In honor of Richard Wagner’s 200th birthday (which falls on May 22), and in anticipation of my upcoming trip to Berlin to hear the Berlin Staatsoper and Daniel Barenboim perform The Ring (about which I will blog endlessly once on site), I offer a twelve minute introduction/teaser on the Ring Cycle drawn from Lecture 17 of my Great Courses survey, “The Music of Richard Wagner”.
Say what you want about Wagner – certainly, everybody else has – the man was a hellaciously great composer with a vision unique in the history of Western music. Any way you look at it, Wagner’s four evening extravaganza that is The Ring is the single most audacious creative accomplishment since the Creation itself, which, as Wagner would have happily pointed out, took six days to carry off.
Many of us would deny ourselves the revelatory experience of Wagner’s art due to bladder-busting length of his works and the fact that he was, by pretty much every estimation, an awful person. Yes, Richard Wagner was capable of being a repulsive, sometimes even hateful human being. As was Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and John Belushi. Does that mean we must deny ourselves the pleasures of the light bulb, the mass-produced automobile, and the first four seasons of Saturday Night Live?
I would respectfully suggest that here, on the 200th anniversary of the man’s birth, we should fall back on the tiresome but appropriate Rodney Kingism, “can’t we all just get along?” It’s a sentiment that Wagner himself would not have been willing to act on (ornery and grievously flawed as he was), but it is surely one we can subscribe to, with the benefit being that having done so we can embrace without qualification a musical world and artistic vision like no other.