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What can explain Wagner's obsession with Tannhauser, an opera which he first conceived in 1845 and still considered unfinished at his death in 1883? The subject is the struggle of a man torn between erotic love and spiritual fulfilment, between worlds of liberation and of sterile order. It contains the kernels of all his later works: man's need for love and artistic satisfaction, his desire for an existence beyond death, the operation of memory and the nature of madness. The essays in this volume examine the medieval legends which Wagner chose to weave into his text, and their significance for him. Carolyn Abbate also considers the effect of his many revisions upon the score, pointing out that the initial idea already involved a contrast of musical language to focus the conflict. As Wagner remained unsatisfied with the work, it provokes constant reassessment.
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