For better or worse, Richard Wagner is the most widely influential figure in the history of music. Around 1900, the phenomenon known as Wagnerism saturated European and American culture.
Such colossal creations as The Ring of the Nibelung, Tristan und Isolde, and Parsifal were models of formal daring, mythmaking, erotic freedom, and mystical speculation. A mighty procession of artists, including Virginia Woolf, Charles Baudelaire, Wassily Kandinsky, Isadora Duncan, and Luis Buñuel, felt his impact. Anarchists, fascists, communists, occultists, feminists, and gay-rights pioneers saw him as a kindred spirit. Then Adolf Hitler incorporated Wagner into the soundtrack of Nazi Germany, and the composer came to be defined by his ferocious anti-Semitism. His name is now almost synonymous with artistic evil. In Wagnerism, Alex Ross restores the magnificent confusion of what it means to be a Wagnerian. A pandemonium of geniuses, madmen, charlatans, and prophets do battle over Wagner?s many-sided legacy. As readers of his brilliant essays for The New Yorker have come to expect, Ross ranges thrillingly across artistic disciplines, from the architecture of Louis Sullivan to the novels of Philip K. Dick, from the Zionist writings of Theodor Herzl to the civil rights essays of W.E.B. Du Bois, from O Pioneers! to Apocalypse Now. Wagnerism is a work of passionate discovery, urging us toward a more honest reckoning with how art acts in the world.