly subject, and his attempts to explain it by context or as an aspect of a rare artistic temperament are, ultimately, not convincing. The current debate about separating art from the artist is, in light of other recent revelations, bound to continue, but Wagner's turbulent life and this insight into a brilliant creative mind is engrossing. (Kirkus UK)

About the Author

Bryan Magee has had a distinguished and varied career as scholar, broadcaster and parliamentarian. His previous books include Aspects of Wagner (1968), On Blindness (with Martin Milligan, 1996), The Philosophy of Schopenhauer (1997) and Confessions of a Philosopher (1997). He was a Labour MP from 1974 until joining the SDP in 1982.

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Book Info

Publication date

6th September 2001


Bryan Magee

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Penguin Books Ltd


432 pages


Individual composers & musicians, specific bands & groups



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