The Wagner Journal

‘… and yet was so new’: A radically revised guide to ‘Meistersinger’ is appraised by Barry Millington

‘… and yet was so new’: A radically revised guide to ‘Meistersinger’ is appraised by Barry Millington

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Review of ‘Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg’: Richard Wagner (Overture Opera Guides, in association with English National Opera, Gary Kahn, series editor, Overture Publishing, 2015).

November 2015, Volume 9, Number 3, 85–8.

It is perhaps an indication of how far Wagner scholarship has travelled, and how seriously the need for a debate about what we may call the darker side of Die Meistersinger, is now taken – though not in all quarters, to be sure – that no fewer than four of the five essays in this meticulously edited new edition of the 1983 guide have been commissioned afresh. The one survivor is Arnold Whittall’s exemplary introduction to the music, which addresses the question of how far the unity of the work can be seen in terms of tonal relations and how far it is achieved through handling of character, setting and action. He also does justice to Wagner’s imaginative deployment of smaller forms within the much larger ones: variation, song and something resembling a chaconne all feature. Whittall is further enlightening on the tension between ‘the old orthodoxy and the new unorthodoxy’ (p. 28) in this score, as well as the implications of the truism that the subject of the work is (at least in part) music itself. And perhaps we may discern a personal resonance in the final observation that this ‘musical structure of supreme strength and conviction […] never ceases to fascinate and dazzle – even those who devote their lives to its interpretation and analysis.’ (p. 39)

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