The Wagner Journal

The Rest is Wagner: Heath Lees hails a breathtaking conspectus of Wagnerism

The Rest is Wagner: Heath Lees hails a breathtaking conspectus of Wagnerism

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Review of Alex Ross, Wagnerism: Art and Politics in the Shadow of Music (New York, 2020).

November 2020, Volume 14, Number 3, 72–9.

Alex Ross is widely known inside and outside the scholarly world. He might easily be described as the musical guru of our age. Regular exposure in The New Yorker has seen him fashion a brand of music criticism that is intellectually stimulating yet persuasively popular. In 2008, his Pulitzer-Finalist book The Rest is Noise introduced a sometimes untouched public to a sympathetic awareness of the dazzling range of 20th-century music. Here, his dedicated attention to Wagnerism (as he reveals in a short personal credo at the end of this book) is the fruit of many years of ‘Wagner immersion’ (p. 730), plus a voracious appetite for music and a wide-ranging background in literature and the arts.

Thus pedigreed and prepared, Ross has now delivered himself of a magnum opus that extends to nearly 780 pages – a huge chronicle that might just be what the Wagner world has been waiting for since the 1850s, when Wagnerism began. Certainly, there is no volume in existence that has dared to attempt what Ross has done here as a single author, boldly stamping his work with the one-word main title for a subject that seems paradoxically both limitless and all-embracing. This survey of nearly 150 years of Wagnerism is excitingly set forth, and its coverage is breathtaking.

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