25 September 2010

On Wagner

Stephen Fry recently extolled the virtues of the famed German opera composer Richard Wagner, but for many people his work is rather inaccessible due to its extreme length and bombast:

As Wagner grew older, his operas grew longer, culminating in Der Ring des Nibelungen, composed of four separate operas taking some sixteen hours to perform. For all its enduring popularity, his work has also drawn some inspired criticism. One composer complained that a Wagner opera 'starts at six o'clock and, after it has been going three hours, you look at your watch and it says 6.20', while Friedrich Nietzche derided Die Meistersinger as 'German beer music'. Here are some other choice critiques:

Gioacchino Rossini - 'Wagner has beautiful moments but awful quarter hours'.

Oscar Wilde - 'I like Wagner's music better than any other music. It's so loud that one can talk the whole time without people hearing what one says'.

Charles Beaudelaire - 'I love Wagner, but the music I prefer is that of a cat hung up by its tail outside a window and trying to stick to the panes of glass with its claws'.

The gentlest of the barbs came from Mark Twain, who helpfully proclaimed that 'Wagner's music is better than it sounds'.

- W.B. Marsh & Bruce Carrick, 366: A Leap Year of Great Stories, Cambridge, 2007.

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