A day to celebrate

I’m breaking my own pledge not to post until I get back to Taiwan, because this is simply too important. Yesterday was not only the birthday of the greatest composer of the nineteenth century, my musical hero and idol (despite his being a scumbag), but it’s also the one-year anniversary of my almost-favorite China blog. (I can’t honestly say which blog is my favorite, but this one is certainly among the very top tier.)

The Discussion: 5 Comments

Nein! Chopin anyday. Or even Beethoven. Wagner the best conductor of the 19th century? No way. Let’s hear what his contemporaries had to say:

Is Wagner a human being at all? Is he not rather a disease? He contaminates everything he touches — he has made music sick. I postulate this viewpoint: Wagner’s art is diseased.
— Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), Der Fall Wagner (1866)

Of all the affected, sapless, soulless, beginningness, endless, topless, bottomless, topsiturviest, scrannel-pipiest, tongs and boniest doggerel of sounds I ever endured the deadliest of, that eternity of nothing was the deadliest — as far as the sound went.
— William Ruskin, letter, 1882, referring to a performance of Die Meistersinger,

Wagner has lovely moments but awful quarters of an hour.
— Gioacchino Rossini, 1867

I have been told that Wagner’s music is better than it sounds.
— Mark Twain, Autobiography (1924)

May 23, 2006 @ 5:26 am | Comment

That Nietzsche quote is a surprise…
I would suggest that Wagner was not a mere musician but one inspired by a grand overall OPERATIC vision. To only hear the music on a small set of portable speakers is to miss the whole point (I wanted to go for a memorable metaphor there but after 3 minutes gave up).

May 23, 2006 @ 5:44 pm | Comment

All debatable, zhuanjia – actually, Twain was a Wagner fan and went to the Bayreuth festival. Nietzsche was the man most intoxicated by Wagner’s music, and I can find lots of quotes in which he practically foams at the mouth about how gorgeous it is. That all changed in the late 1870s, when he turned against Wagner, mainly due to his revulsion at Wagner’s embrace of Christianity. I can write out many, many, many quotes from the greatest minds of the past 100 years swearing to the greatness of Wagner – men like Thomas Mann, Mencken, Toscannini, Baudelaire, Debussy, Mahler, T.S. Eliot and scores of others. Chopin was a great genius as well, but he never shook the world in new musical alignments the way Wagner did, pushing into atonality, new chordal structures and redefining the very concept of opera. His greatest influence musically was harmony, and in that aspect he was by far the most important composer of the 19th century, with literaly no competition.

May 23, 2006 @ 9:26 pm | Comment

Take your point. It’s just personal preference – I like Chopin and Debussy, but I can believe Wagner achieved a lot more musically. What about old Ludwig though? Born in the 18th and yet did all his work in the 19th century …

May 24, 2006 @ 12:28 am | Comment

Beethoven was great and important, as the primary bridge from the classical to the romantic. I don’t think he had as profound an impact on what followed him as did Wagner.

May 24, 2006 @ 12:45 am | Comment

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