University of South Carolina

USC to celebrate WagnerWorldWide 2013 bicentennial

By Frenche` Brewer, brewer4@mailbox.sc.edu, 803-777-3691

The 200th anniversary of German composer Richard Wagner’s birth will be marked with an international symposium featuring concerts, films and performances Jan. 27-Feb.2, sponsored by the University of South Carolina’s College of Arts and Sciences and the School of Music.

The academic conference, titled WagnerWorldWide: America, is part of a multi-year global initiative by the University of Bayreuth, and will examine the influence Wagner’s life and work have had on music and culture of the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries.

During the six-day conference, more than 30 of world’s foremost experts on Wagner are set to present at the symposium. They include: John Deathridge, King’s College, London; Thomas Grey, Stanford University; Celia Applegate, Vanderbilt University; Mark Berry, University of London; Christian Thorau, Universität Potsdam, Germany; and Na’ama Sheffi of Sapir College, Israel. 

Symposium speakers will examine Wagner’s influence on a wide range of topics including environment and nature, gender and sexuality, media and film, history and nationalism, and globalization and marketing in music.   

Nicholas Vazsonyi, a USC College of Arts and Sciences foreign language professor, Wagner authority and conference organizer, says the interest in the prolific composer is well founded.

“No other composer, not even Mozart or Beethoven, has had such a far reaching and long lasting impact on music and culture. His music is still heard, everywhere, in high and low culture. The kind of overwhelmingly emotional, and even physical, experience we expect from films today really starts with Wagner,” Vazsonyi says.

The WagnerWorldWide: America symposium also is drawing interest from the general public, many who are traveling from around the country to attend the conference and selected musical events.

In conjunction with the scholarly conference, the School of Music will host “The Wagner Project,” a week of related events and performances of Wagner’s music.

Wagner was above all a composer, so we want to give audiences a chance not just to think about his influence but to listen to his music as well,” says Julie Hubbert, USC associate professor of music history, and co-organizer of the event.  “We also want to show the influence his music and ideas have had on range of different media.”

Alex Ross, music critic for The New Yorker, will give the keynote address Thursday, Jan. 31, which is free and open to the public. The subject of Ross’ talk will be “Black Wagner: The Question of Race Revisited.” Wagner was a controversial figure during his lifetime, widely known to harbor anti-Semitic views. Some biographers have written that Wagner later in life adopted an Aryanist philosophy.

"I will address the little-discussed relationship between black artists and Wagner at the turn of the last century,” Ross says. “In particular, I'll talk about W.E.B. Du Bois' passionate response to the composer and reconstruct the almost entirely forgotten story of Luranah Aldridge, a contralto who nearly sang at Bayreuth in 1896. Such stories will not dislodge the prevailing conception of Wagner as a racist firebrand, but they may complicate the picture.”

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Richard Wagner bio

Richard Wagner was born in Germany on May 22, 1813.  Although he didn’t begin his formal music training until he was 18, he went on to become an influential — and controversial — composer. He was also a writer, librettist, philosopher, architect and conductor. 

In an 1850 essay titled “Opera and Drama,” Wagner completely re-imagined opera not as a vehicle of virtuosic singing but one for psychological drama, a dense interplay of words, musical motives, gestures and actions he called a “Gesamtkunstwerk,” or total art work. These music dramas also notably featured material from Teutonic and Icelandic mythology including the “Nibelungenlied” and “Edda” myths. From these he created an epic 18-hour tetralogy or four music dramas called “Der Ring des Nibelungen.”

In addition to bringing the massive “Ring” cycle and several other German language operas to the stage, Wagner also revised operatic space by designing and building his own opera house along the lines of a Greek amphitheater, complete with an invisible sunken orchestra pit and deeply recessed stage. His theater in Bayreuth, Germany, still hosts a festival that performs his operas every summer. 

Wagner’s operatic compositions and aesthetic philosophy have influenced musicians, poets, painters, playwrights, politicians and statesmen since the late 1800’s, including Hitler, who made the Bayreuth Festival House and Wagner’s operas national symbols of the Third Reich. In the United States, Wagner’s music and the iconography of his mythical world permeate everything from cartoons and films to advertisements.

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Highlighted events: Wagner Worldwide 2013 conference and Wagner Project

Note: The selected events below are free and will take place in the School of Music recital hall, unless otherwise noted. A complete calendar of events is available online at here. 

Jan. 27 --- USC Symphony Orchestra presents works by Richard Wagner, including “The Ride of the Valkyries” and excerpts from “Tristan und Isolde.” 7:30 p.m. Koger Center for the Arts. Adults $25; senior citizens, USC faculty and staff, $20; students, $8.

Jan. 29 --- Chamber Innovista: The New German School and Its Opponent(s): Wagner Contra Brahms 7:30 p.m. School of Music recital hall. Performances include “Tristan Fantasy” and “Horn Call from the ‘Ride of the Valkeries’" performed by USC Horn Choir, Robert Pruzin, conductor. “Wesendonck Lieder, WWV 91” performed by Janet Hopkins, USC mezzo soprano; Lynn Kompass, piano. Tickets are adults $15; senior citizens and students $5. To purchase tickets: 803-777-4280.

Jan. 30 --- An Evening of Silent Film with organist Dennis James, 7:30 p.m. School of Music recital hall. Screening of “Die Nibelungen: Siegfried,” directed by Fritz Lang, 1924, with live musical accompaniment.

Jan. 31 ---

Music -10 – 11 a.m. “Wagner’s Electrifying Thoughts,” David Trippett, Cambridge University, UK; Hans Werner Henze, Wagner, and the “Weight of German Musical Culture,” Mark Berry, Royal Holloway, University of London, UK.

Eroticism - 11:15 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. “Unspeakable Songs: History and Sexuality in Tannhäuser,” William Scott, University of Pittsburgh; “Isolde’s Multiple Orgasms: Sexology and Wagner’s Transfiguration,” Susan de Ghizé, University of Texas, Brownsville; “Sexual Adultery and Musical Deafness: Who Can Hear the Orchestra?” Different productions of “Tristan und Isolde,” Erling E. Guldbrandsen, University of Oslo, Norway.

Environment I - 2 – 3:15 p.m. Rousseau and “The Ring,” Simon Williams, University of California, Santa Barbara.

Environment II - 3:30 – 5 p.m. Space, River and City in Wagner’s “Ring,” Anno Mungen, Forschungsinstitut für Musiktheater, University of Bayreuth, Germany. The “Ring” as Eco-Parable, Thomas S. Grey, Stanford University; Transforming Wagner: Francesca Zambello’s San Francisco “Ring” Cycle; Geoffrey Green, San Francisco State University.

Keynote address - 7:30 – 9 p.m. Alex Ross, music critic, The New York Times and The New Yorker, author, “The Rest is Noise,” “Black Wagner: The Question of Race Revisited.”

Feb. 1 ---

Cinema/media - 8:30 – 10:15 a.m. “From Photographs & Cylinders to SACD & Blu-Ray: Wagner & Advances in Recording Media,” David Breckbill, Doane College, Nebraska; “Wagner on DVD” – Musical Form and the Gaze of “Regietheater,” Christian Thorau, Universität Potsdam, Germany; “Wagner’s Legacy in the Leitmotivic Film Score,” Matthew Bribitzer-Stull, University of Minnesota.

Gender identities - 10:30 – 11:45 a.m. “Wagner Unmanned,” Sanna Pederson, University of Oklahoma; “The Brünnhilde Problem: Wagner’s German Women,” Celia Applegate, Vanderbilt University.

19th-Century nationalism - 1:30 – 3 p.m. “Wagner’s Tempestuous God,” Katherine Syer, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; “What Does it Mean for Music Drama to be ‘National’ Art?” “Revisiting the Case of Wagner” Anthony J. Steinhoff, Université de Québec à Montréal; “Wagner and the Kaiserreich,” Hermann Grampp, Freie Universität Berlin, Germany.

Third Reich and Israel - 3:30 – 5 p.m. “Wagner in the Cult of Art in Nazi Germany,” David Dennis, Loyola University Chicago; “Bayreuth and the German War Effort, Karl Ritter’s ‘Stukas’ and the Use of Wagner in Nazi Cinema,” Hans Vaget, Smith College, Massachusetts; “Wagner in Israel: Between Memory and Liberalism,” Na’ama Sheffi, Sapir College, Israel, sponsored by the USC Jewish Studies Program.

“Wagner’s Jews,” world premiere screening. 7:30-9 p.m. New York filmmaker, Hilan Warshaw, introduces the premiere of his documentary and will answer questions following the screening, sponsored by the USC Jewish Studies Program.

Feb. 2 ---

“Parsifal” - 8:30 – 10:30 a.m. “Space and place in ‘Parsifal’,” Holly Watkins, Eastman School of Music; “Wagner’s ‘Parsifal’ as Art and Ideology,” 1882-1933, William Kinderman, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; “Bayreuth as Bardo: Schlingensief’s ‘Parsifal’” production, Edward A. Bortnichak and Paula M. Bortnichak, University of Pennsylvania.

Gender -11 a.m. – 12:15 p.m. “Rings within Rings: Wedding Bands as Cyclic Structures in Wagner’s ‘Ring’ Cycle,” Steven B. Reale, Youngstown State University, Ohio. “Paradoxes of Bildung in ‘Die Meistersinger’,” Benjamin M. Korstvedt, Clark University, Massachusetts.

Marketing - 2 – 3:15 p.m. “The View from Weimar: (Mis-)Promoting Wagner,” James Deaville, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada; “Globalization, Music Publishing and the Domestic Reception of Musikdrama,” Matthew Blackmar, California State University, Long Beach.

Pop culture / local culture - 3:30 – 5 p.m. “Wagner, Camillo Sitte, and the Modern Slow Movement,” Stephen Thursby, University of South Carolina; “’Diggin’ the Ring: An American Folk Opera,” Ryan F. Smith, University of South Carolina; “Never Ask the Merry Nibelungs: Wagner in Operetta from Critique to Aspiration,” Micaela Baranello, Princeton University.

Feb. 1-2 --- Opera at USC presents: “Das Barbecü,” a musical comedy by Warrender and Luigs, directed by Ellen Douglas Schlaefer. 7:30 p.m. Drayton Hall.

Feb. 3 --- Opera at USC presents: “Das Barbecü,” a musical comedy by Warrender and Luigs, directed by Ellen Douglas Schlaefer. 3 p.m. Drayton Hall.

Keynote address:

  • Alex Ross, music critic for The New Yorker
  • "Black Wagner: The Question of Race Revisited" 
  • 7:30-9 p.m., Jan. 31
  • School of Music recital hall
  • Free, open to the public

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Posted: 01/23/13 @ 12:00 AM | Updated: 01/24/13 @ 5:03 PM | Permalink