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date: 18 August 2019

Wagner, (Wilhelm) Richard locked

(b Leipzig, May 22, 1813; d Venice, Feb 13, 1883).
  • Simon Banks

Extract

(b Leipzig, May 22, 1813; d Venice, Feb 13, 1883).

German composer and writer. Though his writings are not primarily concerned with the visual arts, they contain interesting general aesthetic theories. In his crucial essay Das Kunstwerk der Zukunft (1849) Wagner made the first use of the term Gesamtkunstwerk . In this work he called for a unification of all the arts in a manner that had not been experienced since the days of ancient Greece, and his main preoccupation was with the interrelationship of words and music. For Wagner art was a natural, necessary product of uncorrupted man and as much a product of the unconscious as the conscious mind. He divided art into two broad categories: the human arts, which derive directly from man, and, on the other hand, those arts that are created by man from the materials of nature. With regard to the former, which are generated by bodily motion and rhythm, he spoke of the ‘three purely human arts’ of music, poetry and dance. The latter category contains the arts of architecture, sculpture and painting, to all of which he ascribed a merely secondary role. Their proper task is to be found in support of drama. Thus architecture was to provide the necessary stage-set for the artwork of the future, sculpture should be employed in the service of architecture, and landscape painting should be used to create a natural backdrop in stage scenery. Under the influence of Schopenhauer’s philosophy, Wagner later modified his theories, and in ...

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S. Sadie, ed.: The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 20 vols (London, rev. 6/1980)