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Wagner, Schumann, and the Lessons of Beethoven's Ninth.

Wagner, Schumann, and the Lessons of Beethoven's Ninth

Christopher Alan Reynolds, author

University of California Press

155 Grand Avenue, Suite 400, Oakland, CA 94612-3758

9780520285569 $65.00

"Wagner, Schumann, and the Lessons of Beethoven's Ninth" is a fascinating new examination of the many faceted impact of Beethoven's groundbreaking composition innovations in his Ninth Symphony upon two genius musical contemporaries, Richard Wagner and Robert Schumann. The complex, mixed relationship between Wagner and Schumann has been perhaps distorted by time and the sometimes inaccurate written memoirs of history, but this book explores the thesis that both Wagner and Schumann's compositional styles were influenced to change " a common direction, toward a style that was both more contrapuntal, more densely motivic, and engaged in processes of motivic/thematic transformation....." What is perhaps fresh and new about this observation is the awareness of a connection between the compositions of Wagner and the mature Schumann. Wagner was, of course, the conductor of the inaugural performance of Beethoven's Ninth, and subsequently showed and claimed much inspiration from the famous composer's tremendous legacy. In fact, Wagner frequently paid verbal and written tribute to Beethoven for his composition of the Ninth symphony, describing it as containing mysteries commanding further exploration, a holder of "the secret of all secrets." Wagner's opera "the Flying Dutchman" is generally thought to be greatly influenced by the composition of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. Reynolds introduces the examination of both the music of Wagner and Schumann under the powerful influence of Beethoven's musical composition techniques and more to the point, how these two composers significantly influenced each other in this post-Ninth era. Reynolds refers to composition techniques of contrary motion and the concept of thematic dispersion, both evident in subsequent compositions of Schumann and Wagner. Another composer whose musical understanding of both Beethoven and Wagner is examined and found important is Brahms, a sensitive man whose First Symphony "demonstrates his awareness both of Beethoven's techniques and of Wagner's and Schumann's responses to them (p.15)."

Professor Reynolds illuminates his exciting thesis in seven subsequent chapters, titled: 1. Wagner's Faustian Understanding of Beethoven's Ninth, 2. The Impact of the Ninth on "The Flying Dutchman," 3. Wagner, Thematic Dispersion, and Contrary Motion, 4. Schumann, Thematic Dispersion, and Contrary Motion, 5., Late Schumann, Wagner, and Bach, 6. Brahms's triple Response to the Ninth, and 7. Wagner and Schumann. Professor Reynolds illustrates his case with frequent examples from relevant compositions, as outlined in the five Appendices, Citations of Wagner's Possible Allusions and Influences in "The Flying Dutchman," Contrary Motion Counterpoint in the First Movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, Contrary Motion Counterpoint in :The Flying Dutchman," Contrary Motion Counterpoint in the Fourth Movement of Schumann's Second Symphony, and Contrary Motion Counterpoint in the First Movement of Brahms's First Symphony.

In "Wagner, Schumann, and the Lessons of Beethoven's Ninth," the author carefully examines the interplay and relationship between Wagner and Schumann, giving credence (as did Brahms) to the possibilities that Wagner was in fact significantly influenced by his relationship with Schumann in understanding the legacy of Beethoven's Ninth, and that quite possibly, "they worked it out together (p.169)." The contributions of Reynolds' "Wagner, Schumann, and the Lessons of Beethoven's Ninth" to modern musical scholarship's understanding remain to be tabulated in totality, but the impact is clear and undeniable. It is as though a careful magnifying glass were held to past interactions between two very different composers who arrived at groundbreaking, underlying musical conclusions.

Nancy Lorraine

Senior Reviewer
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Author:Lorraine, Nancy
Publication:MBR Bookwatch
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 1, 2015
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