Was Wagner the most philosophical of composers?

DENNY SMITH writes ...

That is a very interesting question! I’m a little unsure about what function the idea of “philosophical” intends here. But no composer with whom I’m familiar explored the deep philosophy of music, as some artists did, such as William Blake or Donald Judd (neither of whom I enjoy).

Wagner’s fascination with old Germanic mythologies lend themselves to the musings of other intellectuals, most notably, I believe, Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche. Unfortunately, the depraved version of intellectual inquiry pursued by the Nazi Party found Wagner irresistible, for esthetic reasons that did not inspire their elevation of other men, like Kant, Brahms, Humboldt or Schumann, I’m delighted to say.

But certainly anyone interested in the intersection of philosophy and music should be intrigued by Arnold Schoenberg’s writings and theories. And I think the profound religiosity of Bach and Mendelssohn are worth philosophical assessments, even though they were not so inclined themselves.

Franck, Saint-Saens, Satie and Faure were all religiously devout, though not philosophically so, per se, in the way that German culture is amenable to philosophizing everything, to its immense benefit and credit. French culture lists more toward the sanctification of life and art and love—when they have earned their moment to be sacred—and that, for me, is equal to the merits of the Teutonic impulse to set the Zarathustrization of Men to music.

It all makes me mourn for the shallow, secular stolidity of Anglo-American conceits, liberated from arbitrary traditions as they are, but only proportionate to their volitional incarceration by empiricism. My idea for the great American Opera, or the Great English Oratorio Not Written By Someone Born in Hanover, is a monumental victory work in which Vercingetorix actually triumphs over Caesar, by coaxing Arminius into an alliance (before anyone thought Teutoburg Forest would end so well).

However, Vercingetorix and Arminius fall in love, and both their love AND war plans are almost brought to ruinous complications when Variathus rides up on his Lippizaner and captures both their affections. The triangle chills before it gets steamy when Variathus is sent to distract Publius Varus with those same Lusitanian eyebrows that no Celt or Carthaginian could resist.

The rainy forest ambush of Varus, now committed to eternal memory of every German fifth-grader, was wildly successful (and allegedly inspired a requiem by Verdi some years later). Vercingetorix politely turned down an cushy lecture appointment in Bauhaus border-fence design, only to accept a named chair in Iberian cuisine offered by Variathus (while demonstrating butterfly kisses with those eyelashes). Arminius was left frustrated in love AND design starchitects.

A few millennia later, when an admirer of Arminius was cornered by a BBC reporter and asked why he didn’t speak out more forcefully against Nazi degradation of Europe and Germany itself, Martin Heidegger could only bang his head against a chalkboard, and wail, “Einstein! Arendt! Give . . me . . back . . my . . . post-docs!”

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