Wagner's Music Is Exactly As Bad As It Sounds


At Mosaic, Nathan Shields argues that Wagner’s anti-Semitism arises from his music itself–quite different from the usual view that Wagner was a wicked man who wrote wonderful music.


That’s a courageous and important thing to say. Shields veers into the tendentious when he claims that,

“Is Wagner’s most troubling legacy, then, the longing he instills in us for a completion and finality that music alone can provide? Failing to receive such resolutions from the world, one might attempt to force them upon it. Perhaps Wagner’s music is, itself, the abyss toward which that music points us—not only the purest of the arts, but also the most guilty.”

There is no way to judge music except in musical terms, and that is where Shields’s essay is deficient: Wagner does not aim for abstract musical purity, but rather for a perverse alternation of the way his audience heard the music of his predecessors. Some examples can be found here.

As for Shields’ own music: for those who like this sort of thing, it is just the sort of thing they would like. One can’t accuse him of aiming for abstract musical purity.

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