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After his Death-Devoted Heart: Sex and the Sacred in Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde, a relatively slim volume published in 2004, Roger Scruton has now flung at us a much weightier, this time on the Ring, in which he proclaims his well-nigh religious belief in Wagner’s message of universal salvation as contained in that work. He certainly does a thorough job over more than 400 pages, beginning with a general sketch of the historical and cultural background of both Richard Wagner and the Norse myths on which the Ring is loosely based. The usual suspects are fingered: Kant, Fichte, Schopenhauer, Hegel and Feuerbach, with a brief post-Wagner excursus via Hegel into Karl Marx. There are also interesting insights into Wagner’s use of Teutonic language and of Stabreim, the alliterative verse form used in old Norse verse. 

Scruton then goes on, magnifying glass in hand, like some musicological Sherlock Holmes, to crawl over the score, searching out every leitmotif from Rheingold to Götterdämmerung – all 186, according to him. (They are listed in an appendix, with a short comment under each example.) From here on he flings off his deerstalker and stands erect in priestly garb, proclaiming with Jesuitical (and slightly hectoring) zeal his own interpretation of the Ring. ‘I see the drama [of the Ring],’ he affirms, ‘as centrally focused on the emergence of the free individual from the natural order, and on the puzzle planted in the heart of things by the accountability of persons. Such is the framework on which Wagner mounts a vision of what is at stake in human life – a vision that, for its philosophical depth and poetic richness, is surely supreme in the world of opera.’ So there you have it.

Every now and then, Scruton sets up an Aunt Sally, in order to demolish it. Two academics, in particular, Philip Kitcher and Richard Schacht, whom Scruton describes rather patronisingly as ‘distinguished philosophers in their own right’, pop up now and then, like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, to be swiftly knocked off stage. Scruton even confesses a few of his own ‘doubts’, if only to dispel them. There is plenty of meat here, nevertheless, for fellow believers to gnaw over.

Della Couling Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Opera Now, 2016 - ©Rhinegold Publishing