My monthly essay for The Critic has just gone upon its website. I have shared some thoughts on polarised attitudes to Richard Wagner and his role in history.
Much as I admire Alex Ross’s new book, I take issue with his claim that Richard Wagner was ‘the most widely influential figure in the history of music’. He wasn’t.
… At the risk of undermining his own thesis, Ross quotes Nietzsche in advocating that no statement should ever be made about Wagner without the word “perhaps”. I am well past 600 pages before I see the flaw in his case. Ross states that Wagner is — perhaps — the most influential figure in the history of music. He isn’t. Remove Bach and there is no history. Take out Beethoven and everything grinds to a halt. Eliminate Verdi and there is no Italian opera. Without Stravinsky, no twentieth century.
Remove Wagner, however, and the rest of music continues regardless. Wagner is a one-off, an ego, a restless provocateur. To Wagnerites, he’s the fusion of all arts. To Wagner-sceptics like me, he’s a genetic anomaly, a genius without anxiety.
Read the full article here,