Richard Wagner’s career and personality were a mass of contradictions. In addition to being a composer, he was a revolutionary, a royal pensioner, and a political exile. His writings include the arenas of art, politics, history, and social thought. Wagner’s operas have been enormously influential in the music world, but many analysts, notably literary critic and playwright George Bernard Shaw and sociologist Theodor Adorno, have also addressed social and political implications of his work. However, their interpretations of his music often disregard the complexity of his intentions and motivation. By examining Wagner’s revolutionary experience, his ideas about the social function of art, and interpretations of his work, it is possible to deconstruct Wagner’s characterization as “the bourgeois revolutionary” – an ambiguous monolith that describes contradictions while refusing to yield constructive relationships.
By comparing the writings of Shaw and Adorno with explorations and criticisms of their analyses by other Wagner scholars, this presentation will take a holistic approach to examining contradictions in Wagner’s life and music. This demonstrates the validity and utility of contradictory analytical paradigms in Wagner scholarship, and suggests an appreciation for the depth and complexity of Wagner’s political character.
Ian Watt, ’11
St. Paul, MN
Majors: Sociology and Anthropology, Ethnic Studies
Sponsor: James Martin