Richard Wagner: A Life in Music by Martin Geck (Translated by Stewart Spencer) - review by Michael Tanner

Michael Tanner

Notes for Living

Richard Wagner: A Life in Music


University of Chicago Press 446pp £24.50

This book is advertised as a biography, but that isn’t at all what it is, and anyone reading it in the hope of gaining a clear idea of the trajectory of Wagner’s extraordinary and hectic life will be bewildered and disappointed. Martin Geck, one of the most distinguished contemporary German musicologists, knows an enormous amount about every aspect of Wagner’s life and works, but this book is – to me very welcomely – much more about the works than the life. It is also about the impact the works have had on Geck. In his introduction Geck states, ‘it is not Wagner that I want to figure out but myself and my age. What is it that continues to fascinate us about Tristan und Isolde and the Ring? What ideas and ideologies are conveyed by the artist and his work? Does Wagner’s anti-Semitism detract from his works? Are there central messages in Wagner to offset the postmodern arbitrariness of “anything goes”?’ Those and further questions of a similar kind are just the ones I want to read about, though I feel that enough has been said about Wagner’s anti-Semitism to

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