Tag Archives: Richard Wagner

The anxiety of influence

J.R.R. Tolkien was seldom more amusing, and less convincing, than when he grumpily dismissed any attempts to draw parallels between The Lord of the Rings and Richard Wagner’s  The Ring of the Nibelung. The posthumous publication of Tolkien’s The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun — soon to take its place alongside The Children of Hurin and just behind The Silmarillion on the “Often Purchased, Seldom Finished” shelf of the Tolkien library — has resurrected the Wagner Question, and Jeff Sypeck deals with it head-on in this interesting post.

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The stuff of legend

Art has no purpose but it has an infinite number of uses, and when politics and nationalism come into the picture, some of those uses are less benign than others. 

On the benign side, we see Elias Lonnrot and his colleagues gathering Finnish legends and folk tales, which Lonnrot then combined into a massive epic, the Kalevala, the publication of which in 1835 fueled the nationalist sentiment that led to Finland’s independence from Russia in 1917.

On the spookier side, we see Richard Wagner invoking “holy German art” at the conclusion of Parsifal in a way that makes it clear the holiness comes not from the art, but from the fact that it is German.

Scholar and historian Jeff Sypeck talks about the capture of Radovan Karadzic and the uses to which Balkan epic poetry have been put by Serb nationalists, and the result is a short essay you really ought to read.

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