I have always felt an aversion to the works of Richard Wagner; his massive and melodramatic style, his well-known antisemitism, and the association of many of his operas with Nazi culture, have always seemed reasons enough to avoid his music. It was with some surprise then that, after hearing a fascinating radio interview of The New Yorker’s music critic Alex Ross, I found myself reading with interest and even enthusiasm Ross’s thought-provoking recent book, Wagnerism: Art and Politics in the Shadow of Music. In his book, Ross makes the convincing case that Wagner was and is one of the most important and influential artists of the modern Western era, even if many of his legacies and the use to which his art has been put are malignant. In this vast, intelligent book, Ross demonstrates that the works of a wide array of artists and writers reflect Wagner’s influence. Ross also makes the case that, regardless of how your feel about Wagner, he cannot simply be ignored.
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