Nietzsche as an introduction to Wagner

Jun 23, 2006 10:15 pm
The relationship between Nietzsche and Wagner is a very interesting subject, but probably not a great place to start without some understanding of both Wagner and more importantly, Nietzsche himself.

Nietzsche wrote four works on Wagner. The first two The Birth of Tragedy (1872) and “Richard Wagner in Bayreuth” (1876) were written when he was young and they are among his first published works. In these works he idolizes Wagner and his music as basis of a stronger and healthier German and European culture.

The other two, The Case of Wagner and Nietzsche Contra Wagner, were written in 1888 just before his breakdown. They are for the most part scathing critiques of Wagner, a remarkable contrast to the early works, and curiously using very similar arguments.

The writings are somewhat idiomatic. They are less about the aspects of Wagner’s music that we typically pay attention to today. They essentially use Wagner as a touchstone for discussion of ideas about German culture, society, values and morals in the late 19th century. As such, it is good to have some sense of Nietzsche’s agenda, especially his views on ethics and culture expressed in his most important works, On the Genealogy of Morals (1887) and Beyond Good and Evil (1886). They are well worth reading, but depending on your interests, are probably not a great place to start in learning about Wagner and his music.


~ by severalfourmany on June 23, 2006.

2 Responses to “Nietzsche as an introduction to Wagner”

  1. Jul 26, 2006
    In almost every instance Wagner either distorted or accidentally misread the legends in order to form his own vision. This was one of several reasons why Nietzsche broke off with him (the main reason, as I recall, was that he eventually found Wagner’s “ideal” world to be too artificial to be sustained or integrated into the real world).

  2. Distorting or misreading the legends would be perfectly acceptable and even desirable according to Nietzsche’s Use and Misuse of History for Life. I think Nietzsche’s main quarrel with Wagner was his passive acceptance and denial of life (from Buddhism via Schopenhauer) as well as the Christian “slave” morality and resentment which dominates operas like Götterdammerung, Tristan and most importantly Parsifal.

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