Discussion:
The Ring of Truth
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Mike Scott Rohan
2018-02-04 17:10:40 UTC
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Recent book by the philosopher Sir Roger Scruton, out in Penguin paperback. I was given this for my birthday, am still reading it -- it's highly readable, but can nevertheless be quite demanding at times, Scruton is a high-octane thinker, though, being identified as on the right (not entirely true), inevitably a controversial one. But while he naturally starts from a philosophical stance, that isn't all by a long chalk. In fact he touches on a great many themes dear (or otherwise) to regular posters here, and treats them with highly impressive clarity both of thought and expression. So far I feel this is one of the most important Wagner studies available, on a level with Cooke and streets ahead of the Wagner-academe industry's endless papers. Hope others will agree!

Cheers,

Mike
Bert Coules
2018-02-04 17:38:10 UTC
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Thanks for the recommendation, Mike. Sounds interesting.

Bert
Bert Coules
2018-02-04 17:44:40 UTC
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Anyone wishing to sample the book before they plunge deeper can find
extracts available on Amazon UK:
https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01EBOP2GC/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1
REP
2018-02-04 18:57:03 UTC
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Post by Mike Scott Rohan
Recent book by the philosopher Sir Roger Scruton, out in Penguin paperback. I was given this for my birthday, am still reading it -- it's highly readable, but can nevertheless be quite demanding at times, Scruton is a high-octane thinker, though, being identified as on the right (not entirely true), inevitably a controversial one. But while he naturally starts from a philosophical stance, that isn't all by a long chalk. In fact he touches on a great many themes dear (or otherwise) to regular posters here, and treats them with highly impressive clarity both of thought and expression. So far I feel this is one of the most important Wagner studies available, on a level with Cooke and streets ahead of the Wagner-academe industry's endless papers. Hope others will agree!
Cheers,
Mike
I have a copy, but haven't gotten around to reading it yet. I'll move it up the to-read pile based on your recommendation.

Speaking of Wagner books, I read Thielemann's "My Life with Wagner" recently. It was good not great, and I'm not sure I would recommend it, but I enjoyed seeing things from a conductor's point of view. It's just too bad more conductors don't write books, because I think they have a lot of worthwhile things to say.

REP
Mike Scott Rohan
2018-02-05 17:25:46 UTC
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Post by Mike Scott Rohan
Recent book by the philosopher Sir Roger Scruton, out in Penguin paperback. I was given this for my birthday, am still reading it -- it's highly readable, but can nevertheless be quite demanding at times, Scruton is a high-octane thinker, though, being identified as on the right (not entirely true), inevitably a controversial one. But while he naturally starts from a philosophical stance, that isn't all by a long chalk. In fact he touches on a great many themes dear (or otherwise) to regular posters here, and treats them with highly impressive clarity both of thought and expression. So far I feel this is one of the most important Wagner studies available, on a level with Cooke and streets ahead of the Wagner-academe industry's endless papers. Hope others will agree!
Cheers,
Mike
I have a copy, but haven't gotten around to reading it yet. I'll move it up the to-read pile based on your recommendation.
Speaking of Wagner books, I read Thielemann's "My Life with Wagner" recently. It was good not great, and I'm not sure I would recommend it, but I enjoyed seeing things from a conductor's point of view. It's just too bad more conductors don't write books, because I think they have a lot of worthwhile things to say.
REP
I had a look at the Thielmann book, but wasn't too impressed -- mind you, I think that of his conducting, too. I agree it would be interesting to hear more from conductors, especially the kind of off-the-record stuff one encounters in conversation, but of course they vary enormously. The most talented artist isn't always the most articulate, or sometimes even, it seems, quite aware of what he's doing -- at least in ways he can cast in verbal terms. And of course there's ego. I've interviewed several conductors, and ego just about defines the breed -- though very differently expressed, of course. One, formerly a distinguished pianist, turned out to be a thundering intellectual snob of the music-is-only-for-musicians school, the opposite of a communicator. Even much pleasanter (and more talented) ones seem to have a sort of mental pecking order -- self first, then musicians (except singers), then singers, then a big gap, then audiences, not considered as individuals, then another big gap, with critics at the bottom of it. Which may be right enough, but can obstruct their communication skills; either they blind with science, or talk down, as I feel Thielmann does. Sometimes they disguise it with wit or bluster, as Beecham did, but it still makes them less informative. Compare the intensity of Wagner's treatise on conducting, which makes no concessions, can be hard work for a non- or amateur musician but is nevertheless fascinating enough to make one work to understand. Still, I'd rather have a good conductor who's a bad writer than the other way around.

Incidentally, Deb was given a memoir by Walter Damrosch's daughter, which I've glanced at -- potentially very interesting, hope to get round to it when my brain unbends from Scruton.

Cheers,

Mike
REP
2018-02-05 20:17:58 UTC
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Post by Mike Scott Rohan
I had a look at the Thielmann book, but wasn't too impressed -- mind you, I think that of his conducting, too. I agree it would be interesting to hear more from conductors, especially the kind of off-the-record stuff one encounters in conversation, but of course they vary enormously. The most talented artist isn't always the most articulate, or sometimes even, it seems, quite aware of what he's doing -- at least in ways he can cast in verbal terms. And of course there's ego. I've interviewed several conductors, and ego just about defines the breed -- though very differently expressed, of course. One, formerly a distinguished pianist, turned out to be a thundering intellectual snob of the music-is-only-for-musicians school, the opposite of a communicator. Even much pleasanter (and more talented) ones seem to have a sort of mental pecking order -- self first, then musicians (except singers), then singers, then a big gap, then audiences, not considered as individuals, then another big gap, with critics at the bottom of it. Which may be right enough, but can obstruct their communication skills; either they blind with science, or talk down, as I feel Thielmann does. Sometimes they disguise it with wit or bluster, as Beecham did, but it still makes them less informative. Compare the intensity of Wagner's treatise on conducting, which makes no concessions, can be hard work for a non- or amateur musician but is nevertheless fascinating enough to make one work to understand. Still, I'd rather have a good conductor who's a bad writer than the other way around.
That jibes with my own impression. Certainly I could do without reading a conductor's philosophical or dramatic interpretations of a work, because I can get that from just about anywhere else (Scruton, for example).

But I enjoy reading a conductor's more technical and musical musings, i.e. the sort of stuff you'd hear in a rehearsal or a conducting lesson, which few conductors are willing to put down on paper. But then, conducting is a highly specialized art, and any written work on the subject is going to have a limited readership, so what incentive do conductors have for writing one? And yes, as you say, not all conductors are capable writers (or teachers, for that matter).
Post by Mike Scott Rohan
Incidentally, Deb was given a memoir by Walter Damrosch's daughter, which I've glanced at -- potentially very interesting, hope to get round to it when my brain unbends from Scruton.
Unpublished, I presume, since I can't find anything on it. Could be interesting indeed, if only for the rarity value.

REP
Mike Scott Rohan
2018-02-08 17:16:55 UTC
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But I enjoy reading a conductor's more technical and musical musings, i.e. the sort of stuff you'd hear in a rehearsal or a conducting lesson, which few conductors are willing to put down on paper. But then, conducting is a highly specialized art, and any written work on the subject is going to have a limited readership, so what incentive do conductors have for writing one? And yes, as you say, not all conductors are capable writers (or teachers, for that matter).
As the old saying goes, those as can, do; those as can't, teach. Or, in my case, criticize... In fact most conductors would struggle to convey what they do, not because they're always so very bad at expressing themselves, but because the core of it is as personal as any other art. Artists learn from other artists, but only to build on what they have already -- technique learned, but not the interpretation that gives it meaning. I've learned any amount of technical tricks and quirks from other, better writers, but while all this makes me better at my own level, it can't automatically advance me to theirs. Yet teaching conducting does work, no doubt about it. Karajan and Bernstein had an immense effect on their pupils (even apart from the sexual harasssment...). The present brilliant generation of Finnish conductors are pretty much all products of one conducting class, Jorma Panula's; yet he himself isn't terribly impressive. Sometimes the genius seems to be transmitted hereditarily, as with Erich and Carlos Kleiber, or Neeme, Paavo and Kristian Jarvi -- more to do with environment than actual genetics, I think, and the power of early impression, not only being soaked in music but accepting it as a natural core to life. Which again indicates that while one can teach stick technique and other technicalities, they can only assist a genius already operating at other levels of consciousness, right down to the instinctive, and very, very hard to convey in words or any other form.
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Post by Mike Scott Rohan
Incidentally, Deb was given a memoir by Walter Damrosch's daughter, which I've glanced at -- potentially very interesting, hope to get round to it when my brain unbends from Scruton.
Unpublished, I presume, since I can't find anything on it. Could be interesting indeed, if only for the rarity value.
No, published, in the early 1950s I think. I don't have it in front of me, but I'll find out and post the details. It seems to be mostly fairly chatty vignettes, but naturally includes some Wagnerian details, including D coaching a Rhinemaiden.

Cheers,

Mike
Mike Scott Rohan
2018-02-08 23:06:49 UTC
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Post by Mike Scott Rohan
No, published, in the early 1950s I think. I don't have it in front of me, but I'll find out and post the details. It seems to be mostly fairly chatty vignettes, but naturally includes some Wagnerian details, including D coaching a Rhinemaiden.
It's called "From the Top of the Stairs", by Gretchen Finletter, and was published (and reprinted) in the 1940s by Atlantic Monthly through Little, Brown (as it happens my own American publishers, back when). As the title suggests, it's very much a young girl's view of it all -- having tea with Lillian Nordica and being taken to Siegfried aged six, and so on, and much more about family life than music. Looks amusing nonetheless, and I shall try and get to read it soon. I'm presently relieving the effect of Scruton with science fiction.

Cheers,

Mike
Jon
2018-02-11 11:26:27 UTC
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Speaking of Wagner books, John Deathridge's new translation of the Ring will be published by Penguin in June.

https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/35287/the-ring-of-the-nibelung/
Mike Scott Rohan
2018-02-11 15:37:27 UTC
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Post by Jon
Speaking of Wagner books, John Deathridge's new translation of the Ring will be published by Penguin in June.
https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/35287/the-ring-of-the-nibelung/
Thanks for this. Interesting; I wonder if it will be parallel-text, which is by far the most useful form. Deathridge is one of the more respectable Wagner authorities at the moment, but his starting point, in common with so many other translators and commentators, is primarily musical, and I believe that's why so many of them fail fully to understand the action and motivations of the Ring. Scruton, without of course ignoring the music, gets a lot closer than most commentators, except of course Deryck Cooke, and Rudolf Sabor than most translators.

For me -- and I'll allow there's room for disagreement! -- the fact that Wagner wrote the text first and separately means it has to be approached initially from a literary standpoint, involving philosophy, politics and much else but also the sheer visionary effect of the mythology, which inspired Wagner to choose it as his vehicle. Wagner did undoubtedly have something of the music in mind while writing, but from the few fragmentary sketches he jotted down it would have been very different from what eventually developed -- still more so after the long Siegfried hiatus. Of course the score as created is a consummation, to put it mildly, of the text, but much more as its servant than musicologists often allow. Their attitude may stem from embarrassment at the 19th-century "Teutonics" of the poetry, just as literary critics have been embarrassed by Scott and Longfellow, totally unable to appreciate them in the context of their time. Thomas Hardy was the cause of considerable sniggering from D.H.Lawrence and his set for ranking the Iliad and Marmion together; the Ring libretto has the same effect on some people, especially musicologists, who tend not to be very well read, one reason they fall for Millington-style "decoding". Deathridge should be able to look beyond this, but the idea that "only the music matters" is so prevalent -- much used to justify deformative productions, for example -- that it may still cling. We'll see what he comes up with.

Cheers,

Mike

Still, we'll see what D comes up with.
Mike Scott Rohan
2018-02-11 15:39:20 UTC
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Post by Mike Scott Rohan
Still, we'll see what D comes up with.
Seems to be an echo loose, sorry.
m***@gmail.com
2018-02-11 20:20:54 UTC
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Post by Mike Scott Rohan
Post by Jon
Speaking of Wagner books, John Deathridge's new translation of the Ring will be published by Penguin in June.
https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/35287/the-ring-of-the-nibelung/
Thanks for this. Interesting; I wonder if it will be parallel-text, which is by far the most useful form. Deathridge is one of the more respectable Wagner authorities at the moment, but his starting point, in common with so many other translators and commentators, is primarily musical, and I believe that's why so many of them fail fully to understand the action and motivations of the Ring. Scruton, without of course ignoring the music, gets a lot closer than most commentators, except of course Deryck Cooke, and Rudolf Sabor than most translators.
For me -- and I'll allow there's room for disagreement! -- the fact that Wagner wrote the text first and separately means it has to be approached initially from a literary standpoint, involving philosophy, politics and much else but also the sheer visionary effect of the mythology, which inspired Wagner to choose it as his vehicle. Wagner did undoubtedly have something of the music in mind while writing, but from the few fragmentary sketches he jotted down it would have been very different from what eventually developed -- still more so after the long Siegfried hiatus. Of course the score as created is a consummation, to put it mildly, of the text, but much more as its servant than musicologists often allow. Their attitude may stem from embarrassment at the 19th-century "Teutonics" of the poetry, just as literary critics have been embarrassed by Scott and Longfellow, totally unable to appreciate them in the context of their time. Thomas Hardy was the cause of considerable sniggering from D.H.Lawrence and his set for ranking the Iliad and Marmion together; the Ring libretto has the same effect on some people, especially musicologists, who tend not to be very well read, one reason they fall for Millington-style "decoding". Deathridge should be able to look beyond this, but the idea that "only the music matters" is so prevalent -- much used to justify deformative productions, for example -- that it may still cling. We'll see what he comes up with.
Cheers,
Mike
Still, we'll see what D comes up with.
Yes I often hear that all of the action is in the music and you don't really need the text (one result of this idea and a famous misfire recording was the Solti Tristan where the orchestra predominated with the voices sneaking out of the orchestral fabric now and again)You must have the text to give us the specifics of the drama - the orchestra can then tell us what inner thoughts and impulses are but we must know where we are first
REP
2018-02-12 01:06:09 UTC
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Post by Mike Scott Rohan
Post by Jon
Speaking of Wagner books, John Deathridge's new translation of the Ring will be published by Penguin in June.
https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/35287/the-ring-of-the-nibelung/
Thanks for this. Interesting; I wonder if it will be parallel-text, which is by far the most useful form. Deathridge is one of the more respectable Wagner authorities at the moment, but his starting point, in common with so many other translators and commentators, is primarily musical, and I believe that's why so many of them fail fully to understand the action and motivations of the Ring. Scruton, without of course ignoring the music, gets a lot closer than most commentators, except of course Deryck Cooke, and Rudolf Sabor than most translators.
For me -- and I'll allow there's room for disagreement! -- the fact that Wagner wrote the text first and separately means it has to be approached initially from a literary standpoint, involving philosophy, politics and much else but also the sheer visionary effect of the mythology, which inspired Wagner to choose it as his vehicle. Wagner did undoubtedly have something of the music in mind while writing, but from the few fragmentary sketches he jotted down it would have been very different from what eventually developed -- still more so after the long Siegfried hiatus. Of course the score as created is a consummation, to put it mildly, of the text, but much more as its servant than musicologists often allow. Their attitude may stem from embarrassment at the 19th-century "Teutonics" of the poetry, just as literary critics have been embarrassed by Scott and Longfellow, totally unable to appreciate them in the context of their time. Thomas Hardy was the cause of considerable sniggering from D.H.Lawrence and his set for ranking the Iliad and Marmion together; the Ring libretto has the same effect on some people, especially musicologists, who tend not to be very well read, one reason they fall for Millington-style "decoding". Deathridge should be able to look beyond this, but the idea that "only the music matters" is so prevalent -- much used to justify deformative productions, for example -- that it may still cling. We'll see what he comes up with.
Cheers,
Mike
Still, we'll see what D comes up with.
On the topic of Wagner's poetry, I used to take it on the authority of German-speakers that Wagner was a lackluster poet. Then it occurred to me that there are many people who dislike Wagner's _music_, and would have others believe that he wrote poor operas. Since that realization, I've taken all pronouncements on Wagner's poetic skills with a rather large grain of salt. After all, I wouldn't trust someone else's ears for music, so why trust their ears for poetry? Trusting the judgment of others is especially perilous when dealing with Wagner, because a lot of people still have an axe to grind (for whatever reason).

That said, I think it's evident from Andrew Porter's singing translation of The Ring that Wagner was at least a competent poet. He creates pleasing melodies and rhythms with words, and the Ring's meter (if you can call it such) is vibrant and interesting in a way that blank verse, for example, often isn't.

And, of course, when poetry is put to the service of story-telling, other skills (and arguably more important ones) come into play. And there, at least, there can be no doubts: Wagner was a dramatist par excellence. How excellent is up for question, but having just read The Two Gentlemen of Verona, I think it's fair to say that Wagner at his best is better than Shakespeare at his worst.

REP
Bert Coules
2018-02-12 09:34:52 UTC
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This is an interesting discussion. My approach to opera was via the theatre
rather than the concert hall and I've always been inclined - simplistically,
no doubt - to regard an opera as a play with music, in which the cast happen
to sing, all or some of the time.

It still surprises me, though of course it shouldn't, when I encounter the
view than an opera is an unusually long piece of music that just
incidentally happens to include voices. I remember a thread about the Ring
on the old Radio 3 discussion board where one participant was genuinely
taken aback by my stance that the words were every bit as important as the
music - the notion simply hadn't occurred to him.

I've seen Wagner operas presented as spoken dramas on several occasions and
it's always a fascinating experience. My own opportunity to make a very
small contribution to the appreciation of the poetry came in one of my
Sherlock Holmes dramatisations for the BBC when I had a melancholy Sherl
speak the "So stürben wir, um ungetrennt..." passage from Tristan. "That's
beautiful," said a moved Watson. And he meant it, and so did I.

Bert
REP
2018-02-12 17:28:43 UTC
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Post by Bert Coules
This is an interesting discussion. My approach to opera was via the theatre
rather than the concert hall and I've always been inclined - simplistically,
no doubt - to regard an opera as a play with music, in which the cast happen
to sing, all or some of the time.
It still surprises me, though of course it shouldn't, when I encounter the
view than an opera is an unusually long piece of music that just
incidentally happens to include voices. I remember a thread about the Ring
on the old Radio 3 discussion board where one participant was genuinely
taken aback by my stance that the words were every bit as important as the
music - the notion simply hadn't occurred to him.
I wonder if the operas-as-music view isn't a predominately English-speaking one. Supertitles are still a relatively recent invention, after all, so it's not long since the time when monolingual opera-goers had nothing but a synopsis (either read in a program or out-loud by a radio announcer) to guide them through the events on stage.

I think that's one of the barriers to English-language opera, in fact: People aren't used to approaching opera as drama, at least not drama with such immediacy. They've always had a comfortable barrier between themselves and the happenings on stage. Losing that barrier is a bit like walking into a theater and seeing the actors with their clothes off.
Post by Bert Coules
I've seen Wagner operas presented as spoken dramas on several occasions and
it's always a fascinating experience. My own opportunity to make a very
small contribution to the appreciation of the poetry came in one of my
Sherlock Holmes dramatisations for the BBC when I had a melancholy Sherl
speak the "So stürben wir, um ungetrennt..." passage from Tristan. "That's
beautiful," said a moved Watson. And he meant it, and so did I.
Bert
German has a reputation for being an ugly-sounding language, something I've never understood. To me, it sounds pure and mellifluous. Given a choice between hearing poetry read in German, French, or Italian, I would choose German almost every time.

REP
Bert Coules
2018-02-12 19:02:25 UTC
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Post by REP
I think that's one of the barriers to English-language opera,
in fact: People aren't used to approaching opera as drama,
at least not drama with such immediacy.
Possibly so. As for other factors, I've said here before, I think, that
most opera houses are the worst places on Earth to experience opera in
English: even when the singers have exemplary diction (which of course most
of them don't) and are trained to get the words across (which of course most
of them aren't) vast theatres simply don't invite the sort of surrender, the
losing oneself in the experience, that's ideal. I'm increasingly conscious
nowadays that even in the spoken theatre not a few audience members struggle
to hear and be caught up in the action: like it or not, the prevailing sound
of dramatic presentation today is heard either in the cinema or in the home.
"People shouting in a big room", as the theatre has been famously described,
is an alien - and therefore a markedly difficult - experience for most now.

The National Theatre has no qualms about amplifying the voices of the actors
in its biggest auditorium; I wish that the ENO would scrap their damnable
surtitles and do the same.

Bert
REP
2018-02-12 20:17:36 UTC
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Post by Bert Coules
Post by REP
I think that's one of the barriers to English-language opera,
in fact: People aren't used to approaching opera as drama,
at least not drama with such immediacy.
Possibly so. As for other factors, I've said here before, I think, that
most opera houses are the worst places on Earth to experience opera in
English: even when the singers have exemplary diction (which of course most
of them don't) and are trained to get the words across (which of course most
of them aren't) vast theatres simply don't invite the sort of surrender, the
losing oneself in the experience, that's ideal. I'm increasingly conscious
nowadays that even in the spoken theatre not a few audience members struggle
to hear and be caught up in the action: like it or not, the prevailing sound
of dramatic presentation today is heard either in the cinema or in the home.
"People shouting in a big room", as the theatre has been famously described,
is an alien - and therefore a markedly difficult - experience for most now.
The National Theatre has no qualms about amplifying the voices of the actors
in its biggest auditorium; I wish that the ENO would scrap their damnable
surtitles and do the same.
Bert
When the Met staged Dr. Atomic ten years ago, the singers were electronically amplified. I'm not sure what difference it made, because I never saw a performance, but as far as I know, the experiment hasn't been repeated since (or at least, not in any repertoire operas).

Anyways, I don't think there's much hope of amplification catching on unless composers start writing operas specifically for amplified voices. And, of course, those operas have to be good, if not masterpieces, so audiences will actually want to hear them, and hear them performed according to the composer's designs (i.e. with amplification). Then performance practices might change across the board.

REP
Mike Scott Rohan
2018-02-14 01:44:34 UTC
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Post by REP
German has a reputation for being an ugly-sounding language, something I've never understood. To me, it sounds pure and mellifluous. Given a choice between hearing poetry read in German, French, or Italian, I would choose German almost every time.
REP
Not sure I'd choose French, and I grew up the nearest thing to a native speaker. It's smooth-sounding, certainly, but very formal (probably derived from the dominance of classical models) and with a very limited vocabulary, which restricts its variety of sound. Occasionally somebody like Baudelaire or Rimbaud gives it a kick in the pants, but not often enough. Italian is more histrionic, and certainly has a better vocabulary, but again the classical influence makes the line that bit too mellifluous, as if about to burst into pure song; I note that there was a huge fashion in the 19th century for improvised poetry half sung to harp accompaniment (one such fashionable poetess is depicted in Rossini's Viaggio a Reims), and I think this lingers. But my Italian's not fluent, so maybe I miss the subtleties. Welsh is perhaps the most amazingly liquid language there is, but again its poetry seems more than haldway to song.
German, like English, seems to have a lot more variation; it can sound harsher, especially deliberately so in 20th-century verse, but romantic stuff, Uhland and Heine and the like, does indeed sound fluid and mellow to me. But a lot depends on the poet; Russian *is* a harsh language, much more so than normal German, yet Pushkin or Pasternak can make some incredibly beautiful sounds. And even Danish, which its speakers often call a throat disease, can sound surprisingly musical in good verse -- although one of my friends reading in a broad Jutland accent full of glottal stops isn't for the faint-hearted! All the same, and allowing for bias, I feel that English creates the most convincing balance between the mellifluous and the expressive -- English English, that is, from about Shakespeare onwards. Chaucer sounds closer to German, with the old Anglo-Saxon still poking above the surface here and there.

Medieval Scots English, like Dunbar, and more modern, like Burns and MacDiarmid, relies on its roughnesses to some extent for its rhythms and emphases. I find the same, to a lesser extent, in German -- one reason Goethe's deliberately gruff Knittelvers and Wagner's Ring libretto sound that shade less emphatic in English, even when the words and syllable count are quite similar. So:

"Ich bin der Geist, der stets verneint..." as opposed to "I am the spirit, that all denies..."

"Zu spat kam ich..." as opposed to "Too late came I..."

That may create some of the harsh impression.

Cheers,

Mike
Bert Coules
2018-02-14 03:12:04 UTC
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Mike Scott Rohan wrote:

"Zu spat kam ich..." as opposed to "Too late came I..."

Possibly the weakest line in the whole of Porter's Ring, though primarily
for its traditionally awful opera-in-English inversion rather than its
inability to catch the bite of the original. In his introduction to the
published script Porter laments exactly that failing and not only in this
particular instance, but he did at least manage to preserve (well, almost)
the matching vowel sounds of spät and late, and the awful sentence
construction does at least make it possible for him to put a relatively hard
c sound in the same place as the original.

I agree that spoken German can be both fluid and attractive. It can of
course also be what general opinion holds it to be: harsh, guttural and
aggressive. But then, what language cannot?

Bert

Mike Scott Rohan
2018-02-12 18:05:31 UTC
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Post by REP
That said, I think it's evident from Andrew Porter's singing translation of The Ring that Wagner was at least a competent poet. He creates pleasing melodies and rhythms with words, and the Ring's meter (if you can call it such) is vibrant and interesting in a way that blank verse, for example, often isn't.
And, of course, when poetry is put to the service of story-telling, other skills (and arguably more important ones) come into play. And there, at least, there can be no doubts: Wagner was a dramatist par excellence. How excellent is up for question, but having just read The Two Gentlemen of Verona, I think it's fair to say that Wagner at his best is better than Shakespeare at his worst.
REP
My own German is fairly modest, but I gather the problem many people have with the Ring libretto is, primarily, its deliberate archaism and peculiar vocabulary, to an effect I once called "carunculated" here. It was an effect Wagner was aiming for, but it very much fell from fashion early in the 20th century, as did the pseudo-archaic language of Victorian historical novels -- often called "tushery". Beyond that, and the attempt to reproduce alt-germanic alliteration, Wagner also often subjugates his verse to assonance -- in effect composing with word-sounds, which often sounds ludicrous to modern Germans. It's a bit like Gerald Manley Hopkins in English, I suppose --

"Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name..."
or:
"it will lighten like shining from shook foil"
-- in which you often have to go digging for the meaning with a spade.

But that's the Ring, and a very special case; whether he was right to aim for the effect is moot, but it was an artistic judgement and not mere incompetence. In works both before and after Wagner showed himself to be a perfectly competent poet, IMHO especially in Parsifal, and sometimes more. And without its eccentric verse the Ring would surely be a lot less characterful.

Shakespeare at his worst is usually Shakespeare at his earliest, and probably sometimes touching up other people's work; later on there's no comparison. But Wagner, I think, stands out far ahead of any other libretti of his day, even by established dramatists and poets -- or librettist-composers, havinbg read screeds of Berlioz's stilted cod-Racinian lines, and Schumann's revision of von Chezy's libretto for Genoveva, So I think we can allow Wagner some considerabl status.

Cheers,

Mike
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