During this, the 200th anniversary of his birth, Richard Wagner’s music is being featured by musicians around the world. Many consider his work, with rich harmonies and shifting tonal centers, the beginning of modern music.
But the man himself? Even his own great-grandson has denounced him as a narcissist, woman hater and anti-Semite.
Still, who knew his music was also responsible for nervous exhaustion, infertility, mental illness, hysteria and dangerous sexual feelings among unmarried women?
Author James Kennaway documented that Wagner conceded that his music had driven one singer “to the abyss.” He died shortly after debuting in Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde.”
Another performer, who played Tristan in a Vienna production, died insane in an asylum.
Mr. Kennaway points out that just being able to see an opera during the composer’s lifetime might have overstimulated people.
They were awed by his innovations, which included dimming house lights, steam machines and hiding the orchestra in a pit.
And his works tended to be quite long. Could that have driven people a little bats?
So look — and listen — for strains of Wagner during this anniversary year. As Mark Twain was fond of saying, “Wagner’s music is better than it sounds.”
But do it carefully.
And keep your doctor’s number close by.
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