The Composer as Philosopher

September 14, 2007

James Naughtie is narrating series two of his history of classical music on Radio 4: 15 concentrated minutes per day. The BBC continue to lag behind their Australian cousins in providing material as pod casts, so only a week is available at a time but they are worth listening too. Today was on Wagner and the title of this post comes from the broadcast. Naughtie argues, rightly I think, that Wagner brought into play this concept, without which much of modern music (in particular the Minimalists) would not have been possible.

Wagner believed in the complete experience; music, voice, drama and philosophy combining into an overwhelming and transforming celebration of humanity. I can’t listen to the Funeral March without tears in my eyes. The fusion of passion, death and the transition from a world of Gods to that of Man is one of the most moving pieces of music ever written. I have a complete Ring at the Royal Opera House to come in a just over a month, the 8th I have been too in my life and I wish it had been more. To attend a performance is to disappear into an experience which is physical in its intensity.

I will admit to no comprehension of how anyone can not be in awe during such a performance, but you either love Wagner or you hate him. The one thing that cannot be denied is that music of this nature proves that humans are more than an assembly of reward seeking self interests. We are capable of transformation.

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